Sunday, September 6, 2009

The 2009-2010 American Network Broadcast Television Season

Okay, I realise that every year I express disappointment in the broadcast networks' new fall season. And I know there have been a few times I have thought a particular season was the worst one in years. Sadly, I think this coming season no one can really accuse me of hyperbole. In fact, I think the 2009-2010 television might just be the worst season in decades. This year the networks have shown an incredible lack of originality and have served up shows that, at least from their promos, look incredibly dull to me.

Of course, the big news this coming season was a rather surprising move on the part of NBC in scheduling The Jay Leno Show at 10:00 PM Eastern/9:00 PM Central every weeknight. I must say that I am not particularly happy about this myself. Oh, I have nothing against Jay Leno. He seems like a nice enough fellow. I thought he did well enough interviewing guests. I must confess that I did watch The Tonight Show with Jay Leno from time to time. Therein, however, rests my problem with NBC's scheduling of The Jay Leno Show five nights a week. I only watched Leno from time to time. Personally, while Leno seems a nice enough fellow to me, he is only moderately funny at best. He is no Johnny Carson, let alone Jack Paar. I honestly do not think Jay Leno will be able to compete against such hour long dramas on CBS and ABC as Castle and CSIL NY. All of this would not be so sad, except it means that NBC will air fewer hour long dramas of its own because of the only moderately funny comedy scheduled every weeknight.

At least I find Jay Leno moderately funny. Many of the shows debuting this coming season do not look entertaining whatsoever. Indeed, whether because of the success of House (which is a medical mystery rather than a medical drama) and Grey's Anatomy or because the networks have simply run out of ideas, the 2009-2010 television season will see a bumper crop of medical dramas this season. On CBS there is Three Rivers, with Alex O'Loughlin playing a transplant surgeon. On NBC there are two shows that could well be considered medical dramas. One is Mercy, a show about three nurses. The other is Trauma, which is about paramedics in San Francisco. Granted I am not particularly fond of medical dramas (I can count the number of I have liked on the fingers of one hand), but none of these shows seems the least bit appealing to me.

Of course, every year sees a new crop of situation comedies on American television, the one genre which never seems to go out of style. Unfortunately, most of the new sitcoms do not sound particularly interesting to me. ABC has several scheduled on Tuesday night. Hank is about a Wall Street executive who loses his job and must reconnect with his family in the Midwest. Honestly, the premise just doesn't sound that interesting to me. The Middle centres on Patricia Heaton as a middle class mother of a family in the Midwest. I don't know if anyone at ABC realised that this is one of the oldest sitcom concepts in television. I think the title of Cougar Town could be considered offensive. I certainly don't care much for the concept--fortysomething Courtney Cox decides to date younger guys. Just how much comedy can one get out of that? The only sitcom that shows on ABC that shows any promise to me is Modern Family, a mockumentary which will follow the lives of a fictional American family. The series was created by screenwriter Christopher Lloyd (veteran of both The Golden Girls and Fraiser) and Steven E. Levitan.

CBS's only new sitcom, Accidentally on Purpose sounds contrived to say the least. The show centres on a thirtysomething movie critic who gets pregnant by her twentysomething boyfriend. The two then decide to live together platonically. Fox's only new sitcom is not contrived, but it is hardly interesting either. Brothers centres on two estranged brothers who are pressured by their family to get along. NBC's only new sitcom is the only one besides ABC's Modern Family to show some promise. Community was created by Dan Harmon (who co-wrote the underrated animated feature Monster House and centres around a suspended lawyer who goes to a community college. The promos look very funny and, given Harmon's track record, there's no reason to think the show won't be funny.

As far as hour long dramas beyond the medical genre, there are a few genre shows debuting this season. FlashForward is based on the novel of the same name by Robert J. Sawyer and was co-created by Brannon Braga and David S. Goyer. The concept of the show is that a global event takes place in which people experience what their lives will be like in the future for two minutes and seventeen seconds. FBI agent Mark Benford and his team proceed to investigate the incident, trying to figure out what exactly happened. Given the people involved, FlashForward does have possibilities. The other genre show debuting this season on ABC is Eastwick is based on John Updike's novels and follows the witches there. I must admit, I am really at a loss as to what one would even do with such a concept, unless they wish to simply adapt the novels themselves.

Another genre show debuting this coming season is on the CW. The Vampire Diaries is based on the book series of the same name by L. J. Smith. The show centres around a young woman who just happens to become the romantic interest of two brothers who are also vampires--one good and one evil. To those who don't know better, The Vampire Diaries might sound like a rip off of both True Blood and Twilight. In truth, however, the first Vampire Diaries book was published in 1991--ten years before the first True Blood book and fifteen years before Twilight. Unfortunately, with the Twilight movies and the True Blood series, The Vampire Diaries will probably seemed derivative nonetheless.

It is perhaps a mark of the lack of originality possessed by the broadcast networks this coming season that one new show is a spin off and another is a revival of an old one. NCIS: Los Angeles is a spin off from the popular NCIS. Fortunately, unlike the CSI spin offs, NCIS: Los Angeles looks to be substantially different from the original series. The series centres on the Office of Special Projects, a division of NCIS which specialises in undercover work. My brother, whose favourite show is NCIS, tells me that some fans have said they will not watch the show. Having like the pilot, I probably will. In fact, my only objection to NCIS: Los Angeles is its name, which is rather bland and a bit too reminiscent of CSI. I much preferred the names NCIS: Office of Special Projects and NCIS: Undercover.

While NCIS: Los Angeles is a spinoff, Melrose Place is a revival of the old nighttime soap opera Melrose Place. Now I have to confess. The original Melrose Place was a guilty pleasure of mine, the only soap opera I ever watched besides Dark Shadows. The original Melrose Place was campy and often tacky. It was at its best when it was downright outrageous (as in one episode where one of the show's villains kidnapped a character with the intention of lobotomising him...). Unfortunately, I don't think that is going to be the case for the new version of Melrose Place. From the promos, it looks like it is going to be simply another teen drama of the sort The CW is known for. Of course, that may be because it is airing on The CW....

While NCIS: Los Angeles is a spinoff and Melrose Place is a revival, The Good Wife may be less original than either. From the promos which have aired on CBS this month, one would think that the show is going to be about a woman and her husband, a United States senator, rebuilding their lives after a sex scandal. Well, the protagonist is the wife of a U.S. senator who is involved in a sex scandal, but that is as far as it goes with that premise. It seems her husband is jailed following the scandal and the wife returns to her former job of being a defence attorney. That's right. It's yet another legal drama, as if they were not done to death in the late Nineties....

The Forgotten may be, along with FlashForward, one of the few hour long dramas this year with an original concept. The Forgotten centres around a group of amateur detectives who attempt to identify unidentified murder victims by reconstructing their lives. The series is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, so it could possibly be good. At the very least, it sounds much more interesting than the various medical dramas on the schedule and the one legal drama (The Good Wife) airing opposite it.

Over all, the coming season on the broadcast networks looks to be a very drab one. While I must confess that one must expect a large lack of originality on the part of the networks (they have not show much in the way of originality since the Seventies), this season seems to have more derivative, unoriginal, uninteresting shows than usual. If I had to hazard a guess as to the reason for this, it could well be because network television is between cycles, the regularly occurring trends towards specific genres. Most of the Naughts have seen network television dominated by two cycles, one towards police procedurals and another towards reality shows. Both cycles ended a while back, so that the networks are between cycles. Sadly, that means the networks are seeking the Next Big Thing. That could explain the number of medical dramas debuting this season. Without an ongoing cycle, the networks will return to those genres which have been done to death on American television. We could have just as easily had several detective shows (which I would find more interesting) or legal drama (which I dislike even more than medical dramas). Right now I just hope that The Forgotten is a success. Sad as it sounds, a cycle towards mystery shows would be a vast improvement over this season...

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