FIX MY TV: The annual television upfronts – or what’s left of them since NBC jumped the gun several weeks ago – begin in about a week, and according to a recent Variety story, they’re going to be a scaled-down affair compared to previous years.
“Conference rooms normally booked solid with marathon pilot screenings are empty,” read the story. “Many pilots are still in the casting phase, or are still recruiting directors and other key production elements. At one network, execs who normally put together their upfront speech months in advance just began working on it.”
A few new shows are already being given tentative hype – titles like Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse, J. J. Abrams’ Fringe, a CBS drama called The Mentalist, David E. Kelley’s Americanization of BBC’s Life On Mars for ABC and an as-yet-unnamed Geena Davis vehicle. (Geez – doesn’t anyone remember Commander-In-Chief?) There won’t be a lot to preview in New York this month, however, as most of the shows still don’t have completed pilots.
As Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle points out, however, none of this will affect the atmosphere of giddy anticipation that suffuses upfronts every year, “when the networks trot out their fall shows to advertisers and media,” writes Goodman, “and everybody pretends that each and every series is a runaway hit in the waiting. In other words: May is the month for pipe dreams.”
Goodman is willing to allow the networks their fantasies, if only as a brief refuge from the brutal truth: “The current season has been completely wasted, no matter how the nets want to spin it. Freshman series faltered, there was a strike and not a lot of viewers came back. That's a blunt assessment, but it's true.”
From where I’m sitting, he’s not wrong, and Goodman goes on to provide a list of the things that the networks could do to save themselves before it’s too late, though one of those items – praying that the Screen Actors Guild doesn’t go on strike, wreaking havoc with the second half of 2008 the way the writers’ strike did with the first – is out of their hands.
Among his recommendations is that they admit they’ve screwed up the one thing they should have done right: programming. Tossing shows all over the schedule doesn’t help viewers when they want to tune in (or program their PVRs), and we already learned last year that taking long breaks in the middle of a season does a pretty neat job of shedding fans. As I’m already tired of pointing out, none of this will be a problem once the broadcast model of television has gone the way of radio serials and some genius figures out that video-on-demand isn’t just a way of selling porn in hotels. In the meantime, get ready to hear about all the awesome shows coming our way in September, and try to pretend you care – the people at the networks have already had their feelings hurt enough.