The new broadcast season begins in three weeks. Can you feel the excitement in the air? Me neither. There doesn’t appear to be very much interest anywhere in any of the new series that the networks have been feverishly promoting since the final weeks of the May sweeps.
How can this be? The broadcasters surely cannot complain about a lack of promotional platforms and opportunities. There are few people in few places that the networks cannot reach with their perpetual pitches on behalf of their new and returning shows.
Let’s give the networks the benefit of the doubt and call some attention to the handful of new shows that have at least excited journalists and bloggers – two groups that together now seem to comprise a desirable demographic of their own. That short list includes “Vegas” and “Elementary” (my early pick for the fall’s best new show) on CBS, “Nashville” and “Last Resort” on ABC, “The New Normal” on NBC, “The Mindy Project” on Fox and “Arrow” on The CW. The pilots for a couple of these shows are very good, while the others aren’t half bad, which is saying a lot, given the overall company they are in. But, as is true of any new show, they are all very vulnerable until subsequent episodes are completed and the ongoing strength of each can be properly assessed. (I’ve been hearing for several weeks now that at least one of the shows named above has been falling apart behind the scenes, while the talk within the industry about a couple of the others isn’t nearly as positive as the external media buzz.)
Every broadcast season brings with it a few new shows that seem to stand above the rest and a bumper crop of duds that are plainly doomed to fail. This season is no different. But that doesn’t explain the cloud of disinterest spreading over the fall season in general.
I think there are several reasons for this. For starters, much of what the networks are about to reveal feels like old business or yesterday’s news. Perhaps that’s because their aggressive publicity campaigns on behalf of these shows began even before the previous season ended. There was a huge burst of publicity for some of them during the San Diego Comic-Con, but that came and went almost two months ago. There was another big surge of promotion during the annual Television Critics Association tour, but that ended almost four weeks ago.
It’s one thing to start beating the drums as early as possible. It’s another to peak before you’re ready to roll. It may be that millions of people have already made up their minds about what they will and will not watch. How could they not, when information about and previews of all the new shows have been flying at them on a daily basis for more than three months?
Another significant factor in this new season malaise is the ongoing strength of cable network alternatives when weighed against traditional broadcast fare. There are few shows coming on the broadcast networks that hold the bright promise of the simple escapism that USA Network has provided throughout the summer with “Burn Notice,” “White Collar,” “Royal Pains,” “Necessary Roughness,” “Common Law” and “Covert Affairs.” (In broad contrast, it feels like the writers of this season’s freshmen series over-worked their scripts and made them too dense and wordy.) There are no new detective shows with a central character as delightful as Kyra Sedgwick’s Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson on TNT’s “The Closer.”
The most promising new network serial is ABC’s “Nashville,” but it isn’t going to resonate with multiple generations of television viewers in the way that TNT’s “Dallas” does. Also on TNT, the science-fiction thriller “Falling Skies” remains a decidedly imperfect show, but it is far superior to NBC’s new “Revolution.” There is nothing coming on any of the broadcast networks that will grab teens and ‘tweens the way that “Bunheads” did on ABC Family, along with such returning hits as “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” and “Pretty Little Liars.”
Meanwhile, MTV’s “Teen Wolf” in its second season was more fun than just about anything else on television. BBC America winningly entered the original series arena with the engrossing period crime drama “Copper.” AMC bracketed the summer with “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.” (How can broadcast hope to hold up when compared to them?) Looking ahead, the fifth season of FX’s wildly compelling “Sons of Anarchy” is about to begin, and the second season of the same network’s addictive “American Horror Story” will soon follow. October will bring with it the third season of AMC’s horror sensation “The Walking Dead.” Back on Memorial Day, History showed everyone how it’s done with the acclaimed mini-series “Hatfields & McCoys.” Now sibling A&E will steal the spotlight on Labor Day with a mini-series remake of the 1978 feature film “Coma.”
And so on. No wonder viewers don’t appear to be excited about the new fall fare. They’re likely suffering from excitement fatigue. Or they have simply figured out that most of the broadcasters’ new season shows aren’t going to satisfy them the way so many cable series do. Media may be moving at an accelerated pace, but some things never change.