Fox got a jump on TV’s Broadcast Upfront Week late Wednesday when the network announced that it had picked up several new shows for next season — including, to no one’s surprise, J.J. Abrams’s android-buddy-cop pilot, “Almost Human.”
Broadcast Upfront Week, for the uninitiated, is that annual rite in which TV-station execs slip their collars across the country to come rub shoulders with Madison Avenue suits as ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and CW unveil next season’s crop of new, can’t-miss prime-time series.
Upfront Week officially begins Sunday. On Wednesday, Fox began its unveiling early.
Among the network’s other no-surprise pickups were a “House”-esque drama starring Greg Kinnear titled “Rake” (brilliant, charming and self-destructive criminal-defense lawyer lacks the self-edit gene), and Seth MacFarlane’s new live-action comedy, “Dads,” about two successful guys (Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi) whose dads move in with them.
Fox also ordered a “thrilling new action-adventure” about Ichabod Crane. You know: the superstitious, cowardly schoolmaster who gets terrified right out of town, right after his rival for the hand of a wealthy guy’s daughter dresses up like a ghost of a legendary Revolutionary War soldier — one who had his head blown off by a cannonball — and lobs a jack-o’-lantern at poor Ichabod.
According to Fox, the Ichabod Crane of its thrilling new “Sleepy Hollow” series has been pulled 21 / 2 centuries through time, only to find that the world is on the brink of destruction. Instead of crawling into bed and pulling up the covers, Ichabod rises to the occasion and teams with a contemporary cop “to unravel a mystery that dates all the way back to the Founding Fathers.”
I swear, I’m not making this up. It’s from Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci of “Star Trek” and “Transformers” franchises fame — who, we guess, wouldn’t acknowledge such unless they knew it could be proved against them.
Drama-wise, Fox also ordered to series the show “Gang Related,” about a rising star in Los Angeles’s elite Gang Task Force, which is led by — you’ll never guess — Terry O’Quinn. This one was created and written by Chris Morgan (“Wanted,” “Fast Five”).
Those cockeyed optimists at Fox also ordered a new comedy from the guy who created the CBS based-on-a-blog flop “S--- My Dad Says.” This one’s called “Surviving Jack” because, we assume, the Fox sales department argued that it could not sell it to advertisers by its original name, “I Suck at Girls.” Fox explains that “Surviving Jack” stars Christopher Meloni as “a man becoming a dad, as his son is becoming a man, in a time before ‘coming of age’ was something you could Google.”
Also on the comedy front, Fox ordered “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” which stars Andy Samberg as a detective who takes nothing seriously, and Andre Braugher as his by-the-book boss.
And then there’s “Us & Them,” based on the popular BBC Three series “Gavin and Stacey”; it stars Jason Ritter and Alexis Bledel as a couple surrounded by “the screwed-up circus of people closest to them.” That is not to be confused with the new “Enlisted,” about three brothers and the “misfits who surround them” on a small Florida Army base. That one stars Geoff Stults.
In announcing its drama-series pickups days in advance of its Monday new-schedule unveiling to advertisers, Fox finally got the last laugh on NBC. For the past several years, the two networks have announced their schedules to advertisers on Monday — NBC in the morning and Fox in the afternoon. And, for years, NBC gave its new schedule to the press on Sunday afternoon to make sure it — and not Fox — got the Monday headlines.
That’s all part of the scene at Broadcast Upfront Week, where — after each presentation — station and ad execs are carted off to parties, to dine on dubious sushi platters, drink exotic new cocktails that taste like vodka-soaked gym socks, and ogle Hollywood starlets who’ve been flown in because they’ve been cast in the new shows. Meanwhile, the boys’ club behind the new shows is off in some Male Progeny of Old Hollywood Bigwigs bunker, issuing carefully crafted “off-the-cuff” tweets about the new-show pickups — tweets that will be gobbled up and regurgitated in blogs and articles by the media herd that’s come to town to cover the week.
It’s with some trepidation that all the broadcast networks are heading into Upfront Week. The broadcast nets have had, to varying degrees, the ratings stuffing pounded out of them. Without a single new hit to point to from this TV season, they’re all feeling the pressure to crack one out of the park this fall.
They’ll tell you they swung for the fences during this pilot-development season.
And I’m the Queen of Freedonia.
The Reporters Who Cover Television drank especially deeply of this Kool-Aid so far this year, writing breathlessly about the new trends for next season: conspiracy dramas, morally ambiguous heroes, the daring casting of such big-name stars as Robin Williams, Michael J. Fox and Eddie Murphy, the daring exhumation of Wonder Woman and “Have Gun Will Travel.”
The Reporters have marveled at how single chicks are sizzling hot for next season, and how The Boys’ Club That Produces The Series are trying something really different this time: creating shows about that which its members know best — themselves!
This is also the Year of the Black Friend, report execs. In this year’s crop of pilots, “black friend” is the new “gay.”
CBS — which is set to unveil its schedule Wednesday at Carnegie Hall — is the prettiest dress in the shop this year: It is on the verge of finishing the current TV season in first place among younger viewers, who are the BeDazzled unicorns of Madison Avenue.
It’s the first time that CBS — often dismissed as the old-fogey network — has finished first among 18-to-49-year-olds since the 1991-92 TV season. Not coincidentally, Fox sank to second place in the age bracket, learning the hard way what happens when you cast brain-dead popster Britney Spears as the star of a competition series that consumes three hours of your prime-time schedule in the fall, and then follow that with the casting of polarizing Nicki Minaj on your competition series that props up three hours of your prime-time schedule in the spring.
CBS has already announced the return of 19 existing series next season. (Already canceled: “The Job,” “Made in Jersey,” “Partners” and the DOA “Friend Me.”)
Still awaiting their fate are “CSI:NY,” “Golden Boy,” “Rules of Engagement,” “Vegas” and “Criminal Minds.” (And, about “Rules of Engagement”: When your own network has cast one of your lead actors in a new comedy, it’s pretty over; one of CBS’s pilots during development starred “RoE’s” Patrick Warburton.)
That means CBS has a whole lot of pilots — it ordered more than last year — vying for very few available time slots. And on Wednesday, one of those time slots was handed over to Chuck Lorre for his fourth CBS comedy, sources say — the first pilot to get a series order.
Lorre’s new sitcom, “Mom,” is about a recovering-alcoholic single mom living in Northern California’s wine country. The odds favor “Mom” getting the Monday-at-8:30 p.m. time slot, to take advantage of the expected increased ratings for the final (and this time CBS means it!) season of “How I Met Your Mother.”
“Mom” fulfills both the “single women are sizzling hot” and the “semi-autobiographical new series” trends. Lorre has referenced his own recovering status in the past.
“Mom” joins the Lorre Library of CBS Comedies that includes “The Big Bang Theory,” “Mike & Molly” and “Two and a Half Men.”
NBC had planned to kick off Upfront Week early Sunday evening. Fox, as we said, beat NBC to the punch.
After a great autumn — jumping from fourth place to first among 18-to-49ers who are the currency of prime-time ad sales — NBC, like Persephone, slipped back to the bad place when football went away and “The Voice” took a breather.
Good thing that NBC’s got one of the most-talked-about new series for fall to trot out Monday morning at Radio City Music Hall. The series stars Michael J. Fox in a — you know it’s coming — semi-autobiographical comedy about a husband/dad-of-three living in New York. His challenges include living with Parkinson’s disease. To win the project in a bidding war, NBC promised it a 22-episode series order for fall.
After attending that orgy of spin-doctoring Monday morning, it’s off to the Upper West Side’s Beacon Theatre in the afternoon to hear Fox programming and ad-sales execs talk up the aforementioned drama series, and new comedies, and explain how much they learned this season when they hit that iceberg and sank like the Titanic — plunging 20 percent in overall audience, and 22 percent in that younger age bracket that advertisers covet.
Monday should be quite a day at the upfronts.
On Tuesday, ABC will put on its dog-and-pony show at Lincoln Center. No matter how fourth-placed its season finish among 18-to-49ers looks to be, ABC will always boast that it has advertisers’ favorite seventh-inning-stretch entertainment at Upfront Week: Jimmy Kimmel.
For the past few days, Hollywood has been buzzing about whether ABC would get out of the “Dancing With the Stars” business in the fall and run the franchise just once a season, after it struggled in the ratings this season.
Another ABC head-scratcher: where to schedule and how to launch Joss Whedon’s sure-to-be-picked-up action drama pilot, “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (based on the Marvel comic books and “The Avengers” flick) in the sea of chick-ness that is ABC’s prime time these days.
To read previous columns by Lisa de Moraes, go to washingtonpost.com/