Playing Along with Fall TV
The Fall television season has launched, and oddly enough it’s got me a little stressed out. One of the perks of my job that provokes jealousy in many is that I can honestly say that watching TV is research. However, the downside is that the television schedule keeps going, and if I fall behind it feels like I’m slacking on my job! So my TiVo is stacked up with neglected summer shows – I’ve only watched the pilots of Mad Men and Damages, with 8 more episodes of each mocking me – and even some lingering spring items, like the final few Studio 60 episodes. Throw in the first season of Friday Night Lights that I know I have to watch, and I truly feel burdened by my televisual obligations.
So as Fall series launch, I’m trying to be selective and have a quick hook. I watched my first pair of series this week, trying to judge a scheduling competition in the Wednesday 8 pm slot: Back to You vs. Kid Nation. I expected to find Back to You competent but conventional, a throwback to quality studio sitcoms of the 1990s… which it is. But I actually found that I, much like Mike Newman, liked it much more than I expected, as the comfortable feeling of watching charismatic performers playing to their strengths was really appealing. I attribute much of the show’s charms to director James Burrows, who has been the undisputed master of sitcom direction for three decades, overseeing everything from Taxi to Cheers to Will & Grace – TV directors rarely get much credit for their efforts, as writing rules on television, but Burrows has perfect comic timing, uses actor blocking and camera angles in engaging ways, and manages to make subtle choices that nearly always pay off. I don’t know how much Burrows will be involved post-pilot (although he is on board as an Executive Producer), but the show should mark a return to the 3-camera sitcom and its many comforting charms.
I expected to like Kid Nation more than I did, as the premise seemed perfect to create hyperbolic reality TV drama. But the show was so clearly a carbon copy of Survivor in its production style and structure that it had no sense of its own style or tone. Add to that too many kids (40!), too many shots of kids crying, and awkwardly designed rules & rewards, and I just didn’t care about it. Only one kid was particularly engaging (Sophia), so I’m happy to give it the hook & give Back to You the prize for my TiVo’s season pass.
Even though I haven’t been dedicated to watching many new shows, I’ve thinking about them a lot for ulterior motives. One point I often make in teaching is that viewer engagement with television goes beyond the act of watching programs – television is a major part of everyday life as a topic of conversation and activity away from the screen. So even though I may not be watching all the new shows, I am invested in them via a Fantasy Television League I’ve started with my friends, The Extratextuals. I’ll detail the rules and my picks below the fold, and then hit the cross-over button by launching the Crisis on Infinite Blogs.
The basic rules of the Fantasy Television League are that each player drafts 6 shows from the roster of new series. Every series accumulates points for endurance: 1 for airing during November sweeps, 2 for Februrary, 3 for May, and 4 for getting picked up for season 2 – thus a successful series running throughout the year & beyond can earn up to 10 points. Additionally, we each labeled one of our shows a Designated Stinker – whichever of these series ends up airing the fewest number of episodes before cancellation earns its owner 5 bonus points. Here are my picks and rationale:
Back to You: I picked my team before watching the show, but I’m still confident in my #1 pick. With big stars, a strong creative team, and a decent timeslot, I thought prospects looked good. On its first night, the show beat Kid Nation in the ratings, both for total audience and the all-important 18-49 year-old demographic. It looks promising for a strong showing, at least until it goes up against…
Pushing Daisies: This is the show I’m most excited about, as it combines an interesting premise with a whimsical tone & adventurous visual style – and I’m all about the whimsy. Add creators with strong track records in Bryan Fuller (Heroes, Wonderfalls) and Barry Sonnenfeld (beyond his film record, his TV resume includes The Tick and Karen Sisco), and I’m excited. But realistically, I’m skeptical about its potential ratings success – whimsy is a hard sell, and I could see this become a Brilliant but Canceled entry pretty easily, joining most of Fuller and Sonnenfeld’s past efforts for television. Plus it’s not produced by ABC, and Warner Bros. has reportedly been angering the network with its production budget overruns and subsequent attempts to cut costs. But it was the best option in the draft at the time, so I went with the heart instead of the head.
Private Practice: I’m pretty doubtful that this spinoff will be a huge hit, as the buzz is underwhelming, even among Grey’s Anatomy fans. But it’s going to get every chance ABC can give it, as angering the producer of your #1 show is never advisable. Plus the show is produced within the Disney company umbrella, giving an extra incentive to keep it going for as long as they can to make money on DVDs, downloads, syndication, etc. I’ll be shocked if it doesn’t score 10 points for me.
Women’s Murder Club: Maybe I’m putting too many eggs in ABC’s basket, but I see this as a potential sleeper hit. Friday night doesn’t need big ratings, and paired with Men in Trees, I see the show as likely to perform well enough with an older female niche to keep it around for awhile.
Big Bang Theory: Yes, this will be a painful show to watch. But it’s hammocked between two solidly performing comedies on CBS’s Monday line-up, and I think the network will stick with it for awhile even if the ratings are underwhelming. And as CBS keeps reminding us, it’s from the producer of television’s #1 comedy, Two and a Half Men – while nobody I’ve met will admit to watching that show, CBS seems able to keep its Monday comedy machine going despite a lot of critical scorn and apathy.
Viva Laughlin: This is my designated stinker. It looks like a transcendently crappy show with no target audience that it doesn’t simultaneously alienate. Bad for crime drama fans, horrid for musical fans, doesn’t pay off Vegas voyeurism, and a bastardization of a British cult show. Who actually wants to see this thing? Plus it goes up against football, Extreme Makeover Home Edition, and Fox’s animation block. My over/under is that it lasts 2 episodes. Unless of course it’s a cult hit, and then I’ll take the points happily…
Filed under: Television, TV Shows, Viewers | 6 Comments
Tags: back to you, big bang theory, fantasy sports, kid nation, private practice, pushing daisies, Television, viva laughlin, women's murder club