Tuesday, May 05, 2009

NBC “In-Front” 2009

NBC has started the process of announcing their new line-up for the 2009-10 season, and they're doing it in the sort of way that will probably make both Jeffrey Zucker and Ben Silverman very proud – in a half-assed manner. Even someone sitting in front of a computer in Saskatoon can see that one. And really, I am serious about this; half of the process was completed today, the part where they tell us what the new shows for 2009-10 are going to be and what some of the shows that will be renewed are. The other half of the process will be completed on May 19th – the day of the ABC Upfront presentation – when the network announces timeslots for series, and which existing shows are going to be cancelled. Like I said, half-assed.

So here's what we've got so far:

Cancelled: Lipstick Jungle, America's Toughest Jobs, Chopping Block, Crusoe, ER, Momma's Boys, My Own Worst Enemy, Life.

Renewed: 30 Rock, The Biggest Loser, Celebrity Apprentice, Law & Order: SVU, The Office, Heroes, Friday Night Lights, Southland (for 13 episodes at least), Parks and Recreation.

Moved: Who knows? There are going to be show moved though thanks to the 900 lb. gorilla in the room, The Jay Leno Show. Every show that airs in the third hour of primetime that gets renewed is going to have to move to an earlier time slot

Fate As Yet Unannounced: Medium, Law & Order, Chuck, Law & Order: CI, My Name is Earl, Deal Or No Deal, Howie Do It, Dateline NBC, Kath & Kim, Kings, Knight Rider, Superstars of Dance (the last four are pretty obviously dead though).

New:The Marriage Ref, Who Do You Think You Are?, Breakthrough With Tony Robbins,
The Jay Leno Show, Weekend Update, Community, 100 Questions, Parenthood, Trauma, Mercy, Day One.

Daily Schedule:

Who knows? Probably Zucker and Silverman but even that is not absolutely clear. The fact that they are meeting with advertisers before they actually announce times for shows would almost make one think that the advertisers are going to have some input on when the shows will be airing. The only show we really know about is Jay Leno's new primetime series, which airs every week night in the third hour.

New Series Summaries

The Marriage Ref: A noncompetition reality series from producers Jerry Seinfeld and Ellen Rakieten in which celebrities, comedians and sports stars candidly comment on, judge and offer strategies to real-life couples in the midst of marital disputes.

Breakthrough With Tony Robbins: Tony Robbins guides participants in this reality show "through complex challenges and personal obstacles, while changing their lives and redesigning their futures."

Who Do You Think You Are?: A new reality series from Lisa Kudrow and her production company, this show looks at the family trees of various celebrities to reveal "surprising, inspiring and even tragic stories that often are linked to crucial events in American history." Based on an award winning British documentary series.

The Jay Leno Show: It's going to be pretty much what Leno's been doing for the past fifteen or so years, except in the third hour of primetime.

Weekend Update Thursday: NBC will be running a six episode run of Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update again this season.

Community: Joel McHale plays a lawyer whose law degree has been revoked and finds himself becoming the leader of a group of misfits at the local community college when they form a study group. Naturally they learn more about themselves than about their course work. Also stars Chevy Chase, Gillian Jacobs, Alison Brie, Yvette Nicole Brown, and Danny Pudi.

100 Questions: Also known as 100 Questions for Charlotte Payne, this comedy is about a woman who has rejected numerous marriage proposals because she's "looking for Mr. Right." After she signs up at a major online dating site her "relationship counsellor" makes her fill out an exhaustive 100 question compatibility test. Each question forces her to reveal a poignant and humorous time in her life with her friends. Stars Amir Talai, Chris Moynihan, David Walton, Elizabeth Ho, Joy Suprano and Sophie Winkleman as Charlotte Payne.

Parenthood: Maura Tierney plays a single mom who is forced to uproot her two teenage children and move back to the family home in Berkley. There she encounters her opinionated father, strong-willed mother, and three adult siblings, all of whom have relationship issues of their own. Loosely based on the 1989 film and 1990 sitcom of the same name from producers Brian Grazer and Ron Howard (who have Friday Night Lights producer Jason Katims to the mix), this show has a strong cast which includes Tierney, Craig T. Nelson, Bonnie Bedelia, Erika Christensen, Dax Shepherd, and Peter Krause.

Trauma: Produced by Friday Night Lights creator Peter Berg, Trauma is a look at the life of first-responder paramedics, described by NBC as "one of the most dangerous medical professions in the world." Again, according to the network, "these heroes must face the most extreme conditions to save lives -- and give meaning to their own existence in the process." Stars Jamey Sheridan (Captain Deakins from Law & Order: Criminal Intent) and Kevin Rankin (Herc on Friday Night Lights) as well as a bunch of other attractive young actors.

Mercy: Another medical show, this time staying in the hospital but viewed from the perspective of the nurses, and in particular Veronica Callahan, who recently returned from a tour in Iraq knowing more about medicine than most of the doctors. With her colleagues she has to navigate the difficulties of life and love both inside and outside of the hospital. Stars include, Taylor Schilling, Delroy Lindo, James Tupper and Michelle Trachtenberg.

Day One: Following a global catastrophe that devastated the world's infrastructures, a group of survivors – all from the same apartment building in Van Nuys California try to survive and discover the root cause of the global collapse. Stars Adam Campbell, Addison Timlin, April Grace, Carly Pope, Catherine Dent, David Lyons, Derek Mio, Julie Gonzalo, and Thekla Reuten.


I can't say that I'm overly impressed with this list of new series. There are a couple of dramas that have some potential but on the whole the series that NBC has announced seem to have a lot of retreads. Take Day One for example. Change "global catastrophe" to "nuclear terrorism" and suddenly what you've got is a show called Jericho. Similarly, while 100 Questions sounds original as a comedy, I can't help but being reminded of The Ex-List when reading the network description. One can only hope that it works better as a comedy than as a drama. On the other hand Parenthood's lineage seems clear – the Ron Howard-Brian Grazer movie by way of the 1990 sitcom – but am I the only one who can see a strong resemblance and linkage to ABC's Brothers And Sisters?

Arguably the biggest bit of thievery/homage is from Jack Webb's shows. If you've been watching Southland you might have picked up on the similarities of the episodes that focus on rookie cop Ben Sherman and his training officer John Cooper, and the Webb series Adam-12 that dealt with rookie cop Jim Reed and his training officer Pete Malloy. It's not an entirely unpleasant melding of the Adam-12 concept with an NYPD Blue sensibility. And now we have Trauma, which comes across as being not unlike Webb's other huge hit of the 1970s, Emergency, although presumably it will have the sort of edginess that has been seen in more modern shows. And a lot of explosions. I'm not complaining really – Webb's material has probably been due for a re-examination that would add a considerable amount of edge to it, moreso than what Dick Wolfe did when he tried to revive Dragnet – I'm just saying that NBC really can't claim much in the way of originality here.

Looking at the trailers that NBC provided for the shows (fortunately not on Hulu, so I can see them), 100 Questions seems like a pretty standard comedy from the network which brought out such gems as 30 Rock and the American version of The Office. It's filmed before a live audience and has elements of Friends and, dare I say it, Coupling (but the funny British version). It still seems somewhat pedestrian but maybe you need a full episode to appreciate it. As for Community, Joel McHale seems to work well enough and there's a definite effort at building chemistry between the characters, but I can't help but wonder how long some of the characters can go on without becoming annoying. Then again, I felt the same about Tracy Morgan on 30 Rock.

Of the dramas Mercy looks at first blush to be the weakest of the bunch, and that's saying a mouthful. Taylor Schilling, playing a forceful nurse, who essentially knows more than the doctors because of the time she spent in Iraq, is not an entirely weak concept but it seems to be undermined by most of the characters surrounding her and by the occasionally soap opera style relationships. The whole thing isn't being treated with either the lightness of a Grey's Anatomy or the focus of an ER. On the othe hand Trauma seems to hit all of the main points. There seems to be a focus to the clips that NBC has chosen to show and it's hard to beat the sort of high energy action that the show is promising. If the series can maintain this level it might make something of itself.

On a completely different level, NBC seems to regard the revived Parenthood as the prestige element of their line-up, probably on the basis of the Ron Howard-Brian Grazer connection. They seem to have put a lot of faith – not to mention salaries for the actors – into this show. And the truth is that it may be the right show at the right time, given NBC's retreat from the third hour of prime time, not to mention the success of ABC's Brothers And Sisters. It could come as close as anything to being the "family friendly" show that the Parents Television Council says that the American public wants. As for Day One, the clips supplied by NBC are nowhere near as polished as those for the rest of the shows; not surprising given that it is expected to debut in Spring of 2010 and is being positioned as "an event." Harper's Island was "an event" and so was Kings and we know how well they did.

Clearly there are a bunch of things going on behind the scenes at NBC with regards to some of the shows that have not yet been announced. We'll just have to see what goes where and why when NBC actually announces the 2009-10 schedule in two weeks.

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