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Upfronts Analysis: ABC 2008-2009 Fall Schedule

“No Alarms and No Surprises”

ABC 2008-2009 Fall Schedule

Of all of the major networks, one could say that ABC is playing it safest when it comes to this year’s upfronts. The only drama pilot to make it onto their fall schedule is one that was technically completed for last season’s pilot group, and they are the network who held back the most new shows from last fall to be relaunched with gusto when September rolls around.

The result is a schedule that is eerily similar to the one that we saw this past year, which saw decent success although certainly not to the levels that they experienced in years previous. After a year of success facing off against CSI, Grey’s Anatomy has seen post-strike ratings tumble, and shows like Desperate Housewives and Ugly Betty are fading if not quite to levels that are dangerous to their health and stability on the network.

So, let’s take a look at the schedule, and see which shows are going to make a splash this time around, plus finally getting confirmation of the worst kept secret of the year’s upfronts.

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The 2008 Golden Globe Awards – TV Predictions – Drama

I watched Friday Night Lights last evening, but I felt too ill to really put my thoughts onto paper. Suffice to say that I agree with Sepinwall in that any show in its right mind would not put Tim Riggins’ fingerprints on a gun and have him steal a load of cash just after it got dragged down from a frustrating murder storyline. The rest of the episode I think I enjoyed more than Alan did, but on the whole it feels like we’re going in circles. And, in the preview for next week, did they seriously show Tim Riggins going after LYLA again? That just feels unnecessary.

But, either way, let’s settle into the big TV story this weekend: The now truncated and airing on multiple stations Golden Globes: News Conference Edition. It’s been a wild ride of sorts, and now comes word that the press conference won’t be picketed as it will be aired on multiple networks and not just on NBC. Variety has the full (And ludicrously complicated) story, but the end result is the same: TV personalities will be announcing the winners in an hour-long block at 9pm EST tomorrow. This should be an interesting experience, but since stars will be able to attend (due to the lack of pickets) there might be some excitement. I’ll look at drama nominees today, and comedy tomorrow. And maybe some film predictions – I’m weak like that.

Drama Series

  • Big Love
  • Damages [Predicted Winner]
  • Grey’s Anatomy
  • House
  • Mad Men [Myles’ Choice]
  • The Tudors

It’s the biggest TV award of the evening, really, and it’s one that is kind of tough to decide. The two network series are more or less out of contention, their popularity being their only saving grace in an environment that likes new series. Big Love and The Tudors are just not quite unique enough to stand out, and Damages is buzzworthy due to strong performances and a compelling narrative. It also has the most nominations out of any show, although an upset is always possible. Meanwhile, what is lacks in star power Mad Men makes up with quality and a strong awards push – it’s both my choice and a potential spoiler.

Best Actor in a Drama Series

  • Michael C. Hall [Dexter] [Predicted Winner / Myles’ Choice]
  • Jon Hamm [Mad Men]
  • Hugh Laurie [House]
  • Jonathan Rhys-Meyers [The Tudors]
  • Bill Paxton [Big Love]

This is a category that comes down to two people, really, with Jon Hamm just being too much of an unknown to really break through against two heavyweights. Hugh Laurie has won the award already, while Hall has been criminally unrepresented for his fantastic work on Dexter. It is my hope, and my prediction, that this is rectified by the HFPA, and hopefully it can wake up Emmy to his genius. Seriously, Emmys, James Spader? However, you just watch: the Globe will go to Bill Paxton, who isn’t wholly undeserving but still, just to spite me.

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The Sophomore Test: ‘Chuck’, ‘Reaper’, ‘Dirty Sexy Money’

Think making a television pilot is hard? Pfft, a pilot is nothing. A pilot has an astronomical budget, a lengthy shooting schedule, and a certain level of freedom not seen within an episodic structure. The real test of a series’ quality, then, is the second episode. It’s the one that gives a better indication of a showrunner’s ability to wrangle their initial pilot concept into an affordable and still entertaining series.

So, let’s see how three of the year’s series (None of which I’ve spent considerable time discussing) held up this week not just in terms of ratings, but in terms of quality.

Chuck

What I liked about Chuck’s pilot was its geeky sensibility and slick production values. There has been a lot of talk about Chuck lacking content below that surface, that it rides by on production and concept alone without any depth. And do you know what? I think that these people are correct. And, well, I don’t really care.

The series will only fail at this point if it takes itself too seriously. At this point, the comedy and the drama are almost at odds, fighting it out for the focus of the series. I want the show to be able to embrace its light-hearted side just a little bit more, finding a balance that works for it.

I think the second episode did an admirable job of keeping the series’ geeky elements from becoming too cliched (It was impossible to do so entirely) while keeping things (relatively) balanced. My concern, however, is that they will keep trying to find spy-related storylines and be unwilling to let Chuck’s personal life dominate. This isn’t Alias, the comic setup is good enough to support more personal developments.

The verdict: Good, but not great. It didn’t expand to anything the least bit revolutionary, but it has comic and dramatic potential to be tapped.

Reaper

In the first non-Kevin Smith episode, I honestly felt like there wasn’t a huge tonal shift in Reaper’s second episode. I think that this is, on the one hand, a good thing: after all, I liked the pilot. On the other hand, I think that the similarity had much less to do with a continued sense of quality, and more a sense of deja vu.

Yes, Reaper stayed fairly consistent in its second week, but with that came both its good and its bad. On the good side, Ray Wise stayed sharp as the devil, and Bret Harrison continues to define scrutable in the lead role. But, unlike Chuck, which had a fairly energetic pilot, Reaper’s was occasionally a bit slow and expositional.

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The State of the Primetime Soap Opera: ‘Desperate’, ‘Sexy’ and ‘Sisters’

The primetime soap opera was heralded as the new and resurgent medium when Desperate Housewives arrived and brought steamy, sudsy television back to the forefront of popular culture. Now, three years later, ABC remains at the forefront of the movement but is not alone: CBS is introducing Cane and Swingtown, attempting to break through on what only ABC has managed to pull off in recent years.

Perhaps attempting to confirm themselves as the destination for primetime soaps without procedural elements or workplace settings, ABC is introducing ‘Dirty Sexy Money’ to the table while ‘Desperate Housewives’ bounces back from a weak couple of seasons and ‘Brothers & Sisters’ takes advantage of late-season momentum.

I am admittedly a sucker for these shows: I might view them with a more critical eye, but I have a penchant for some good family drama. But is it good family drama? And how are the show stacking up this season? Let’s take a gander.

Desperate Housewives – “Now You Know”

I will admit that I stopped watching Desperate Housewives last year, fairly early even. I simply didn’t find the second season interesting enough to justify sticking around during the rather slow start to its third. What has me watching the premiere, then? Mainly the arrival of new characters, new mysteries, and Nathan Fillion. So sue me, I became a Browncoat with Firefly over the summer.

My verdict: Dana Delaney has finally added some spice to the proceedings, the various women of Wysteria Lane are at their best when keeping secrets, and the mystery feels like just the right balance of intrigue and actually interesting material, as opposed to last year’s. It is a creepy dream for a brain-washed girl whose parents are hiding things in a locked room that hides not a chained up male but a hidden past.

It centers on not some secret murder plot or basement dungeon, but a mysterious new neighbour with a past and a future on Wisteria Lane. The drama amongst characters it as much of a retread as before, but it feels fresher as long as some level of change is being promised. And I feel like a new neighbour, and new neighbours to come, might be enough to bring the show back on track.

Brothers & Sisters – “Home Front”

At the end of last season’s finale, the Walker family cleansed themselves with a dip in the pool to signal a new beginning. However, this was really incredibly misleading, as this year’s season premiere showed: in reality, they’re still just as messed up as they were before. Kitty’s neutoric, Kevin’s narcissistic, Sarah’s marriage is a wreck, and the rest of the family are in a state of upheaval.

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