Tuesday, July 10, 2018

TIME TO GRADE THE FALL DRAMA PILOTS


For those of you who have been reading my musings at TV BY THE NUMBERS welcome to my blog which I started when I was at FOX. I was asked to shut it down which I did but when I retired from the network I started it up again so here we are.

I enjoyed my year and a half at TVBTN but posting on my own blog will give me a bit more freedom .

Well I finally made it through the nine Fall drama pilots on the broadcast networks. Fortunately, only four networks offer Fall dramas with FOX holding off until mid-season when it will introduce its two contenders. Overall, the pilots were competent and there were a few attempts at some wild swings but none of them flew out of the ballpark for me. Seven of the nine were pretty premisy so it’s hard to tell where they will be in a few episodes.

This crop includes reimaginings of past series (CHARMED and MAGNUM PI), an effort to capitalize on the return a popular actor (THE ROOKIE), some obvious attempts at replicating the success of past series such as BEVERLY HILLS 90210/FRESH PRINCE OF BEL AIR (ALL AMERICAN) , HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN/TOCHED BY AN ANGEL/EARLY EDITION/PERSON OF INTEREST (GOD FRIENDED ME), LOST (MANIFEST), THIS IS US/THIRTYSOMETHING (A MILLION DIFFERENT THINGS) and a few generic popular franchises in FBI and NEW AMSTERDAM.

Long winded way of saying there was nothing like 24 or JANE THE VIRGIN where I leaned forward as the pilot progressed and literally stoop up and gave a standing ovation to at the end. I actually did. EMPIRE also gave me the chills.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t shows here that I might check out beyond the pilot. There are three that may become part of my weekly lineup. I know you all  think I am a total mark for them and I might be but the two most likely are both on the CW which is easily my favorite broadcast network.

I really liked ALL AMERICAN and they did a great job of setting up a lot of dynamics and stories (especially that little surprise at the end) to hook me in. I was not a viewer of the original CHARMED but loved the three sisters and I’m up for a good demon of the week show mashed up with the sorority and ME TOO elements. This one is going to be fun.

Although it was a bit overacted, hammy and stocked with stereotyped characters, I thought FBI was a solid procedural and it’s Dick Wolf so we got a story with some interesting twists and turns.

GOD FRIENDED ME has potential but the idea of an atheist son of a priest confronted every week with making a difference in someone’s life based on a friend request suggested by “GOD”, while continuing to question the existence of a higher power could get tedious. I hope they clean up the underlying premise real fast and just get on to the do-gooding.

Every year a network tries a high concept show where there is an unanswered question and one of two things happen. Either they never quite explain to you what happened or. when they do you call bullshit and stop watching. This format never works and this season’s winner is MANIFEST. The plot is full of so many holes that within 20 minutes I gave up yelling at the TV and just let the pilot just play out (I always stay to the end hoping for something to happen to change my mind). LOST succeeded because of characters. They ain’t here. Move on.

The only pilot that had me screaming “Kill me now” was A MILLION DIFFERENT THINGS. It was horrible and manipulative but not in a good way and I really didn’t like any of these characters and, you know what, I don’t think they liked themselves or each other. I could go on forever about this one but I won’t.

So here are the nine fall dramas and their grades. I think there’s a solid chance six might make it to a second season so I guess that’s good news.

ALL AMERICAN (CW) B+
CHARMED (CW) B+
FBI (CBS) B
NEW AMSTERDAM (NBC) B-
MAGNUM PI (CBS) B-
THE ROOKIE (ABC) C+
GOD FRIENDED ME (CBS) C+
MANIFEST (NBC) C
A MILLION DIFFERENT THINGS (ABC) D+

Now on to the mid-season dramas.

You can follow mw on Twitter @maskedscheduler and questions and comments can reach me at masked.scheduler@gmail.com


Sunday, July 1, 2018

MID-SEASON MASKY TIME 2017




It’s mid-season MASKY time. Sorry for the delay. Was away for a while and before I left I started watching the mid-season shows and unfortunately started with the two comedies at the bottom of the list below. I decided I needed to take a break. Fortunately, I started up again this week and found a few pleasant surprises.

There are two shows that I will definitely check out again and one might work but probably not. Comedies continue to be not funny but there was one that at least made me chuckle.

There are two procedurals (DECEPTION and INSTINCT) that are in the classic ‘he’s a/she’s a” mold where one partner is someone in law enforcement and the other has a “super power”. INSTINCT features Alan Cumming and it’s ELEMENTARY so expect a second season.

So here are the MASKYS for best mid-season comedy and drama. Just to be clear the MASKY is awarded to the show that I feel has the best chance of being renewed for a second season. Last year I went 50/50 but I have a pretty good track record of awarding shows that go on for several seasons. Just to review DYNASTY (THE CW) and YOUNG SHELDON (CBS) won the Fall MASKYS for Drama and Comedy respectively.

The MASKY for best mid-season Comedy goes to AP BIO (NBC). Comedy is hard but this attempt at a SCHOOL OF ROCK sensibility sort of pulls it off. The kids are offbeat and there are several funny adults in addition to Glenn Howerton like, for example Patton Oswalt.

THE RESIDENT (FOX) wins the MASKY for best mid-season Drama and was the only pilot this year to get an A. It’s not groundbreaking or anything but it has Matt Czuchry which could draw in the GOOD WIFE contingent and Emily VanCamp. It’s just a really solid medical drama with Bruce Greenwood as the sort of villain of the show. There were just enough surprises to keep me invested.

I want to also suggest you check out RISE (NBC) which is GLEE meets FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. There are so many similarities to GLEE that it comes close to taking the show down for me but it’s far more solid and has a much better chance of staying on the tracks whereas Ryan Murphy shows have a tendency to implode.

Here are the grades for the mid-season shows that I could get my hands on. No BLACK LIGHTNING or LIFE SENTENCE (which I hope carries on the JANE THE VIRGIN, CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND, RIVERDALE tradition of the CW). You go with what you got.

Within each grade, they are ranked in descending order, sort of.


A
THE RESIDENT (FOX)
B
RISE (NBC)
INSTINCT (CBS)
AP BIO (NBC)
C
THE CROSSING (ABC)
CHAMPIONS (NBC)
ALEX INC. (ABC)
LA TO VEGAS (FOX)
DECEPTION (ABC)
FOR THE PEOPLE (ABC)
REVERIE (ABC)
D
BY THE BOOK (CBS)

SPLITTING UP TOGETHER (ABC)

THE 12 COMMANDMENTS OF TELEVISION




About twenty years ago, when I was head of scheduling at NBC, I got a call one day from Don Ohlmeyer who was President of the NBC West Coast operation. He asked me and Eric Cardinal, our head of research (he’s over at the CW now), to come up to his office.

Don was an inquisitive dude and loved research. He and I would have long conversations about the business, the audience and the kinds of shows we should be making. He was a big tent guy. I had a relationship with the GE (our parent company) R&D group and, once in a while, I would come up to Don’s office with a new toy that the R&D gang and I had developed.                          

If I remember correctly Eric and I met with Don at the start of a new year and he wanted us to give him a set of rules which we could use to evaluate the coming crop of pilots. He asked us to go through the pilot testing data and see if we could find the connections between successful shows and what we could cull from the testing. His concern was that we may see a solid pilot but will it translate into a successful television show.

Eric and I worked on this project for a few months and finally presented Don with twelve “rules” which we called “Research Homilies”. Don embraced them and, when pilot season arrived, he had us hand them out to all the executives. Don encouraged them to evaluate the pilots with these rules in mind.

I knew this wasn’t going to end well. Creative executives are generally opposed to research so I knew that I was in for a hard time with several of my colleagues. I kept trying to explain to them that we weren’t saying that you had to follow this set of rules. The point that we were trying to make was that if a pilot did not exhibit some of these rules there was a good chance that it would fail as a television series. They weren’t buying it.

To make matters worse someone leaked the Research Homilies to TV Guide and they appeared in the magazine during pilot screenings. Let’s just say that didn’t sit well with our boss.

I have had several opportunities to present these Research Homilies to various groups and they generate some very lively discussions. When I went over to FOX several development executives asked me for a copy which they hung up in their office.

It’s been twenty years since Eric and I developed these rules and I thought it would be a fun exercise to share them with you and see if they still apply to successful shows. Now it is important to keep in mind that the definition of success has changed over these two decades. There are now several factors that go into the renewal of a show that go beyond the ratings. Be that as it may broadcast networks can still develop shows like THIS IS US, EMPIRE and THE GOOD DOCTOR which most would agree are “hits” by today’s definitions.                                                     

I accept that there is more niche programming as platforms need to be fed. I think that these rules also explain why a lot of shows that are critically well received will never expand beyond their narrow audience. Jeff Bezos recently demanded that Amazon move beyond their narrow creative model and start looking for their GAME OF THRONES. Easier said than done but I think it would help him to study these rules.

What I love about these homilies is how obvious they are. We did not reinvent the wheel but simply reminded creative executives that there is something universal about what the viewer is looking for in a television show. It’s fascinating how often these pretty obvious rules are ignored.

So, this is the prelude to a series of articles which I will call THE TWELVE COMMANDMENTS OF TELEVISION. Let’s see if they still help us understand today’s hits.

As a tease, here is the First Commandment:


“TRIED AND TRUE = DEAD AND BURIED – NOT!!!”