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 for advertisers in a mass schmoozathon of glad handing and posturing known as the Upfronts.
This doesn't mean much to civilians, who mostly see 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.
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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. It's an influx of femininity that will bring a wide range of new opportunities for women to TV's big tent.
Comedy. The success of ABC's Modern Family, combined with the failure rate of most dramas, has convinced the TV industry to dive deep into comedy. NBC declared one of its two biggest priorities next season is establishing more comedies, while Fox has planned a two-hour comedy block for next March and ABC lured Tim Allen back to TV in Last Man Standing, featuring a 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.
Nostalgia and music. Playboy Club and Pan Am give actors a chance to strut in '60s-era sharkskin suits to a Rat Pack soundtrack. But the show that inspired them, AMC's Mad Men, draws only about 2 million viewers a week; why do network suits think they will do better? There's also lots of music coming, from former American Idol judge Simon Cowell's The X Factor on Fox to a Glee-style, Steven Spielberg-produced drama about launching a Broadway musical called Smash.
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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 both seem to be nostalgic looks back at early '60s institutions that turned female employees into empty, sexualized stereotypes. And the tag line 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?
This season's new shows. In its new schedule, NBC officially canceled every new show it presented last fall, as did ABC (shows that debuted this spring, like Dana Delany's Body of Proof, 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.
Ethnic and racial diversity. So far, it seems just one new show features a character of color as a star: ABC's Scandal, featuring Ray co-star 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 Rhimes, 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.