When we Baby Boomers were growing up the changing of the seasons from summer to fall meant two things: (a) the start of a new school year and (b) the various TV networks launching their new primetime programs.
The television landscape has become far more complicated over the last generation, with the proliferation of cable television networks, and, in the last few years, online companies such as Netflix, Yahoo and Hulu, which have developed shows that have won Emmy Awards such as “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black.”
But when fall comes around, it’s still old school as the attention is clearly on the tried and true broadcast networks. Here’s a quick look at what they have in store for us.
The Tiffany Network has had the most viewers over the last decade but has taken shots from hipster critics for appealing to an older audience than its competitors. I don’t see a problem with that, but rather with the lack of risk-taking on the part of CBS.
CEO Les Moonves loves his “CSI” and “NCIS” franchises and is launching a new one from each this fall. “CSI Cyber” has Patricia Arquette and James Van Der Beek as FBI agents who specialize in high-tech crime. Scott Bakula has long played gruff characters so he should be a perfect knockoff of Mark Harmon’s Jethro Gibbs character on “NCIS: New Orleans.”
CBS has long championed police procedurals even if they don’t create franchises. Johnny Lee Miller’s success as Sherlock Holmes on “Elementary” has created an employment opportunity for fellow British actor Ioan Gruffudd, who stars as a New York City medical examiner in “Forever.” The twist is that Gruffudd’s character is immortal.
It’s not a new TV season unless Dylan McDermott is starring in yet another show. This time it’s “Stalker,” wherein he plays a former NYPD detective who relocates to the LAPD to track down, you guessed it, stalkers.
A more intriguing cop show is “Battle Creek,” whose creator is Vince Gilligan of “Breaking Bad” fame. It stars Josh Duhamel and Dean Winters. You have seen Winters many times even if you don’t know his name, as he has starred as the humorously malicious “Mayhem” in those clever Allstate ads.
Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple” will have yet another reboot with Thomas Lennon and Matthew Perry (who has had no TV success since “Friends”) as Felix and Oscar.
The good news for the Peacock Network is that it doesn’t have any obvious new disasters such as last year’s dreadful comedy “Welcome to the Family.” The bad news is that NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt, who gave the green light to “Homeland” when he ran Showtime’s programming department, has approved two imitations for NBC’s fall slate, and neither looks promising.
“Allegiance” stars Scott Cohen as the patriarch of what seems to be a normal American family but in reality are Russian spies. Apparently no one told Greenblatt that cable’s FX has a similar show called “The Americans.”
At May’s NBC Upfront, in which networks present sneak peeks at their new programming to advertisers and the press, Greenblatt took pains to lavish attention on “State of Affairs,” which stars Katherine Heigl, whose talent has long escaped me and who is legendary for diva behavior, as a CIA attache. My prediction is that the dice will come up snake eyes, just as they did for two other Greenblatt pet projects, “Smash” and “The Michael J. Fox Show.”
NBC will try to give CBS some competition with police procedurals beyond its remaining “Law & Order” series, “Special Victims Unit.” “Aquarius,” set in the late 1960s, stars David Duchovny as an LA detective who will eventually cross paths with Charles Manson. “The Mysteries Of Laura” has another Greenblatt favorite, Debra Messing, playing a single mom NYPD detective who is tough as nails. Think of her as “Dirty Harriet.”
On the comedy front, Kate Walsh stars as a wacky guardian of the law in “Bad Judge.” The fact that the TV version of the Cameron Diaz film “Bad Teacher,” which starred Ari Graynor, flopped on CBS last spring apparently did not deter Greenblatt. The always welcome Craig Robinson, who in real life is a fine musician, stars as a junior high music teacher in “Mr. Robinson.”
These have not been the best of times for what the raffish entertainment trade publication Variety has long called the Alphabet Network. ABC has finished fourth in the ratings the last two years, and one would assume that ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee has to be concerned about his job security. If Lee does lose his job, you have to at least give him points for trying to bring diversity to primetime.
Comedian Anthony Anderson, who has never starred in a hit show despite numerous chances, gets an opportunity to fail yet again in the questionably titled “Black-ish,” in which he stars as the head of an upscale African-American family.
Newcomer Cristela Alonzo gets a show named after her with “Cristela.” Here she is a recent law school grad who finds that the only employment open to her is an unpaid internship at a law firm, and that doesn’t please her Mexican-American family.
Former Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher’s wife, JoAnna Garcia, stars in the “Astronauts Wives Club,” set in the 1960s, while “Manhattan Love Story” is yet another “Friends”-inspired show about 20-somethings in the big city.
Kevin Reilly was fired as Fox Television Entertainment president after last May’s Upfront presentation. As is the case when a great baseball team suddenly gets old at once and there isn’t an infusion of top new talent, a la the Philadelphia Phillies, things tanked very quickly for Fox when longtime tent poles such as “American Idol” and “Glee” experienced massive audience erosion and there were no new hits to pick up the slack. So Reilly met the same fate that Phillies manager Charlie Manuel met last year.
Ironically, Reilly left Fox with some promising new shows.
Rainn Wilson, one of the stars of NBC’s old hit “The Office,” portrays a brilliant yet humorously crude Portland detective in the hour-long dramedy “Backstrom.”
Benjamin McKenzie stars as James Gordon, who will eventually become better known to comic book fans as Commissioner Gordon, in the Batman prequel “Gotham.”
Terence Howard stars as the head of a hip-hop music label in “Empire.” Taraji P. Henson, who was last seen on CBS’s top-notch drama “Person of Interest,” co-stars. I have a feeling that Sean “P. Diddy” Combs will be watching this one.
Fox executives are hoping that “The Red Band Society,” about chronically ill teens in a hospital, will be their next “Glee.”
On the comedy front, “Seinfeld” fans should check out “Mulaney,” which stars witty Chicago comic John Mulaney who portrays a slightly fictionalized version of himself just as Queens College alum Jerry Seinfeld did in the ’90s. Former “Saturday Night Live” player and co-star of the Bruce Dern film “Nebraska” Will Forte stars in “Last Man on Earth.”
There have been rumors that the CW, which came about after the merger of the failing UPN and WB Networks, is in danger of folding. Tribune Media President Peter Liguori (who grew up a Mets fan in the Bronx so you know that he’s tough!) has been highly critical of the CW’s ineptitude since Tribune Media owns a lot of its outlets, including Channel 11 here in New York.
Liguori has a right to gripe as the CW in recent years tried to focus its programming on preteen girls as well as renewing shows that hardly anyone watches, such as “America’s Next Top Model.” That has not been a recipe for garnering sizable advertising revenue.
Last year CW President Mark Pedowitz decided to diversify his programming a bit and he had a hit, by CW standards anyway, with a DC Comics hero, “The Arrow.” This year he is doubling down on DC Comics as the CW will be presenting “The Flash.”
The CW has had some success with vampire-themed shows, so now it will expand into the world of zombies with actress Rose McIver portraying a medical student who works in a coroner’s office so that she can maintain her zombie lifestyle undercover. Hey, if this show gets canceled, McIver can always move to CBS and join the cast of “Forever!’