Tuesday, August 9, 2005

The New TV Season

Here in the United States, the new TV season begins next month. And as always the networks have been advertising all summer long about new shows and new excitement coming in the fall. Unfortunately, it seems to me that for the most part this fall will simply bring more of the same old thing to American network television.

Indeed, even though it has now been five years since CSI: Crime Scene Investigations debuted, the coming season will see the debut of yet more police procedurals. On CBS Criminal Minds will follow a group FBI profilers. On Fox, Bones will centre on a forensic antropologist often consulted by the police. Also on Fox, Killer Instinct follows the San Francisco Police Department's Deviant Crime Unit. While I have always been a fan of CSI and Law and Order, there is a point where there is too much of any one of sort of show on television. In the case of police procedurals, I think American television reached that point years ago. I suppose it might be different if these shows turn out to be substantially different from the other police procedurals on the air, but from the descriptions I have read, they probably won't.

Of course, if there is one genre of show that has been done to death in the past several years it is that of the reality show. Unfortunately, this coming season will see a few more of them. NBC is debuting three alone. Now I really cannot object to Three Wishes, hosted by Amy Grant. The idea behind the show is that deserving individuals and communities will be granted wishes. While the show does not sound like my cup of tea, it seems innocuous enough and even sweet. On the other hand, I have to question the need for an edition of The Apprentice with Martha Stewart (I didn't like the show to begin with). I also have to wonder about the point behind Tommy Lee Goes to College. Is anyone really interested in Motley Crue's drummer going to the University of Nebraska? I suppose that NBC thinks it might be funny. To me it sounds dull. After all, it is not as if we have not seen reality shows placing celebrities in unusual situations before...

I have to admit, however, that I find even reality shows preferable to the few new legal dramas debuting this coming season. Between 1995 and 2003, around 18 different legal dramas aired on network television. In other words, there was a bit of a glut of them on American television for a while. And, quite frankly, I can see no signs that the American people are eager for more legal dramas. While Boston Legal did well in the ratings, both Law and Order: Trial by Jury and Kevin Hill were cancelled. I don't see how the WB thinks Just Legal will succeed, nor can I see how Fox thinks Head Cases will succeed either. Quite frankly, I rather suspect the American people are simply tired of legal dramas.

Of course, I cannot say that there is going to be nothing new on American television this fall. The success of Lost and Medium have resulted in several genre shows (that is, sci-fi, fantasy or horror shows) debuting this season. And I must admit that it seems like it has been some time since theere have been any new genre shows on most of the networks. Unfortunately, many of these shows seem downright derivative to me. Both Invasion on ABC and Threshold on CBS centre on alien invasions, something which Hollywood drove into the ground long ago. Who knows exactly how many movies about alien invasions there have been? It isn't even something new on American television. The Invaders, V, and the syndicated Earth: Final Conflict all centred around alien invasions. As to the other genre shows, The Ghost Whisperer sounds like an outright ripoff of Medium. Of the new genre shows debuting this fall, only three seem to me to have any sort of potential. One is Surface, debuting on NBC, which centres on the discovery of a new lifeform in our oceans. While I'll admit it could turn out really bad, there is also the possibility that it could turn out really good. Another show with possibilities is Supernatural, debuting on the WB. It involves two brothers travelling the United States, fighting the supernatural forces that killed their mother. While I'll admit that the concept may not be that original, it at least sounds more interesting than alien invaders or mediums. Finally, there is Night Stalker, a revamp of the Seventies series Kolchak: The Night Stalker, debuting on ABC. This sounds like the most promising show debuting on any of the networks this fall. It is being produced by veterans of The X-Files (Frank Spotnitz and Dan Sackheim). And unlike the original, they have actually given Kolchak a reason to encounter the supernatural--a mysterious attack which injured him and left his wife dead.

One thing that has me very curious about the coming season is that out of all the shows debuting on the American networks, not one is a quirky, nighttime soap opera. I would have thought that with the success of Desperate Housewives the networks would have rushed to get more on the air. I would have thought we would have seen at least five or six Desperate Housewives imitations. Now don't get me wrong. I am not complaining. I have never seen an episode of Desperate Housewives and, beyond Melrose Place and a nighttime version of Dark Shadows, I've never cared for nighttime soap operas. That having been said, I do think this a bit strange. In fact, it could be the first time in American broadcast history that producers did not rush to imitate the most successful new series on television...

At any rate, I cannot say I am really looking forward to the new fall season. It seems to me that it is simply more of the same old thing, with more police procedurals, more legals dramas, and more reality shows. Even the genre shows which are debuting this season seem like retreads of other shows. I guess one can only hope that the 2006-2007 season will be better.


Paul666 said...

There is one thing that everyone must remember about television. It's basically been around for over 60 years and lets face it there isn't anything new. Everything is a retread of something that came before.

Those of the general public under 35 won't have seen much of what came before. And the younger a person is the less they've seen.

Example - Supernatural is only Route 66 meets The Night Stalker. All others shows mentioned are mearly copies of the same thing on right now.

What we really need is for the TV executives to come up with truely original shows. But with each episode costing up to half a million dollars. No exec is going to put his job on the line to try anything new. And that in the long and short run is what it all boils down to. - Money

Basically anyone can come up with an original show premises. The trick is getting one the public actually likes. The public being idiots for the most part. After all who but an idiot would watch Paris Hilton do anything but take her cloths off.

Terence Towles Canote said...

I think you are right to a large degree. There have been regular network broadcasts in the United States and the United Kingdom since 1946. I seem to recall that there have been regular network broadcasts in Canada and Australia nearly as long. It is then very hard for anyone to come up with anything fresh and new where television in the English speaking world is concerned. There has been a show in nearly every genre known to man.

That having been said, I do think it is still possible to do fresh takes on things. Deadwood on HBO (which is a pay channel, unfortunately) is a very fresh take on Westerns. Lost is unlike anything that has been on before, although quite similar to everything that has been on before at the same time. I agree with you that Supernatural is basically Route 66 meets The Night Stalker, but while there have been a lot of Route 66 type shows (Run for Your Life, Then Came Bronson) and a few Night Stalker type shows (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel), there's never been a show that crossed the two. I don't know if Supernatural will be any good, but I think it will be different.

Anyhow, I have to agree with you about network executives. Most of them are not going to put their job on the line to try new things. They are going to go for what makes money and, unfortunately, what makes money is often the lowest common demoninator. How to explain the success of shows like The Simple Life?

I guess in some ways it is useless to bemoan the quality of American television. As bad as television is now, I am not sure that it has ever been a bastion of high quality. After all, it was in 1961 that FCC chairman Newton Minnow referred to American television as "a vast wasteland." I hate to see what he'd think of it now!

Paul666 said...

I've never watched Lost, so I don't know how good or bad it is. But to me the premise is only Land Of The Giants, without the giants and with other meanies.

Plus how could they not be found.. With GPS's in a lot of cellphones and other gadgets.

As for Deadwood, I don't get pay TV, only regular cable you pay for, so I've never seen it either.

But how good would it be if they put it on regular cable and had to take out the sex, violence and foul language.

A lot of shows could be better if put on pay cable and put in sex, violence and foul language. That is what draws the public to a lot of cable shows. Not how good they may be otherwise.

Marc Howlett said...
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Terence Towles Canote said...

Well, Lost has dealt with the whole matter of GPS and so on. I had the same question before I started watching the show--wouldn't they be found rather quickly? But you are right. To a degree it's not that new. Beyond Land of the Giants, there has also been Gilligan's Island and The New People dealing with folks stranded on an island. But Lost does it in a way differently than either of those shows (certianly Gilligan's Island, which was a comedy). And it is IMHO well written and well acted. Too, it's not an idea that has been dealt with a lot.

As to Deadwood, I think even without the sex and violence it would be good. I think a lot of what sets it apart is its focus on the characters and the various political manoeuvring of those characters. But I do agree with you. I don't think a lot of the shows on pay cable would have their audiences without the language, sex, and violence. Many of them simply aren't that good.