In TV, it's once again autumn.
TV executives are pitching their fall slates at advertisers in New York this week in an annual ritual known as “the upfronts.” The five broadcast networks each make clip-fijlled presentations; advertisers try to decide what looked good and, more importantly, what looked like it will succeed.
Obviously, they will have more time in the weeks ahead to come to a more informed judgement on the new shows, as will we. But as the networks use these clips to entice ad buyers, it seems only fair to say whether or not they looked particularly enticing.
Which is what I did for NBC and Fox on Monday, and ABC on Tuesday, picking out the new show that looks most promising — and the one that seems most puzzling. It’s only a first impression, of course — but in TV as in life, first impressions sometimes stick.
You can usually count on two things with CBS series: Critics will ignore them, and viewers will watch them — and more often than they watch anything else.
There are, of course, variations on those themes. Sometimes CBS airs shows critics love, such as the now departed The Good Wife and one of TV’s current best sitcoms, Mom. And sometimes, like every network, it has a few that viewers instantly reject, like last season’s bomb Pure Genius. But in general, CBS is in the business of making crowd-pleasing, undemanding mass-market entertainment, and a very profitable business it is. This is a network that knows its audience and know how to make shows its audience wants, which is fine. All we ask from the new fall shows is that they lean more toward the best efforts like The Big Bang Theory and Elementary and away from the Man With a Plan, which has been renewed but benched until midseason.
So how's it leaning this year? Here's a first take.
Most Promising: Star Trek: Discovery
OK, I’m cheating: Although the first Discovery episode will air on CBS, the rest of the series will only be available on CBS All Access. Still, the beautifully produced Discovery clip was the only one from CBS — and for that matter, the only one from any network so far — that made you think you were seeing not just a show people would watch, but one they might be excited to watch. Still, if an actual CBS show is required, go with the Big Bang prequel Young Sheldon. It was more sweet than funny, but Chuck Lorre's shows tend to get better as they move past their pilots, as Big Bang did. And with Big Bang as a lead-in and CBS behind it, the show has “hit” written all over it.
Most Puzzling: Wisdom of the Crowd
First, CBS fails badly with Pure Genius, a high-tech gizmo medical show about a rich genius savior. Then Fox fails badly with APB, a high-tech gizmo cop show about a rich genius savior. And now CBS returns with Crowd, a high-tech gizmo crime show starring Jeremy Piven as — you guessed it — a rich genius savior. This time around, the tech whiz creates a crowd-sourcing app to help find his daughter’s murderer, and then employs it to solve other crimes. So in addition to the genre-required scenes of people starring at see-through computer screens, you get a show where smartphone vigilantes are encouraged to record strangers' conversations and follow them around taking video. Even in a country that cherishes law and order, and applauds those who post clips of misbehaving flight attendants, Wisdom is bound to strike some as bit too Brave New World creepy for comfort.