Winners and Losers in the new fall TV schedules: Women, nostalgia, music and people of color
The tensest time in the TV industry is nearly behind us.
That's because the big broadcast networks are nearly done rolling out their schedules for the 2011-12 TV season, trolling for advertisers in a mass schmoozeathon of glad handing and posturing known as the Upfronts.
This doesn't mean much to civilians, who mostly see entertainment reports fill up with long lists of shows they never heard of starring people they've never seen before. But the trends, series pickups and cancellations announced this week will form the shape of television you are subjected to for the next year and beyond.
So let's cap it all off with an exercise in what Hollywood loves most: keeping score. Based mostly on common sense and perusal of two-minute promotional clips for the new shows, here's my short list who won and lost so far.
WINNER: Women - Among 39 new shows planned on NBC, CBS, Fox and ABC, 22 star female characters or center on women, from comic Whitney Cummings' NBC sitcom Whitney to ABC's reboot of '70s adventure Charlie's Angels and Fox's new Zooey Deschanel comedy, The New Girl. It's an influx of femininity that will bring a wide range of new opportunities for women to TV's big tent.
LOSER: Women - Many of the new shows starring women skirt the edge of sexism and exploitation. NBC's The Playboy Club and ABC's Pan Am are both nostalgic looks back early '60s institutions which turned female employees into empty, sexualized stereotypes. Cummings and Chelsea Handler (of the new NBC show Are You There, Vodka, It's Me Chelsea) are comics who draw fire for their raunchy, hypersexual routines. And the tagline on the trailer for ABC's Charlie's Angels reboot calls them "three little girls...who are no angels." Are we still calling grown women girls in 2011?
WINNER: Comedy - The success of ABC's Modern Family, combined with the dismal success rate of most dramas, has convinced the TV industry to dive deep into comedy. NBC declared as one of its two biggest priorities next season establishing more comedies, while Fox has planned a two-hour block of comedy shows for next March and ABC brings comedy to Tuesdays, including an 8 p.m. show, Last Man Standing, featuring Tim Allen's macho character in a house full of women (sound familiar?). Comedies repeat better and make lots of dough in syndication, so the move makes lots of sense, though even high quality comedies like The Office and 30 Rock have trouble drawing a broad audience.
LOSER: This season's new shows -- In its new schedule, NBC officially canceled every new show it presented last fall, as did ABC (shows which debuted this spring like Body of Proof and Happy Endings, did make the cut). That's why, in part, NBC has a dozen new shows planned next season while ABC has 13 new series on tap; when you kill off that many freshman shows, you need to put a lot of new blood in the pipeline.
WINNER: nostalgia and music -- Playboy Club and Pan Am give actors a chance to strut around in cool-school '60s suits to soundtrack tunes from the Rat Pack. But since critically acclaimed drama Mad Men only draws about 2-million viewers, I'm wondering why network suits think more people will show for these programs. There's also lots of music coming, from former American Idol judge Simon Cowell's The X Factor competition on Fox to a Glee-style, Steven Spielberg-produced drama about launching a Broadway musical called Smash.
LOSER: Ethnic and racial diversity -- So far, it seems just one new show features a character of color as a star; ABC's Scandal, featuring Kerry Washington, who is black, as a superstar crisis manager in Washington D.C. (created, not so coincidentally, by Grey's Anatomy executive producer Shonda Rimes, who is also black). Last fall, NBC alone had four new shows starring characters of color, now all canceled. Here's hoping the TV industry hasn't decided that reflecting the country's growing diversity makes for bad business.