What has the massive multitiered marketing power of Comic-Con wrought? Or should we hold the outsize success of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” responsible for the unprecedented infusion next season of series structured around supernatural creatures, super-powered beings and science-fiction and fantasy scenarios that will dominate the broadcast networks?
The upcoming monster mash likely has something to do with both. The broadcasters are still smarting from “Dead”’s dominance this year among adults 18-49, a success that marks the first time a scripted dramatic program on a basic cable network has soared above all scripted broadcast competition with that audience. The media madness and critical support surrounding other monster and science-fiction themed series on basic cable, including FX’s “American Horror Story,” MTV’s “Teen Wolf,” Syfy’s “Defiance” and BBC America’s “Doctor Who” and “Orphan Black” only adds to the collective envy. And don’t forget pay cable, where HBO’s mighty “Game of Thrones” and “True Blood” rule.
Still, there’s nothing quite like the Comic-Con Effect to separate science-fiction and fantasy programming from the rest of what television has to offer. The Con has gotten so big and all-consuming in recent years that a network or studio has only to toss out even the sketchiest program that has something to do with aliens or supernatural beings, and everyone involved instantly believes they have a new hit on their hands. How could they not, with tens of thousands of good-natured geeks screaming their approval, declaring their undying love and madly uploading every moment of their Con experience on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media outlets now too numerous to mention.
As I have reported in the past, when you’re standing outside a show panel in one of the Con’s 2000-seat auditoriums, you can practically see the mushroom cloud of digital expression rising from the room. Studios and networks can certainly spend a bundle putting together giant publicity campaigns, press conferences, panels and parties, but the return on those investments often expands exponentially on a national and international scale if they properly stimulate perpetual nerdgasms.
So if you were running a broadcast network and had to come up with new shows that would somehow receive more attention than the rest, wouldn’t you take advantage of the seemingly limitless promotional possibilities Comic-Con has to offer just a few weeks before the fall season gets underway? Wouldn’t you stack your deck with properties guaranteed to generate such awesome excitement at that level? And wouldn’t you load up on midseason shows that you could also introduce at the San Diego Con, and then further promote at one or more of the smaller annual Cons that are springing up around the country? (And wouldn’t you be sorely tempted to play down the fact that not everything introduced at the Con actually succeeds, even if thousands of nerds and geeks gave it their feverish blessing? NBC’s “The Event,” Fox’s “Terra Nova” and ABC’s “No Ordinary Family” and “666 Park Avenue,” to cite just a few recent examples, were all caught up in the warm embrace of Con-goers -- and they all tanked.)
Anyway, screeners of most of the new fall science-fiction and fantasy shows (and many others) have already been made available to the press, along with the usual note reminding them that these are early cuts and not meant for review, which hasn’t stopped many critics from taking to Twitter and other outlets to express their early thoughts after watching the pilots. Here’s a handy overview (without reviews) of what’s coming.
The CW, which seems never to have met a supernatural being or super-powered good guy it didn’t like, leads the genre pack with two new fall entries, “The Originals” and “The Tomorrow People,” and two new mid-season shows, “The 100” and “Star-Crossed,” joining the returning “The Vampire Diaries” (from which “The Originals” has been sprung), “Supernatural,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Arrow.” Fox has “Sleepy Hollow” and “Almost Human” on its fall lineup. ABC in the fall will add “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland” to the returning “Once Upon a Time” and “The Neighbors,” with “Resurrection” set for midseason. Finally, NBC has a new take on what may be the best known fear franchise of all, “Dracula,” joining the returning “Revolution” and “Grimm” in the fall, with “Believe” and “Crossbones” coming at midseason. The latter is about pirates; and while it may not qualify in the strictest terms as a genre show, the subject matter should satisfy many a fantasy fan’s craving for larger-than-life adventure.
(Noticeably absent is CBS, which has done very nicely for itself without stacking its schedule with fantasy fare. The high-tech “Person of Interest,” which isn’t exactly science fiction but could mistakenly be referred to as such, is the closest CBS currently comes to genre programming on its 2013-14 schedule. “Under the Dome,” the sci-fi thriller that the network will debut on June 24, is a summer show, though if it’s a smash hit it wouldn’t surprise me to see it return to the network at midseason.)