The Upfronts 2016: Fox

Fox network logoI watch precisely zero shows on Fox. I have vague intentions to watch Empire and Lucifer, but haven’t got round to it and that’s as close as it got. Just looking at the line-up it really looks like they’ve got problems, all the cancellations were from their new shows, two dramas, three comedies and an animation. Which might make you think that they’ve got a solid backbone of returning shows, but most of the rest of the schedule is only two or three seasons old and really nothing to write home about. The new shows actually had a few possibilities in there, but did rather annoy me that I had to re-label “new” to “new or resurrected”. I’m tempted to expand it further and call it “movie spin offs you never expected or wanted to see”

Cancelled
All of Fox’s cancellations were new shows this year. Minority Report got pretty bad reviews and was cut down to 10 episodes almost immediately before being officially cancelled. Grandfathered and Grinder both got pretty good reviews and made it through the full seasons before being cancelled, with some grumbling about Grinder in particular. Second Life had an 11 episode first season but was not picked up, which given that I’ve seen ABSOLUTELY no mention of it in any coverage is not hugely surprising. Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life also didn’t get renewed, personally I’d lost interest before even reaching the end of the title. Animation Bordertown was also cancelled.

Renewed
BonesBones will be back for a 12 episode 12th and final season. I gave up a few years ago when it started going round in circles and am somewhat amazed its managed to find enough gimmicky deaths to keep going so long. The critically acclaimed Empire is renewed for the third season. The rest of the drama line up is all relatively new, and not particularly high profile. Sleepy Hollow will be back, and trying to navigate its fourth season without its leading lady who was written out this year. Gotham continues into its third season continuing to confound me with people’s liking for the Batman universe.

New shows that did manage to get renewals were Rosewood (an utterly unremarkable looking standard medical/criminal procedural) and Lucifer (which I’ve heard some good things about and is sitting in my Amazon Instant Video queue). Scream Queens is renewed, although I would have thought the point of a slasher story is that most characters are either dead or guilty or both, so I can’t see how that gives a second season. Also I thought it was “unholy mess of un-watchable awfulness”

Fox has a pretty solid backbone of comedies with Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Last Man on Earth, and The New Girl. As are the animation block with Bob’s Burgers, Family Guy, and the seemingly immortal Simpsons, which with its upcoming 28th season will surpass 600 episodes.

The status of The X-Files following it’s revival/10th season seems to be a bit up in the air.

New/Resurrected
24: Legacy – I guess the Legacy in question is “ratings that were the envy of the other networks” so why not give it a try. I never got into 24 (it was all just too over the top, I found it funny), but it unquestionably worked for a lot of people.

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Prison Break – of all the shows ever described as ‘cancelled too soon’ or ‘gone but not forgotten’ Prison Break never even broke the top 50! Yet here it is, back for a “limited event” which I guess means a one off series. I think it continues the original storyline with the original cast, but I never actually watched it so have no idea

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The Exorcist – did anyone ever watch The Exorcist and think “wow, there’s a great subject for an ongoing prime-time drama”? The trailer looked like it could be an ok film, but I just don’t see how you make this an ongoing 15-22 episode a year series.

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Lethal Weapon – ok, this one actually makes sense as a film to tv conversion! Casting will be key, but the trailer looks pretty good.

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Making History – so a nerd time travels back to the American Revolution and accidentally stops it happening, so he and his historian friend try to fix it. I barely made it through the trailer, the idea of watching more than 2 minutes is just horrific.

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The Mick – slacker Aunt gets left in charge of 3 rich kids. The title isn’t doing the show any favours at all, but there’s not that much to go on.

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A.P.B. – imagine if Bruce Wayne, rather than deciding to don a dumb costume, invests his money, genius and technology into actually making the police better. Instinctively I like this idea, because fundamentally it just makes sense! I’m not sure the cast quite ‘pops’ and it could fall into a boring pattern with gadget of the week, but it has some potential.

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Pitch – The first woman playing major league baseball. It looks like a fantastic movie, but I don’t see it working as an ongoing series.

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Shots Fired – The fallout and investigation of a police shooting in North Carolina. It feels a little like it’s trying too hard to be controversial and driven from the headlines. It’s described as ‘an event series’ which I think means that it’s a one-off season.

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Son of Zorn – the contender for dumbest name of the year is also the most insane concept. Animated Zorn (basically He-Man) returns to Earth to try to reconnect with his (normal) teenage son and has to deal with ex-wife, suburbia and office work. It’s just about amusing as a trailer, I doubt it can be stretched to a full half hour, let alone a series.

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Star – Star’s a “troubled kid” and wants to be a music star. I shouldn’t have liked this, but the trailer actually worked for me. It’ll depend a lot on how annoying the kids are.

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The Upfronts 2014: Fox

Fox network logoFox’s schedules are dominated by loads of non-scripted shows like American Idol which doesn’t leave much space for ‘proper’ TV. Even so, I only watch two shows from Fox, and one of them they cancelled.

What’s dead?
Not a good year for new shows on Fox (when is it ever?) as they cancelled six out of seven! Almost Human had great potential, but things got off to a very poor start and even though reviews seem to have got better, the damage was done. Rake, a legal comedy-drama bounced around the schedule with ratings that declined about as close to zero as you’re likely to get on Fox. Dads, Surviving Jack and Enlisted were all sitcoms with horrible ratings and only Enlisted got anything in the way of positive critical responses. The only non-new show that was cancelled was Raising Hope which made it to four seasons, but solid reviews couldn’t overcome low ratings.

What’s Survived?
bonesBones plods into its 10th season, still getting significant ratings despite (imho) failing to do anything new or interesting with its stories or characters for quite some time now. Glee will return for a 6th and final season (and a short one, starting midseason) with apparently a focus on the original character now in New York. If they’d done that when people started graduating, they might not have floundered so badly in the first place. Sleepy Hollow and The Following both return for a third season, both entertaining and slightly ridiculous, ironically it’s not the one about the Headless Horseman that’s the most ridiculous. The Mindy Project and The New Girl are renewed for seasons 3 and 4 respectively. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is the only freshman show still standing at the end of the year.

Fox is also the home of animation though and they’re mostly returning – The Simpsons (for season 26), Family Guy (for season 13), and Bob’s Burgers (for season 6); American Dad is renewed for season 11 but will relocate to TBS.

What’s On This Summer?
24: Live Another Day (trailer): After a 4 year gap, 24 is back for a 12 episode mini-series this summer. Yes, 24 is back for 12 episodes. I don’t understand that either. Still, it’s set in London, some of the usual characters are back (of the small number that didn’t end up dead) but I never made it beyond the second episode of the first series before labelling it as too stupid even for me and giving up.

Gang Related (trailer): anti-gang police officer was raised in gangs. Conflict abounds. It reminded me I should really get round to watching The Wire.

What’s New?
Gotham (trailer): The story of Commissioner Gordon when he was just Detective Gordon, when Bruce Wayne is a newly orphaned 12 year old and all the comic book villains are just getting started. If they can pull this off it could be really spectacular, the trailer certainly looks impressive and I’m nervously looking forward to this.

Backstrom (trailer, midseason): Following a long trend of shows named after quirky cops with odd names, this is a comedy drama about a drunk, obnoxious and frustratingly good detective and his misfit team. Same old, same old… but Rainn Wilson is a charismatic lead and I actually kind of liked the trailer.

Wayward Pines (trailer, midseason): A secret service agent is hunting for two of his colleagues in the backend of nowhere when he crashes his car. He wakes up in somewhere that’s Twin Peaks, Stepford and the Truman Show all rolled into one horrific and bizarre place. The cast on this is stunning (Matt Dillon, Juliette Lewis, Melissa Leo, Terrence Howard, Toby Jones) and it could be fantastic, but it is also produced and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, and if he struggles to hold plots together over films, imagine the carnage he can inflict on a television series!

Red Band Society (no trailer): Set in the children’s ward of a hospital with the long term teenage patients and their doctors and nurses. It seems like this has the potential to slump into a angst ridden teenage melodrama or a daytime tv movie as they “confront questions of life and death which no one at that age should have to face, a kinship based on these shared experiences is created”. Either way this sounds like a really weird show for Fox.

Gracepoint (trailer): Or as we will come to know it “Broadchurch: The Americans Screw it Up”. David Tennant is crossing the pond for it, with a passable American accent, but nothing in the trailer made me not miss Olivia Colman and Jodie Whittaker. In fact nothing in the trailer made me want to do anything other than watch Broadchurch again. Apparently they’re going to change the ending so it will be different to Broadchurch, but everything in the trailer looked and sounded familiar to me.

Empire (trailer, midseason): The king of hip-hop is dying and his three sons and ex-wife immediately start vying for his company. I have a horrible feeling that this show will go the way of things like Friday Night Lights and Walking Dead, dismissed because people have no interest in the subject matter, while those who actually watch will find that it’s about more than just hip-hop, football or zombies and is actually a very well written, produced and acted character study. At least that’s what the trailer seems to show… it could just be about hip-hop.

Hieroglyph (trailer, midseason): From the writers of Clash of the Titans and Pacific Rim isn’t necessarily something to boast about. And they’re certainly not the names I would want to see associated with something that looks and sounds like an attempt to make Game of Thrones in ancient Egypt. It looks terrible, and not in a funny way.

Utopia (trailer): This isn’t scripted, so I wouldn’t normally include it, but I saw the trailer by accident and had to share it because it’s so jaw droppingly bad I assumed it was a spoof. Just watch it, words can’t prepare you.

Mulaney (trailer) – John Mulaney (never a good sign when the you see the same name as writer, lead actor, character name AND title) is a bloke who does stand-up, lives with idiots and works for Martin Short. That really seems to be about it. The stand-up was passably amusing (although each joke was really laboured) but the rest of it was hideous.

The Last Man on Earth (trailer, midseason): The plot is in the title, Phil Miller is the last man on Earth. This might actually be amusing and interesting if it were a series of 3 minute clips, but I was getting a bit bored by the end of the 4 minute trailer. So I figure we’ll either get as bored of Miller’s exclusive company as he is, or they’ll chicken out and introduce other characters, thereby breaking the show.

The Upfronts – Fox

Fox network logoUpfront week has rolled around surprisingly quickly this year. Over the span of just four days the five major US network channels will introduce their schedules for the 2013-14 season, delivering last rights to those that have failed to bring in the ratings, offering another year to the select few and introducing those that are lucky enough to win a coveted new slot.

First up, Fox. Much of their schedule is dominated by reality shows (American Idol and X-Factor mostly) which I don’t even mention, so they have less stuff than CBS, NBC and ABC.

What’s out
fringeJust four comedy/drama cancellations from Fox this year, which is joint lowest with CW. Fringe held out longer than anyone expected and came to a very well managed end, so I can’t say I’m that sad to see it go, particularly as the last season was not its strongest. Keifer Sutherland’s Touch made it to a second season, but never seemed to get much attention either from the ratings or critics. The Mob Doctor and Ben and Kate were freshman series that never really got off the ground, and while the latter received some critical praise, it doesn’t look like anyone will really miss either of them.

What’s returning
bonesMost of Fox’s renewals are comedies (New Girl, The Mindy Project, Raising Hope and Glee) or animations (The Simpsons, Bob’s Burgers, Family Guy and American Dad). The only drama renewals are Bones and new show The Following (all be it mid-season). It would seem in a slightly desperate attempt to add some established drama to its schedules they’ve taken the rather bizarre route in renewing 24 for some sort of special run. I never liked the original, so am not particularly fussed, but it certainly drew the attention of the media.

What’s new
Almost Human – Set in 2048, police officers are partnered with ‘synthetics’. Detective Kennex (Karl Urban, Star Trek) is about as unstable a human as you get and Dorian (Michael Ealy, Sleeper Cell) is about as unstable an android as you get. The sci-fi elements look interesting and impressive and the unlikely buddy cop motif is generally a pretty reliable way to drive story. The cast is full of familiar names (Lili Taylor of Six Feet Under, Mackenzie Crook of Pirates of the Caribbean, Minka Kelly of Friday Night Lights and Michael Irby of The Unit and has JJ. Abrams (Star Trek, Fringe, Lost) as creator and Exec Producer, so expectations are high, but the trailer left me intrigued.

Sleepy Hollow – Ichabod Crane comes back from a couple of hundred years ago, comes back from the dead to continue his search for the headless horseman. Part supernatural DaVinci Code thriller and part buddy cop action comedy this could be both fun and interesting, although it’s best to ignore the ridiculous voice over on the trailer.

Dads – I’m not sure I’ve ever really found anything by Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy, Ted) funny, and this trailer is no different. Seth Green (Oz from Buffy, And other stuff) and Giovanni Ribisi (Phoebe’s brother from Friends, and other stuff) are best friends both of who’s fathers decide to come live with them. Chaos ensues. It wasn’t intolerable, I just didn’t find it funny enough.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – This however was intolerable. A comedy about a dysfunctional New York detective squad. Andre Braugher used to be in Homicide: Life on the Street and now he’s in this?!

Enlisted – Geoff Stults (The Finder), returns home from war and is put in charge of turning a bunch of incompetent soldiers, including his two brothers, into something less embarrassing. I hated this from the second the music started.

Us & Them – Gavin and Stacey (yes, like the UK series) seem a nice enough couple who come from New York and Pennsylvania respectively, it’s just that they’re surrounded by well meaning but slightly horrific friends and family. Alexis Bledel (Gilmore Girls!) and Jason Ritter (Parenthood) are both charismatic and sort of lovely in the trailer, but the others may be unbearable. I didn’t hate it though.

Surviving Jack – based on Justin Halpern’s book I Suck at Girls, a comedy set in 90s California about a no-nonsense semi-absent father (Christopher Meloni, Law and Order: SVU) who’s suddenly forced to be the full time parent to a pair of teenagers. I chuckled a couple of times at the trailer, but also rolled my eyes a couple of times, so it averages out to a ‘meh’. Starts midseason.

Rake – a fairly standard set up, the central character is a complete disaster in his personal life but a pretty good lawyer. It’s the kind of show that lives and dies with its star, and in Greg Kinnear they have someone who is instantly likeable and left me feeling optimistic for the show. Starts midseason.

Gang Related – Ryan Lopez (Ramon Rodriguez, The Wire) is on the LA Gang Task Force but also has ties to a local gang and is torn back and forth between the two. The trailer looks very impressive, but I can’t help feeling that I’ve seen this film several times before and at best have come away impressed, but not that interested.

Wayward Pines – Wayward Pines is an idyllically perfect American town, but you can never leave. Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) is a Secret Service Agent sent to the town to investigate the disappearance of two of his colleagues. But he soon finds himself trapped as well. The idea sounds intriguing, but with the Press Release laying the similarity to Twin Peaks on a little too much, and the dubious talents of M. Night Shyamalan attached, there’s the potential for this to go very wrong. Starts midseason, no trailer yet.

Murder Police – animated comedy about a group of inept, corrupt and lazy police officers. Sounds like the animated equivalent of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and I’m even less enthusiastic about this than I am about that. Midseason

Links
Trailers collated by The TV Addict and TV Line and schedule summaries from The Futon Critic.

The Revolution Was Televised by Alan Sepinwall

The Revolution Was TelevisedConsidering the amount I write about television shows, I read relatively little on the subject. I follow plenty of blogs scanning through dozens, if not hundreds of news stories and interviews via the marvellous productivity aid of RSS, but the number of books I’ve actually read can be counted on the fingers of one hand and is entirely limited to books dedicated to specific shows.

The Revolution was Televised had come up in passing from several television pundits I respect, most notably Maureen Ryan, currently of Huffington Post, who always adds depth not just to reviews of individual shows and episodes, but of the television landscape as a whole. I popped it on a Christmas list and had finished it by 3rd Jan.

The concept of the book is that there was a revolution in the way television was produced starting in the late 90s and those changes can be tracked back to a dozen key shows, that were not necessarily ratings hits (or even critical hits, although most of them are), but marked a step change in the way that television shows are created, run, marketed and watched . Alan Sepinwall takes us through each of these shows telling their stories and explaining their importance.

DeadwoodYour enjoyment and empathy with the book is going to be somewhat dependent on how many of those shows you’ve seen and what you thought of them. But, I was actually surprised at how engaged I was even in chapters on shows I’d never seen a single episode of. Out of the dozen shows, I would consider myself a fan of about half of them (Deadwood, Buffy, Battlestar Galactica, Friday Night Lights, and Mad Men), five others I’ve seen a few episodes or couple of seasons of and have some respect for even if they weren’t to my taste (The Sopranos, The Wire, The Shield, Lost, 24) and two I’ve never seen at all (Oz, Breaking Bad). But Sepinwall does a great job introducing each show and making you see what was groundbreaking and even magical about each show whether you were already on his side or not.

The dozen chapters telling the story of the shows are built up from interviews with a range of people involved with each show – the creators, producers, network executives that bought them, even the people who didn’t support them at the time. The comments are very open and honest, pride in successes, acceptance of mistakes and Sepinwall weaves them all together to form a detailed picture of the world of television production. Throughout the book there are also plenty of references to both older shows that lay the foundations and the newer ones which built upon them, charting the whole thing in a giant network of giants’ shoulders. Thanks to it going all the way up to the Summer of 2012 and talking about shows that are still on the air, it feels extremely current, although I guess the flip side of that is that it may not age so well.

LostMy only frustration with the book was that as it went on, it felt like it lost sight of its premise a little. Each chapter focussed more and more on the show itself and less on what was revolutionary. The reader is left to draw a lot of conclusions themselves, which is slightly frustrating. Also, for a book which is so current, there was surprisingly little said about how television distribution is changing both with the internet (pirated or otherwise) and even the rise of dvd sales over the period. Although it’s touched on a little in the section on Lost, there’s also very little coverage of the other effects the internet drives including marketing and fandom. Mind you, those subjects could easily fill whole books just by themselves.

This is an absolutely brilliant book for anyone interested in how television really works, not just gushing about shows that people love, but about how the industry develops and innovators can succeed in a massively competitive and generally risk averse environment. Alan Sepinwall is clearly a television fan, but he is not blind to the fact that it’s a commercial endeavour – he doesn’t vilify the networks who cancel low rated series and he doesn’t sanctify show runners whose poor working practices overwhelm their brilliant creative ideas.

Buffy the Vampire SlayerI found this book fascinating, entertaining and completely un-put-downable. Sepinwall has reminded me of just what a complex and fascinating medium television can be. He’s given me a fresh look at shows that I adore, brought to my attention shows I knew nothing about, and encouraged me to give second chances to ones that I’ve struggled with in the past. If you’ve read any of the dribble I’ve written, go read this and see what a professional can do.

The Revolution Was Televised by Alan Sepinwall (2010) is available in paperback from Amazon. It amuses me that if you search amazon for the book title you get a number of suggestions including The Revolution Wasn’t Televised (1997), The Revolution Will Not be Televised (2008), The Revolution Will be Televised (2010), Will the Revolution Be Televised (2012) – so it would seem the jury is still out on the question.