upfronts 2010

Upfronts Review: What We Loved, What We Didn’t

It’s over: With the CW’s unveiling of its lineup done, all the major broadcast networks have revealed their brand spankin’ new shows and their latest strategies for achieving Nielsen dominance. (Or, in the case of NBC, simple Nielsen respectability.) The mood is upbeat, as it is almost every year at the end of upfront week: It’s as if the networks all just got a box full of new toys to play with. And as the summer goes on, they’ll spend millions convincing us we’ll want to check out their goodies, too. But before you get sick of seeing Will Arnett hamming it up in promos for Running Wilde, or Michael Chiklis acting all superhero-y a zillion times, here’s a quick recap of what we learned.

Shows we can’t wait to see:
Centered around a Texas con man with a wife and mistress in different cities, Fox’s Lonestar looks soapy, complex, and likely to make the Parents Television Council issue a preemptive jihad. We’re equally intrigued by ABC’s No Ordinary Family, which is basically a live-action take on The Incredibles starring Michael Chiklis (The Shield).

Show we couldn’t wait to see but now we’re not so sure:
An Arrested Development reunion of star Will Arnett and creator Mitch Hurwitz, with Keri Russell thrown in for good measure, should be a slam dunk for our DVR. But Fox’s Running Wilde seemed strangely, you know, unfunny. Hopefully it’ll play better when we can see the whole thing.

The boldest scheduling move:
By shifting The Big Bang Theory to the 8 p.m. Thursday time slot that once housed Friends, CBS either established a new comedy beachhead and revitalized a night that had been slipping away from it in the ratings (Survivor moves to Wednesday) — or severely wounded its biggest half-hour hit in years. We’re betting it’s the former.

The most lawyered-up hour on TV:
If you’re not fond of attorneys, you might want to avoid 10 p.m. Wednesday on the broadcast networks, when three new law shows will battle it out: ABC’s The Whole Truth (Jerry Bruckheimer law); CBS’s The Defenders (Vegas law); and NBC’s Law and Order: Los Angeles (Old-school law).

The show most likely to replace Lost
NBC is hoping it’s The Event, a 24-like thriller featuring Jason Ritter (Joan of Arcadia) as a man whose quest to find his missing fiancée leads him to uncover a multilayered conspiracy. The show’s tagline: “The answers only lead to bigger questions.” And just when we thought we were done with TV shows stringing us along for six years.

Breakout stars:
Lots of buzz surrounds James Wolk, the star of Lonestar, who is already being compared to a young George Clooney. Maggie Q dazzled in the clips for her new CW actioner Nikita. And Scott Caan (yes, James’s boy) could pop in CBS’s Hawaii Five-O.

The scene stealer … by default:
Allison Janney plays Matthew Perry’s boss in ABC’s new comedy Mr. Sunshine, and from the clips the network showed, she’s the only source of humor in the pilot.

Trend that won’t die:
In an attempt to make scripted series seem more like reality shows (or even YouTube videos), the networks insist on using the fake-documentary conceit far too often. What began with The Office and spread to Parks and Recreation and Modern Family will now be used in ABC’s My Generation and Detroit 1-8-7. Somewhere, Ken Burns is not amused.

Trend that won’t die, part two
We’d feared the new season would bring many domestic-comedy Modern Family knockoffs. Turns out, that would have been a comparatively refreshing move. Instead, networks ignored the newest hit and went right back to the dry relationship-comedy well; the airwaves will be lousy with twentysomethings who were in grade school when Friends first aired, updating (if we’re lucky) that same old shtick. Even the titles (Friends With Benefits, Perfect Couples, Happy Ending) seem derivative.

Networks to New York: drop dead
First, NBC canceled the Law & Order mothership (and greenlit an L.A. spinoff as an added Manhattan face-slap). Then came word that CBS was shifting CSI: N.Y. to Friday nights (where networks often send shows to die) and that NBC was moving the beloved 30 Rock to the less high-profile 8:30 p.m. Thursdays (and away from the powerful lead-in that is The Office). Watch your backs, Regis and Kelly.

The nineties are back, at least behind the scenes:
The executive career of former ABC Entertainment president Jamie Tarses prematurely ended in 1999, not long after a blistering profile in The New York Times Magazine. Next season, however, producer Tarses will have three new shows on the air (on top of the two cable shows she already produces: Hawthorne and My Boys). Meanwhile, ex–NBC chief Warren Littlefield — who presided over the Peacock’s era of must-see TV dominance — is back as the producer of ABC’s My Generation.

They’re dead — finally!:
Heroes, Gary Unmarried, Scrubs, and Til Death all officially met their makers last week. Unlike, say, Lost, we won’t miss them.

Get ready for stache-tastic Fridays:
Tom Selleck and his iconic mustache are back on series television with the CBS Friday-night cop drama Blue Bloods. But he’s not the only prime-time star rocking distinctive facial hair that night: Fox’s The Good Guys, airing an hour before Selleck’s show, boasts Bradley Whitford with a very old-school ‘stache.

We have a copy-editor rebellion in the making:
CBS should have called its new William Shatner comedy Shat My Dad Says. Instead, this Twitter-inspired (really) show has been tagged $#*! My Dad Says, which we’re supposed to pronounce as Bleep My Dad Says. We’re suddenly longing for the simplicity of Numb3rs.

NBC, finally more colorful:
The new J.J. Abrams spy caper Undercovers features two leads who happen to be black. Thursday comedy Outsourced is set in India. Jimmy Smits is a former Supreme Court judge in Outlaw. Blair Underwood plays our nation’s third African-American president (behind Palmer and Obama) in The Event. This is change we can believe in.

Fat is phat
Okay, so Hugo Reyes may be leaving prime time, but next season will bring some TV love for the full figured among us. In addition to more rounds of The Biggest Loser, CBS will unveil Mike & Molly, which plans to focus on a plus-size couple with a minimal number of McDonald’s jokes. And for mid-season, the CW’s got Shedding for the Wedding, in which overweight couples race to lose the pounds before the big day.

It’s all written in pencil:
Increasingly, the networks view their May scheduling announcements as rough drafts. Don’t be surprised if a number of shows change time slots in the coming weeks, while we’re certain a number of shows will be sent back for both minor and major retoolings. Who knows, by the time you see Mr. Sunshine, it may actually be funny.

Upfronts Review: What We Loved, What We Didn’t