The 2012-13 Season's Most Exciting New Broadcast Series Won't Premiere Until Next Year
To make a judgment call off pilots alone, which is not necessarily an advisable course of action but is nevertheless the way much of the television business and related industries operate, the most exciting new series coming to the broadcast networks in the 2012-13 season are once again slated for midseason. This was the case last year at this time, when many television critics were more interested in NBC’s midseason entry “Smash” than any of the networks’ new fall shows, with the possible exception of Fox’s “New Girl.” Such premature anticipation may be happening again this summer with Fox’s “The Following” and The CW’s “The Carrie Diaries,” two of the most engaging pilots of the upcoming season, and both set to debut in early 2013.
It’s not that there aren’t other promising shows coming to broadcast in the months ahead. Current critical favorites include ABC’s “Nashville” and “Last Resort,” Fox’s “The Mindy Project,” CBS’ “Elementary” and “Vegas,” NBC’s “The New Normal” and The CW’s “Arrow.” And it’s certainly true that some new series start out slowly and eventually pick up steam, along with viewers, like last season’s “Person of Interest” on CBS and “Revenge” on ABC. So come September and October we may discover a sleeper in our midst.
But right now, “The Following” and “The Carrie Diaries” both look to be something extra special. The pilots for these two shows that were sent to critics two months ago are not formal finished programs, so this column should not be considered a review of either. That said, quality of a certain level simply cannot be ignored. Both of these shows were obviously produced with a great deal of care and a keen understanding of what their intended audiences want to see. (That understanding seems to have eluded many of the showrunners behind this fall’s new shows. We shall see.)
I think “The Following” has the potential to be a game-changer, in terms of adult content in a weekly broadcast series. Kevin Bacon stars as a former FBI agent who is called back into action when a notorious serial killer he put behind bars nine years earlier manages to escape from the maximum-security prison where he had been held. The narrative runs much deeper than that: The killer had during his time in prison found ways to communicate with the outside world and amassed a large cult of active and aspiring murderers around the country who are willing to follow his every deadly order.
The pilot for “The Following” is one of the most disturbing and harrowing hours of broadcast television I have ever seen. Admittedly, I've never been a regular viewer of CBS’ “Criminal Minds,” because I have never been drawn to its twisted stories of sadistic murderers and serial killers, so there might have been an episode of two during its run to date that were similarly terrifying. Still, it’s one thing to skip from killer to killer week to week, and quite another to focus exclusively on one seemingly elusive killer, the creepy people who are drawn to him, and the people who are victimized by them. And the twists and turns in the “Following” pilot strike me as uniquely fascinating.
In short, “The Following” dares to “go there,” in terms of undeniably adult storytelling. Assuming the quality of the pilot holds, expect people to qualify it as being of “basic cable quality” or “good enough for basic cable” -- a compliment, incidentally, that many broadcast executives regard as backhanded. The last broadcast series to be referred to in such terms was CBS’ “The Good Wife,” which begins its fourth season this fall and is currently nominated for another big batch of Emmy Awards.
“The Carrie Diaries” will never be spoken of in the same breath as “The Following,” except, perhaps, in a discussion of quality programming. It may not belong on anyone’s list of the best series on television, but it should prove to be one of the new season’s most welcome surprises. “Diaries” isn’t as funny as “Sex and the City” in its humorous moments, but the pilot -- which introduces Carrie Bradshaw to viewers at the age of 16 -- is quite touching and dramatic in parts, and it immediately begins to offer significant insights into the charms and flaws of the adult Carrie we all know so well. It’s a first of its kind for television: a broadcast series that adds to our hindsight appreciation of a hugely successful pay-cable show (and two less-than-wonderful theatrical movies).
I don’t know if any changes will be made to the versions of “The Following” and “The Carrie Diaries” that were sent out to the press several months ago. But both of them appear to be perfect just as they are, and in their current state both are more satisfying than much of what’s coming to broadcast during the next three months. What a shame that we have to wait until next year to see what happens.