When I was a kid, fall meant the end of summer vacation and a return to the school grind. The good news was that it meant the end of the summer TV rerun doldrums and the eager anticipation of checking out the new fall TV lineup. As an adult, I still look forward to the debut of new shows.
CBS remains the most watched TV network in the world and therefore has fewer slots for new programs. Its chief executive officer, Leslie Moonves, is hoping that new shows slated for this September will do better than the quickly canceled “Made in Jersey” and “Partners” did last fall.
Robin Williams is returning to television after a very successful film career to play an advertising executive in the “The Crazy Ones,” co-starring Sarah Michelle Geller of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fame.
Anna Faris, a sexy comedy actress whose film career never caught fire, makes her first attempt at a TV series as a single mother who is also a recovering alcoholic in “Mom.”
Will Arnett is a very funny guy who is respected by his comedy peers but for some reason has never found a television show that has struck a chord with the masses. The legendary “Arrested Development,” which has been revived on Netflix, is his biggest claim to fame. CBS is hoping that Arnett’s bad luck with the Nielsen ratings will change with “The Millers,” in which he replays a recently divorced man.
CBS is banking on a tense drama, “Hostages,” starring Dylan McDermott and Toni Collette. The trailer is designed to make you bite your nails but “Hostages” would seem to be better off as a miniseries than as a weekly one.
The key for CBS, though, may lie not in beating its broadcast competitors but rather in reaching a deal with Time Warner Cable to restore its signal. Currently TWC is blocking out CBS not only in New York but in Los Angeles and other parts of the country as well.
The decline of “American Idol” was a key reason for Fox garnering less than stellar ratings last season. Fox Entertainment Chairman Kevin Reilly can’t count on his network’s old standby to save the day any longer and is investing in a number of new shows.
Seth MacFarlane is responsible for a number of Fox’s successful animated shows over the years including “Family Guy,” and he is trying his hand at his first live-action comedy with a project called “Dads” that stars Seth Green, Peter Riegert and Martin Mull. From the laugh-free segment I saw, it seems as if Fox picked up the series as a favor to MacFarlane.
Two other comedies, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” starring former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Andy Samberg, and “Enlisted,” an Army comedy in the “Stripes” mold, don’t look like winners either.
On a more upbeat note for Fox, “Rake,” starring Greg Kinnear as a reprobate lawyer, and “Sleepy Hollow,” which transports some of the characters of the Washington Irving classic short story to the 21st century, appear promising.
Things have gotten so bad for the Peacock Network that it lagged behind Univision in terms of eyeballs during the February ratings sweeps. It is no wonder that NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt received tepid applause this past May when he was introduced at the NBC Upfront at Radio City Music Hall.
Greenblatt was able to coax Michael J. Fox into returning to his network in an eponymous show starring Fox as a WNBC anchorman who has Parkinson’s Disease, something he has valiantly battled in real life. The five-minute preview was warmly received, as was the snippet of “The Blacklist,” starring James Spader in what appears to be a knockoff of “Silence of the Lambs.” A reboot of “Ironside” with Blair Underwood taking over the role made famous by Raymond Burr also created buzz.
On the other hand, how can NBC greenlight “Welcome to the Family,” a comedy about teen pregnancy with ugly ethnic stereotypes to boot?
The Alphabet Network, to use Variety Magazine lingo, is in the same ratings-challenged boat as NBC. ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee is throwing a lot of things at the wall in the hopes that something will stick. The best of the lot seems to be “The Goldbergs,” an ’80s version of “The Wonder Years”; “Super Fun Night,” starring Australian comedy actress Rebel Wilson; and an action series, “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”
For a network few have watched since “Gossip Girl” departed, the CW is sticking with most of its programs that have been ignored over the years, such as “America’s Next Top Model” and “Nikita.” One new offering will be “Reign,” a drama about a young Mary, Queen of Scots.
While glitzy primetime shows grab all of the attention, it has been a well-kept secret in the television industry that daytime shows are the most profitable since they’re far less costly and can be produced for a weekday schedule, as opposed to evening shows that have expensive talent and air only once a week. Brain-numbing reality series as “Maury,” “Jerry Springer,” “Dr. Phil” and “The Bill Cunningham Show,” as well as the endless array of small claims court shows like “The People’s Court,” “Judge Mathis,” “America’s Court with Judge Ross,” and the grand doyenne of them all, “Judge Judy,” are veritable monetary printing presses for the TV industry.
While the aforementioned have all had long runs, it has been a different story in the post “Oprah” era. Ellen DeGeneres’ “Ellen” has had the most success, while the jury is still out on Katie Couric’s “Katie,” though it will have a second season. Talk shows hosted by Jeff Probst, Anderson Cooper and Ricki Lake have reached the end of the line. Taking their place behind the host’s desk and mike will be Queen Latifah, Bethenny Frankel and former “Today Show” anchor Meredith Vieira.
With the advent of cable and satellite providers across the U.S. over the last 30 years, the delineations between broadcast and cable networks get increasingly blurred. While practically every cable channel carries some reruns from CBS, ABC, NBC, and FOX, nearly all of them have some original programming as well.
USA Network, which for years was run by Hollis native Bonnie Hammer (who has been promoted to chairwoman of all of NBC’s cable properties), has long been the cable ratings champ thanks to its cheeky series — such as “Suits,” Burn Notice,” “Royal Pains,” “White Collar,” “Covert Affairs” and “Psych” — that personify its “Characters Welcome!” slogan. “Graceland,” a show that has nothing to do with Elvis, which premiered this summer and will carry over into the fall, is a bit darker than the prototypical USA series as it is about a pair of FBI agents in Southern California. USA spent a fortune to acquire the broadcast rights to past “Modern Family” episodes.
Fox has been busy creating new cable hubs. Two weeks ago it launched its competitor to ESPN, Fox Sports 1, and now it is cloning its popular FX Network with a second channel, FXX, and a movie home, FXM. FX has done well this summer with “The Bridge,” its dramatic series about violence along the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez border starring Diane Kruger, and it will continue into the fall. “The Bridge” will also be broadcast in Spanish this fall on Mundo Fox.
A new series based on the film “Fargo” and starring Billy Bob Thornton will debut on FX either late fall or early spring. On a lighter note, comedian George Lopez, whose talk show was surprisingly canceled by TBS last year, is back on familiar sitcom terrain at FX with “Saint George,” in which he plays a divorced dad.
Speaking of Turner Network’s TBS, offbeat Hollywood screenwriter Diablo Cody will be hosting “Me Time,” an unscripted, fictionalized look at her daily life. “Cheeseheads,” is, you guessed it, a comedy about diehard Green Bay Packers fans, while comic actor Steve Carell is producing “Tribeca,” a comedy series about cops in the Manhattan South precinct.
Over at TBS’s drama sister network, TNT, Mr. “Law & Order” himself, Dick Wolf, is producing “Cold Justice,” a reality series about unsolved crimes that stars former prosecutor Kelly Siegler and onetime crime scene investigator Yolanda McClary. Steven Spielberg is the executive producer behind a revival of the 1950s detective series, “Peter Gunn.” Let’s hope that he keeps the great instrumental theme written by the legendary Henry Mancini.
Discovery Networks is the largest cable network conglomerate of them all. Its flagship network, Discovery, has drawn high ratings with its nonfiction lineup of programs. This fall it goes into unexplored territory with “Klondike,” its first scripted series starring Sam Shepard, that will be a fictionalized look at the Alaska Gold Rush. At Investigation Discovery, Kew Gardens’ own Jerry Springer is in his milieu as he hosts “Tabloid,” a weekly look at sensational stories, some of which may actually be true.
TLC has long been the home of humorous albeit sometimes snarky reality series, and the network won’t disappoint its longtime fans with such new offerings as “Alaskan Women Looking for Love,” “Best Funeral Ever,” “Husband Hunters” and “My Teen Is Pregnant and So Am I.”