Tuesday, May 12, 2015

NBC Upfronts 2015-16

It’s that time of year again when the US broadcast TV networks cancel the shows they decided didn’t work last season and unveil the new shows that they believe will sweep up audiences in droves… most of which will be cancelled this time next year.And I’m going to try to write about them at least until I’m overwhelmed by despair about the new season and retreat into watching what I always watch.

As always NBC led off the upfront season although unlike in previous years they chose to introduce their new line-up on a Sunday rather than the traditional Monday. By turns the new offerings are vaguely intriguing, yawn worthy, and disappointing. First the cancellations (some of which were in the “blink and you’ve missed it” category of midseason replacements).

Constantine, State of Affairs, Marry Me, About A Boy, One Big Happy, A to Z, Allegiance, Bad Judge, Parenthood, Park & Recreation, Working The Engels

Renewed (not counting summer series)
Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, Grimm, Hollywood Game Night, Law & Order SVU, Biggest Loser, The Blacklist, Celebrity Apprentice, The Mysteries of Laura, Undateable

New Shows
Before Christmas: Blindspot, Heartbreaker, The Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris, Heroes Reborn, The Player, People Are Talking
Midseason: Coach, Hot And Bothered, Chicago Med, Crowded, Emerald City, Game of Silence, Little Big Shots, Shades of Blue, Superstore, You And Me And The End Of The World

Fall Schedule by day

8-10 p.m. The Voice
10-11 p.m. BLINDSPOT

8-9 p.m. The Voice
Chicago Fire (starting in November)

8-9 p.m. The Mysteries of Laura
9-10 p.m. Law & Order SVU
10-11 p.m. Chicago PD

9-10 p.m. The Blacklist
10-11 p.m. THE PLAYER

8-8:30 p.m. Undateable
9-10 p.m. Grimm
10-11 p.m. Dateline


I’ve managed to see the trailers for most of these despite YouTube region blocking so I shall try to summarize largely without Network press releases (except for actor names).

Blindspot begins with a bag left in the middle of Time Square with a tag that says “Call FBI.” Inside is a naked woman (Jamie Alexander) covered with tattoos, all of which are new. “Jane Doe” has been stripped of her memories and has no idea who she is or why her body is covered in tattoos. One tattoo says to call FBI Agent Kurt Weller (Sullivan Stapleton) who has no idea why he’s being called in on this case or why his name is written in large letters on Jane Doe’s back, or for that matter the meaning of the tattoos. Over time several things become apparent: the tattoos on Jane’s back represent clues to crimes that they are to solve, and that Jane has considerable skills that she hasn’t forgotten that will help them solve those crimes.

Heartbreaker stars Melissa George as Dr. Alex Pantierre, one of a handful of female heart transplant surgeons in the world. She is also the head of new technologies at her hospital. As usual in medical dramas she is someone who breaks the rules if it can possibly help her patients and is more than willing to try innovative procedures when necessary. Also as usual in medical dramas (particularly medical dramas with female leads) she struggles to balance her professional life with her personal life.

NBC didn’t do a trailer for The Best Time Ever With Neil Patrick Harris, so I’ll have to go to the network press release: “Complete with stunts, skits, pranks, audience interaction, musical numbers, giveaways and unlimited surprises, this show proves that anything can happen, and it can happen to you. Based on the wildly popular British hit Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway.”

There also isn’t a trailer for Heroes Reborn beyond a few teasers from the Super Bowl in February which basically announced that the show would be coming back – as a 13 episode miniseries. As I understand it, some but not all of the original cast (including Jack Coleman and Masi Oka) will be returning for the mini-series while new people with powers will be emerging, most notably Zach Levi from Chuck.

The Player starts with an interesting concept. Philip Winchester plays Alex Kane, Las Vegas’s top – and most flamboyant – security expert. Following the murder of his wife, Alex is drawn into a complex game. In a city where people will bet on anything, the ultimate game is betting on whether Alex can stop a crime from taking place, or even survive the tasks put before him. In this “game” the house consists of three people: Alex – the Player, Cassandra King (Charity Wakefield) – the Dealer, and the mysterious Mr. Johnson (Wesley Snipes) – the Pit Boss. If Alex is able to accomplish the tasks put before him, he might just be able to get revenge for the death of his wife.


One thing I’ve noticed in going over the NBC shows that have been cancelled and renewed is just how few NBC shows I watched in the past season. I watched State Of Affairs and mostly didn’t find it as laughable as I had expected given that it was Katherine Heigl as a CIA agent who advised the President on national security threats. And yet I don’t find myself mourning its passing. I watched Chicago Fire and Chicago PD for quite a while but in the past year or so I’ve basically given up on those as well. Basically the only thing I watch on NBC is The Blacklist.

The biggest thing to note is the near absence of situation comedy in the fall line-up. Not counting the Neil Patrick Harris series, which sounds like it might turn into something of a mess, the only comedies in the line-up are the returning Undateable and the new People Are Talking. It is something of a sign that the only two comedies at the start of the season are both scheduled for Friday night before Grimm. Setting aside the fact that this is the “Friday night death slot” (because after all CBS at least seems to thrive on Fridays) People are Talking at least definitely doesn’t fall into the NBC comedy tradition as exemplified by Seinfeld, Fraser, The Office, Community, and Parks And Recreation. Then again the latter two series didn’t exactly set the ratings world on fire. Moreover last season, when NBC made a major push to do sit coms, the results were pretty disastrous with most of the shows dying a quick and for the most part well-deserved death. Based on the trailer that I saw, People Are Talking seems to be playing things very safe which is far different from the edgy sort of comedy that we generally expect from NBC.

Blindspot and The Player both seem interesting although they also seem to be trying to replicate the success of NBC’s one big drama success that isn’t produced by Dick Wolf, namely The Blacklist. Blindspot is probably closest to what The Blacklist in that there’s quite obviously a massive conspiracy behind the scenes that “Jane Doe” and Agent Weller will have to unravel. The question is whether audiences will have the patience to stick with the show if it is an unrelenting in pursuing the show’s mytharc, particularly when the show is opposite the “simpler” NCIS: Los Angeles and Castle. Initially at least The Player seems likely to be more episodic and therefore easier to access for viewers. Plus it has The Blacklist as a lead in, although the ratings for that show have been slipping, probably because it is going against Scandal and CBS comedies on Thursday night.

I’m not sure what to say about Heartbreaker. The whole thing of the female lead being forced to balance her personal and professional lives is such a cliché. Take that away and I’m not sure there’s enough there for the show to engage its audience. I wonder if this is meant as a placeholder to be replaced, when it inevitably crashes and burns, with Dick Wolf’s latest opus, Chicago Medical.

Finally something needs to be said about the revival of Heroes as Heroes Reborn. I don’t know why it’s happening given how quickly and totally the show collapsed in it’s first run. The cynic in me says that executives at NBC looked at the success of the Marvel movie/TV franchises (including Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), not to mention Arrow and The Flash and even iZombie on The CW and said: “We need a superhero show. Okay so we blew it with Constantine but superheroes are still hot. Let’s take another run at doing Heroes. We’ll do it as a limited series, and if it works out maybe we’ll bring it back in 2016 as a full series.” And since I can’t think of a better reason why they revived this, I think the cynical view wins.

Final assessment of what NBC is giving us: there’s very little here that I actually find engaging. There are a couple of shows that I’ll try but I honestly don’t think much of their chances for survival. Nothing here strikes me as a genuine sustainable hit.

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