Premature Prognostication About The 2013-14 TV Season

Pilots for most of the broadcast networks’ new 2013-14 series have been available to critics and other interested parties for several weeks now -- long enough for everyone with a stake in the television business and related arenas to watch them, contemplate them, debate them and rate them. Not that any of us are free to do so, because the networks have made clear (as they always do) that the screeners they distribute shortly after the annual upfront presentations in May are intended for background purposes only and are most definitely not for review.

That hasn’t stopped the television press from honking and tweeting about each and every one of these shows, albeit via social media, where critics’ colorful output is not really regarded as formal reviewing, at least not in the traditional sense. But in this new media landscape where a tweet or two can create outsize buzz and set off a chain reaction that can make or break a show regardless of the reviews that follow, it’s fair to say that word is already out on which shows will be media darlings and which will be shoved aside. (Significantly, history tells us that the former won’t necessarily succeed and the latter aren’t certain to fail.)



So networks and critics alike are able to have it both ways. The networks warn that early screeners are not for review, but they revel in the early buzz that tweets and other “non-reviews” generate for their shows. Critics, meanwhile, can’t file early reviews, but they can carefully express themselves in other ways and respond to the feedback.

And then there’s the Comic-Con thing: Even as they tell the mainstream press not to violate their agreement for no premature reviewing, the networks (in tandem with the studios) do everything they can to make as many of their new shows as possible pop at the annual San Diego Comic-Con. Entire pilots are screened for thousands of rabid fans who are free to say and do whatever they want with what they see, even as restrictions continue to be imposed on professional critics and journalists. That means the almost-5,000 people who packed Ballroom 20 at the Con for the “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” panel on July 19 and were surprised to learn that they would be the first to see the pilot have been spilling the beans about it for a week, while critics and other members of the media still haven’t seen it.

Meanwhile, critics, journalists and bloggers are preparing to process next season’s shows at the annual Summer Television Critics Association tour, currently taking place at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles. In other words, between the Con and the TCA, the buzz about these shows is about to become deafening. Opinions are going to flood the media whether the networks like it or not, which makes this a fine time for a few declarations (absent formal reviewing) about the seasonal offerings to come.

First: I’m hearing much of the usual griping from critics about what a lousy fall season this one will likely be. I disagree. Every network has at least one promising new freshman series, and some have two or more. That almost never happens. My early picks for fall favorites: The comedy “The Millers” and the drama “Hostages” on CBS; the drama “The Blacklist” and the comedies “The Michael J. Fox Show” and “Welcome to the Family” on NBC; the comedy “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and the reality series “Junior Masterchef” on Fox; the comedy “The Goldbergs” and the dramas “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland” on ABC; and the “Vampire Diaries” spin-off “The Originals” on The CW.

Second, not one of these shows looks to be as powerful as BBC America’s searing drama “Broadchurch,” about the investigation into the murder of a young boy in a small seaside town, set to debut Aug. 7. But this column isn’t about basic cable.

Lastly, there are many new series scheduled for midseason that look to be among the very best of the new season, to judge from their pilots -- which, again, are not really meant to be judged. But I don’t think the networks will mind if that premature evaluation is positive, so here it is: Based only on their pilots, the two new 2013-14 series I am most looking forward to, which aren’t scheduled to debut until next year, are the science-fiction mystery “Resurrection” on ABC and the comedy “About a Boy” on NBC. The first episode of the former left me breathless for more, while the pilot for the latter was so unexpectedly heartwarming it reeled me right in. I hope ABC and NBC, respectively, handle both of these uncommonly effective series with the care they appear to deserve.   

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