Criticism. Essay. Fiction. Science. Weather.
The networks are going through the anachronistic ritual of the fall line up. Rolling out their new shows as if America still watches teevee the way it did 20 years ago. TiVo doesn't exist, Netflix doesn't exist, YouTube doesn't exist, HBO's domination of the Emmy's
doesn't exist. The rite continues. At least for another year. At least, for the time being, there is some hope for the programming.
NBC, of all networks, has gotten ambitious. Their fall line-up is oddly devoid of reality shows. The peacock, which ruled the '90s with comedies (Seinfeld
, Will & Grace
), is putting its eggs in the drama basket. And, continuing on the somewhat daring track, none of them are procedural cop shows
NBC is heavily promoting four big dramas: Friday Night Lights
, and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
. All of them are derivative in some way. This is still network television. Friday Night Lights
follows a path well worn by a book and a movie, but there's always room for a high school melodrama
on teevee and what better backdrop than the American mythos of football? Kidnapped
comes close to the cop show formula but with emphasis on the victims and a well-regarded cast. Heroes
is X-men for the small screen but if mutant teenage superheroes can keep a comic book at the top of the industry for 40 years there's material there for more than three middling movies. And Studio 60
is an Aaron Sorkin show, which worked out well for NBC the last time around. Even throwing out the pros and cons, all four shows at least hold more interest than another incarnation of the Bachelor
or Law & Order
. Someone at NBC decided to try creativity and see if maybe that sells any ads. It's the sort of stunt networks in last place
can afford to pull.
On Studio 60
Amanda Peet plays a television executive who rolls with the punches instead of trying to spin them. Someone in NBC marketing is following her lead. For several weeks the pilots of Studio 60
have been available through Netflix. It's a marketing ploy both simple and effective. The pilots are just sitting around waiting until their debut; teevee shows get a lot of their play through DVD now, anyway; why not get started early? (The Studio 60
pilot is typical Aaron Sorkin, which is to say, very good television. Matthew Perry is the first of NBC's comedy stars from the '90s to figure out that he needs a project entirely different
from the one that made him cripplingly familiar to teevee watching audiences. Congratulations are due to him or his agent.) The Heroes
pilot is available through iTunes. At least NBC is trying to do more than shut down Napster.
NBC doesn't get all the credit, of course. Though ABC hasn't quite figured out the possibilities of originality, they jumpstarted the network craze for unorthodox dramas and with Lost. Lost has a lot of other things going for it -- its huge cast, its dual-narrative episode structure, its charming and not-too-forced global village
overtones -- but when it premiered in 2004 it was the long overdue answer to Survivor
(see, shows with writing are more fun) and networks don't ignore shows with Emmy wins and
15 million viewers.
(Although they certainly don't need the accolades, the folks at HBO should be given some mention for being ahead of the television curve for the past ten years. In the mid '90s their programming was chockfull of reality teevee sleaze like Taxi Cab Confessions
. When the networks went down that road, HBO made the conscious decision to make a niche out of quality shows [mostly dramas, with apologies to Larry David] and ended up with The Sopranos
, Six Feet Under
, The Wire
, and Deadwood
. Well done there.)
But for a few weeks, before the shows actually premiere, NBC has the corner on creative programming and marketing. Kudos to the '90s leader for at least trying something new instead of digging the same ditch over and over. Now here's hoping at least two of the shows are any good. If not, it's back to HBO, which has never paid any attention to the fall lineups and seasonal scheduling.