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TV Fall '09: The Complete Review – What is up with the networks

Last year, we took a look at how all the major networks were trying to invest into cross-platform products and Internet-based entertainment (without much success).

This time around, we’re going to check if said major networks have any pulse left with their crazy fall slate changes and schedule moves.

The Network Effect: Between Déjà Vu and Madness

Changing cloned horses in midstream.

CBS’ “new” slate isn’t really all that new. They have about 15 returning shows (including the just-acquired Medium), 11 of which are at their fifth season or more. The least we can say is that the network likes to work with the old (including its main demographic, wink wink), and clearly doesn’t want to invest in original content. Out of the four new series premiering this fall on CBS, we have one spin-off, one medical drama, and a classic sitcom. It’s as if they are scared of fresh ideas.

Going where no network (with half a brain) has gone before.

The biggest ratings everyone is anxiously awaiting to see this year are the ones from Leno’s new 10PM show. We’ve already discussed in length last year (when it was announced) what the various implications such move had and will have on the television industry. There was also Silverman leaving his cushy NBC job last month. That was interesting.
Consequently, the peacock doesn’t have many fresh series this fall, barely three (including two medical shows). Community is probably the funniest new comedy this season, and surprisingly enough, in my mind, well promoted. We’ll see how it fairs under pressure as it will be against Survivor, FlashForward and Bones. This is tough competition to say the least.
And Heroes will probably fail yet again.

Congratulations, you’ve just found the F5 key.

Contrary to all the other networks, ABC brings in this fall an almost massive amount of new shows (count them, eight). Add to that those other three programs for mid-season and you’ve got yourself a pretty hefty slate.
What is interesting to see is that half of those shows are comedies. The Alphabet network is indeed launching this season their own little comedy night full of fresh series. It’s certainly a gamble, especially when you consider the competition: to name a few, So You Think You Can Dance, Glee, Criminal Minds, ands CSI: NY. At least half the sitcoms will probably get the axe, but I do think however that some of them might get better scores than the CBS comedies on at the same time.
We can also notice with this accumulation of series a trend opposite to last year’s. Indeed, with, at the time, literally a single fresh (now canceled) drama, ABC didn’t want to look towards the future and instead buried its head in the sand.
Last season I was talking about how:

ABC [is relying too much] on those 3 hits, [Lost, Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy], and I think that around 2010-2011, if they don’t have any new hit series, the network will be in a lot of troubles when said hits won’t be around anymore. The only fresh program this fall on ABC is Life on Mars, how original.

This year however, everything has changed. Eastwick is trying to get the Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives appeal while FlashForward has already been branded as the new Lost. V will probably struggle in the ratings when it takes the Shark Tank’s place in front of NCIS, The Biggest Loser and Hell’s Kitchen. Even if it’s a reliable alternative to all three shows, with a 3-part arc it’s as if even the creators know where the future is heading.
One thing we can say about ABC though is that, for once, it’s trying to relaunch itself.

Where laughter goes to die.

It’s a somewhat-surprising slate for FOX. For one it renewed Dollhouse. Who saw that one coming? That said, this season will be the last. Especially when you consider when the series is being broadcast (behind Brothers and ‘Til Death, on a Friday night, come on).
The network also seems to have a CBS vibe to it now with nine returning shows, and over half of them being in their fifth season (or more). As for their new programs, we have a third Seth MacFarlane production, as well as Brothers. That last one is so awful, it’s almost indescribable. Think of a multi-camera sitcom with all the funny sucked out of it. What’s even sadder is that the show has a more than decent cast, including the great CCH Pounder.
Anyways, unlike ABC they don’t have dying series on their hands (except 24), most of them can basically continue on forever (take a look at The Simpsons). So their risk factor is taken out of the equation.
To be continued (or canceled)…

Good ratings: They shall not pass!

With a few exceptions, The CW is basically keeping every show it has and giving them a maximum lifespan. They’re almost better at this than CBS with 80% of their series being over their fourth season.
The CW is also trying to bank on already-established genre/brands like 90210, Gossip Girl, and now both Melrose Place and The Vampire Diaries. Smallville on the other hand is almost dying of old age with its ninth season rearing its ugly head.
In short, the network is trying to repair their atrocious ratings by producing more of the same. That’s called a foolproof plan.

Because we blew all our money on TV pilots.

With about a gazillion upcoming projects, FX is trying to reinvigorate itself with fresh programming. Case in point this fall with two new comedies, Archer and the League, which will accompany Philadelphia’s fifth season. FX is kind of the HBO to AMC’s Showtime. A network with fading critical hits in desperate need of renewal.
We saw last month how FX doesn’t want to let its show die either. Nip/Tuck, despite a finished shoot, won’t have its series finale broadcast until mid-2011. Rescue Me will as well film its two final seasons back-to-back for a 9/11 homage broadcast during the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. By 2011, FX will only have a few shows left, such as Sons of Anarchy, and perhaps new series it’s creating at the moment.

It got so high; it just had to fall back down.

Not a lot of fresh content this fall given that most of its series have now changed to being Summer-based (Entourage premiered last year in early September for instance). I’m hoping Bored to Death does well as it both deserves it and is basically the only HBO show with fresh episodes (excluding Curb Your Enthusiasm). Another comedy, The Life and Times of Tim, has yet to return (hopefully before Christmas). Meanwhile, In Treatment and The N°1 Ladies’ Detective Agency are both on the bubble.
Like FX, HBO has a lot of projects on stand-by, including the long-awaited Game of Throne adaptation. Basically most of its fresh batch of episodes is scheduled to air only around mid-season, which almost allows Showtime free reign
over cable networks.

Pay close attention for we are about to be foolish.

Incidentally, Showtime itself should try looking into new series. Weeds will next year go into its sixth season, and Dexter is almost in its fifth. By all logic, one should be looking for fresh and exciting new programs.
However, earlier this year, Sho passed on four pilots with great potential (including a Matthew Perry/Peter Tolan comedy and a Tim Robbins drama). Pretty surprising choices to say the least. They’ll soon come a time when the cable network will have to reevaluate its slate of shows. It’s all a cycle.

Overall, it looks like most of networks do not want to change much, trying to rely on proven formulas as long as they hold.
The nets are either banking on the same types of shows they’ve been making for a decade, or doing very stupid decisions (I’m looking at you NBC).
Live and learn…

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