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The Bigger the Slate, The Harder the Fall

While many network shows are coming to a close this week, meaning that I expect to start suffering from withdrawal symptoms imminently, it’s never too early to look ahead and start planning for the fall’s TV slate.

Often the upcoming TV season involves networks trying to capitalize on the format of shows that were a hit in the previous season. For example, after the success of Lost, sci-fi mystery shows with big ensemble multicultural casts were de rigueur: Invasion, Threshold, and Surface all appeared the subsequent fall, though none of them garnered the same following. Even Heroes, the current season’s breakout hit, took a page from Lost (on that note, be sure to read this joint interview with Heroes creator Tim Kring and Lost creator Damon Lindelof, who previously worked together on Crossing Jordan).

This year, the copycat effect seems surprisingly absent. The only network using the Heroes format as a jumping off point is NBC itself, which has commissioned a six episode spinoff, Heroes: Origins. Shows seem to be focusing on smaller, more intimate casts. Content’s another story: while cop, lawyer, and medical dramas remain the staples of what passes for television creativity, sci-fi and geek-oriented shows seem to be stronger than ever.

Friends often ask me what they should be watching, so I’m compiling a list of all the shows that I’ve been able to watch clips for (TVWeek has assembled a great collection of them). The list below isn’t comprehensive, and of course, it’s only based on a very small sample of the shows in question—I haven’t read the scripts or seen the pilots, though in some cases, I have heard “buzz” from those who have.

Once the season gets closer, I’ll probably refine the list based on reviews, buzz, and the episodes that I do get to watch. I’ve tried to keep these initial impressions short.


Sam I Am (ABC): A woman suffering from amnesia finds out that she was a bitch. I forget: have we overused amnesia as a premise?

The Big Bang Theory (CBS): Nerds befriend a beautiful woman. Ha ha, geeks are funny. Surprisingly enough, this concept may actually have been better when it was a reality show (Beauty and the Geek). I hope it stays on long enough for Jason to completely mine it for his dissertation and not a second longer. And it’s an awful title, unless intentionally meant as a sex joke.

Aliens in America (The CW): A family completely freaks out when the exchange student they host ends up being Pakistani. Could be funny and incisive if done well, or crude and groan-worthy if not.

K-Ville (FOX): I would use the Crockett and Tubby joke, but Hot Fuzz beat me to it. Anthony Anderson did a memorable turn as kingpin Antwon Mitchell on The Shield. Now he’s purloined Michael Chiklis’s shtick as a walking-the-line cop. Unfortunately, he just looks like he needs a hug. It’s all right, big guy—we’ll always have Hang Time.

Journeyman (NBC): I’ve heard little to nothing about this pilot, but the clip struck me as interesting. A San Francisco reporter can go back in time to help people. Early Edition, in reverse. Creators worked on The West Wing; let’s hope the good seasons rubbed off on them. It’s taking up the post-Heroes spot, where NBC is betting that sci-fi will play better than Studio 60 did.


Cavemen (ABC): The Geico commercials become a half-hour sitcom and thinly-veiled race parable. Turning ad campaigns into television may be the most brilliant idea ever concocted by network executives after having devoured their lackeys’ brains. If only they’d thought of it in time for the Budweiser frogs. From what I’ve seen, still funnier than The Big Bang Theory and Carpoolers.

Carpoolers (ABC): Four dissimilar (and yet strangely stereotypical) guys share a commute and clichéd banter about life. For those of you keeping score at home, there’s the stand-up honest guy, the whipped guy, the token black guy, and Jerry O’Connell. Plays more like a commercial than even Cavemen.

Cane (CBS): Why is that even when Jimmy Smits is playing a Cuban-American mobster, he still sounds like he’s running for president? (Hint: you can tell them apart because evil Jimmy Smits has a goatee). And if Nestor Carbonell is there, how can he be on the island?

Reaper (The CW): I vowed to never watch The CW again, after what they put Veronica Mars through, but this Kevin Smith-directed pilot about a slacker who discovers that he’s a bounty hunter for the devil looks surprisingly decent (which, I’m guessing, means it won’t last long). And Tyler Labine, you may have played second fiddle to Ryan Gosling back in the Breaker High days, but you’ll always be first in my heart.

New Amsterdam (Fox): A handsome, brooding immortal (wahhh, I can’t die until I meet my soulmate) works as a New York City homicide detective. See Moonlight.

Chuck (NBC): Dramedy about a computer geek who’s drafted into top secret government work. The first maybe twenty seconds of the clip made me laugh out loud, but it started to get a little stale and sophomoric after that. Probably worth a watch. It boggles my mind that Josh Schwarz (The O.C.) is running both this and The CW’s Gossip Girl (which see).


Pushing Daisies (ABC): Hands down my pick for best upcoming series. Lee Pace (Jaye’s brother from Wonderfalls) plays a man who can temporarily bring people back from the dead, a skill he uses to help police solve crimes (think Raines but better). Created by uber-genius Bryan Fuller, who also created cult hits Wonderfalls and the similarly morbid Dead Like Me and subsequently worked on Heroes. This clip strikes the perfect balance between creepy and hilarious. Of course, having now singled this show out, it is now doomed to failure.

Private Practice (ABC): Goddamnit, ABC’s going to get Tim Daly his own series one way or another, though I wish they’d bring back the short-lived Eyes instead of shoehorning him into this Grey’s Anatomy spinoff. Cast also features Taye Diggs, Alias’s Merrin Dungey, Veronica Mars’s Chris Lowell, Judging Amy’s Amy Brenneman, and Grey’s Kate Walsh (who, ironically, played Daly’s estranged wife on the aforementioned Eyes). Though for some reason I instinctively wanted to dislike this, one of its chief writers is Buffy vet Marti Noxon, and the clip was actually somewhat amusing. And I still like Tim Daly, god help me.

Dirty Sexy Money (ABC): The clip doesn’t really give you much to go on, but two words: Peter Krause. Oh, Peter, I hope ABC treats you better this time.

Gossip Girl (The CW): Seriously, for this you cancel Veronica Mars? Admittedly, Blake Lively is hot enough that she should be considered a weapon of mass distraction, but the two minutes I saw of this show, about spoiled high school girls in New York, made me for the first time actively consider doing shots of Drano.

Back to You (FOX): Kelsey Grammar returns to TV, leaving behind his iconic role as an overbearing blowhard of a psychiatrist to play an overbearing blowhard of a TV anchor. I’m glad they put the laugh track in—otherwise, I might not have known it was supposed to be a comedy. Seriously.

The Return of Jezebel James (FOX): Indie film queen Parker Posey plays a woman who can’t get pregnant, so she tries to convince her sister to do it for her. From Amy Sherman-Palladino, who created Gilmore Girls. I like Posey, and though I’ve never gotten into Gilmore Girls, Sherman-Palladino is by all accounts, quite talented. The clip didn’t set me on fire but it might be good. (Oh, and what’s with the laugh track fetish, FOX? Drop it.)

Bionic Woman (NBC): Remake of the seventies series (itself a spinoff from The Six Million Dollar Man), masterminded by David Eick, the Battlestar Galactica producer whose name is not Ron Moore. I like the clip shown here, but I fear the inevitable Lindsay Wagner cameo. That NBC has hired Jason Smilovic (Kidnapped, Lucky Number Slevin) to work on the show means that I’ll be watching.

Life (NBC): A cop who was wrongly imprisoned (Damian Lewis) gets a second chance to come back to the force. Lewis was slam bang awesome in Band of Brothers, and this preview strikes the right note, but can an “edgy” network cop show survive in this age of The Wire and The Shield?


Big Shots (ABC): This drama about the trials and tribulations of four high-powered CEOs has a good cast, including The Practice’s Dylan McDermott, Alias’s Michael Vartan, and Sports Night/West Wing alum Joshua Malina (though Malina’s so adorable, it’s hard to imagine him having a mistress). The punchline of this clip sums it up nicely: “Men. We’re the new women.” I think that they’re hedging this show to appeal to both sexes, and as a result, it will probably attract neither.

Canterbury’s Law (FOX): Lawyer drama about a female attorney who takes on risky and unpopular cases, starring Julianna Margulies (ER). Snoozerama.


Women’s Murder Club (ABC): Desperate Housewives, except they’re solving crimes instead of perpetrating them.

Moonlight (CBS): A good vampire becomes a private eye. This show was better when it was called Angel. Or Nightwalker. Or even Forever Knight. Why is it that whenever a vampire wants to redeem himself, he gets typecast as a detective? Look, vampires can be whatever they want. Where are all the shows about vampire doctors and lawyers? Here’s my pitch: Blood Bank, a heist drama about a noble vampire thief who plans to rob a blood bank so he never has to feed on humans again. There, how hard was that?


Viva Laughlin (CBS): A musical drama, produced by Hugh Jackman, who will also appear in several episodes, about a man who founds a casino in Laughlin, Nevada. Even Jackman doesn’t believe he’s straight anymore. Based on a British series, Viva Blackpool; British remakes have been hit (The Office) and miss (Coupling) when transplanted to America, but this might be quirky enough to make it.

Life is Wild (The CW): A mixed family moves to South Africa. Supposed to take 7th Heaven’s spot as the “heartwarming” show on the network. They would have been better off keeping Everwood, the fuckers.

The Sarah Connor Chronicles (FOX): I’m guessing this will be the most talked about show of the season. Taking place between Terminator 2 and Terminator 3, it deals with the stories of Sarah (Lena Headey) and John Connor (Thomas Dekker) trying to avoid the deadly robots and avert the apocalypse. Dekker was good as Claire’s friend Zach on Heroes, but the clips I’ve seen him make him more whiny than anything else. Summer Glau (Firefly) does look great as their mysterious protector.

Lipstick Jungle (NBC): Someone described this as Sex in the City meets Sex in the City. Nuff said.


Cashmere Mafia (ABC): High-powered women try to juggle careers and family, with an impressive cast: Lucy Liu, Miranda Otto, and Frances McDormand. Apparently women are also the new men.

Eli Stone (ABC): A lawyer (Jonny Lee Miller) starts having hallucinations after finding he has an aneurysm, and begins to believe he’s a prophet. Also with Natasha Henstridge (Species) and Victor Garber (Alias). Clip was promising.

Miss/Guided (ABC): A high-school guidance counselor (Judy Greer) goes to work at her old high school. The clip was amusing, and Greer (Adaptation, The Hebrew Hammer) has genuine comic flair; she’s always a pleasure to watch.

The Rules for Starting Over (FOX): A comedy about newly single 30 somethings re-entering the dating scene. By the Farelly Brothers (Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary). You get what you pay for.


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