Thursday, August 26, 2004

Fall TV preview, part 1

Tonight, its NBC's turn.

A lot has been said about the steady growth of reality TV and the resultant decline in original, scripted programming. A lot has also been said about the decline of NBCs dominance and the end of Must See TV. Since NBC hasn't been consistent in replacing its dominant comedy sitcoms of the past twenty years (Cheers, Cosby, Mad About You, Frasier, Friends), people have predicted that this is the year that NBC falls from grace and ceases to be #1.

The question is, will anyone else step up to take NBCs place? The other networks haven't really been churning out new sitcoms that spark the viewers imagination. Everybody Loves Raymond will be done after this year, I think and CBS puts the rest of its money in dramas like CSI, CSI:Miami, and the new CSI:New York. ABC can't do anything right, and Fox, UPN, and the WB are simply filling the niches of African American programming, and much greater (they want to call it envelope-pushing? broadcast embarassment.

So, we are back to NBC. Since ER ceased to be relevant years ago and the West Wing is declining steadily, probably the tentpole show for this network continues to be The Apprentice. Expect to see lots of promos for it and I assume it will be their ratings giant this season, anchoring Thursday night at 9 pm--going against CBSs Survivor, I think.

The new shows for NBC are interesting in two ways--their either weirdly daring or they just want you to watch to see if it will fail.

Father of the Pride falls into the first category. Set in Vegas, animated, focusing on the stunt animals of Siegfried and Roy. Stop and read that again. Do you think it will work? Neither do I. It's not going to be the absolute trainwreck that was last year's Whoopi, but it still won't work. Add to the fact that it's on Monday night, competing against Monday Night Football and you might as well tell the creators of Shrek to go back to Hollywood. I'll give them quirky concept, but I won't expect it to last.

The show that falls into the second category--everyone will watch to see if it stinks--is, of course, Joey. Can the "lightning in a bottle" of Friends translate at all when people are thinking, "Hmmm. 1 out of 6 ain't bad." I wonder if Matt Leblanc was able to transfer his latest salary from Friends over to this program. It might work, but it very easily could be the next spinoff that never worked. But, nobody thought Frasier had a prayer, either. It's on Thursday night at 8. I suppose that NBC thinks that the viewers have been adequately trained over the past decade to automatically turn to NBC on Thursday nights at 8 pm. As long as they see one familiar face, they won't change the channel. (Personally, the brainwashing would work better if they also got the Rembrandts to record the theme song, but I don't think that happened.)

As for the rest of the schedule? Well, there are all the returning dramas--Law and Order (now with Dennis Farina replacing Jerry Orbach. "Who," you ask? Exactly. And there is Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, etc, etc.

ER is still hanging in there, but really, who cares? The new dramas are LAX with Heather Locklear and Blair Underwood. I don't know much, except that it is in the Los Angelese airport. If Steven Speielberg and Tom Hanks couldn't successfully make stuff about airports interesting, do you think they will?

The biggest question for me is (say it with me now) SCRUBS!!!

In its boneheaded wisdom, NBC has decided that now it will be on Monday nights at 9:30. So it gets doubly hammered by having the shaky Father of the Pride as its lead in and it must compete with the half of Monday Night Football that people actually stay up to watch. Simply disasterous.

NBC tries to combat this by introducing Heather Graham as a new cast member. I assume she is full time, to justify the expense and the relentless promoing. But, this won't work because the entire strength of Scrubs is its ensemble nature. You don't just drop people into it and expect things to go well--unless they are great actors, and I don't hear lots of people saying that about Ms. Graham. So, unless NBC decides to make Heather Graham's character a nudist, she won't play much of a factor and Scrubs gets abused by NBC once again.

So, there is it in a nutshell. It's not scintilating programming, but do any of the mainstream networks pull that off anymore, if they ever did? I admit that most of the shows I watch aren't Masterpiece Theater, but you get to care about the story and the characters after a while--unless they are good writers involved (such as with Seinfeld and the best years of Frasier). I don't think I have much incentive to develop a relationship with these shows.

Some of these shows premiere next week, once NBC gets done with the Olympics. So, check out websites, ready Entertainment Weekly, decide for yourself . . . is any of NBC worth your time?

(Next time I think I will tackle ABC).

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