We’re only a few days away from all those gigantic Upfront events during which the executives at a number of broadcast networks will at great expense repeat details of their 2016-17 schedules that should begin piping out of various social media platforms any minute now.
And so it is that by this time next week critics and bloggers who “specialize” in coverage of television programming will have hastily begun singling out the “most promising” new programs. (I'll probably do it, too.) Many of them -- too many, in fact -- do this simply to “get there first” and favorably impress colleagues, competitors, network executives and show-runners. Others hurriedly follow whether they want to or not so as not to appear slow at the switch.
This very often leads to a lot of early support – long before full pilots are screened – and a sudden burst of buzz that leads to all kinds of bad decision making. Last year in late May we were all tripping over each other in our rushed praise of ABC’s “The Muppets.” I was as guilty as everyone else of prematurely singling it out as the most promising new series of the season.
In fairness to myself and others, “The Muppets” clipped well and played even better last May at ABC’s Upfront presentation. Only an ogre would have said otherwise. In fact, it clipped better than any other new 2015-16 show at any broadcast network, with the possible exception of The CW’s infectiously catchy preview of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” a show that few folks other than critics seemed to get very excited about through its freshman run. (Series lead Rachel Bloom did, however, win a Golden Globe Award and a Critics Choice Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. She is pictured below.)
The difference here, of course, is that “Crazy” deserves all the support it gets (and all that it can get), including its second season renewal, while “The Muppets” was a giant disappointment on every level right from the first showings of its full pilot. “Crazy” lived up to its clip job. “Muppets” did not.
Keep that in mind in the days to come when members of the “press” begin raving about shows they haven’t seen … many of which will likely go through multiple revisions and changes before we see them next season. Buzz will build, some of it undeserved. Bloggers and episode re-cappers will further fuel the frenzy. Many journalists who want to secure access with the networks will unreservedly gush, absent concerns for quality, context or integrity.
Meanwhile, one has to wonder whether or not the broadcast networks will do better this time out, or whether the bar has been set so low that we are in for another season utterly devoid of excitement. Consider the largely underwhelming shows that were tagged as pick hits last year during Upfront week and the months that followed:
ABC’s “The Muppets.” Enough said about this one.
CBS’ “Supergirl.” A show brimming with sweet charm and heartfelt humanity that is still struggling to find itself. I can’t help but wish that “Supergirl” was a straight-up rom-com with the same sexy, sparkling cast. How could it then not be a hit? (Series stars Jeremy Jordan, Melissa Benoist and Mehcad Brooks are pictured below.)
NBC’s “Blindspot.” This action series owes its early ratings rush to repeated visuals in its marketing campaign and on the show itself of a beautiful naked woman covered from tip to toe with tattoos. Seriously, would it have enjoyed as much early buzz if all those tattoos were discovered on a man’s body, or if those symbols were found on an ancient scroll or scratched onto the Empire State Building or any other New York City landmark? This is one of those franchises that will extend its mythology for as many seasons as NBC chooses to run it, much like the same network’s weakening “The Blacklist.” (Remember when that one kicked butt?)
Fox’s “Scream Queens.” (pictured at top) Vicious, vile and just about the ugliest thing a broadcast network had dropped in forever. Until the time when, just a few weeks later, we were treated to an even nastier little show:
ABC’s “Wicked City.” A jaw-droppingly disturbing stinker about a love affair between serial killers that was also picked by many bloggers as a show to keep an eye on, which wasn’t easy because it was cancelled after two weeks.
The CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” (pictured below) Plainly an acquired taste that few have chosen to sample, even if it is more daring and adventurous than any of the shows mentioned above. The general rejection of this delightful show raises the question: Do critics even matter anymore?
Fortunately, truly awful shows that critics rejected even before Upfront week was over, including NBC’s “Truth Be Told” and “The Player,” CBS’ “Angel from Hell” and ABC’s "Blood and Oil" and the aforementioned “Wicked City” were put out of our misery before too much damage was done. So there is still some degree of taste in play by network executives and critics alike.
Unfortunately, the promise of an afterlife on one streaming service or another has the networks only too happy to keep too many marginal shows on their schedules. So it is more likely than ever that many series that have run out of gas and many others that are likely to do so will be among those renewed in the days ahead.
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