Critic's Notebook: ABC at TCA
Wait and see. That's a fairly typical approach to the fall TV season this time of year, as pilots are being tweaked and strategies put in place to launch a new crop of shows.
But for ABC, rocked in the last few days by the abrupt resignation of its entertainment president Steve McPherson, a wait-and-see attitude permeated the network's entire Sunday presentation on the TCA circuit.
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There was no official elaboration on McPherson's mysterious exit, clouded by allegations of internal conduct probes. ABC's communications chief Kevin Brockman took the stage toting a giant pink elephant to put a little "ha ha" in the brouhaha. Later, the newly installed top programmer, Paul Lee (most recently of ABC Family), admitted he was "super unprepared" to face the press, having been on the job a mere 36 hours, apologizing "if I don't have the answers to all the questions." Or, frankly, any.
Lee was very disarming, as only the British can be (his roots are in BBC programming), as he optimistically described his goal of creating "network-defining, ground-breaking shows." He heaped praise on Modern Family while acknowledging the "brand equity" in franchises like Grey's Anatomy, Dancing With the Stars and Desperate Housewives. He inherited a slate of new shows that generally lack buzz or innovation, so we'll have to wait and see what impact he can have during the next development cycle.
As for the new shows:
We'll have to wait and see how the new crime drama Detroit 1-8-7 (Tuesdays at 10/9c) looks when it sheds the mock-documentary format that made the original version off-puttingly self-conscious. The producers scrapped this gimmick after the city of Detroit (where the show is filmed on location) banned documentary film crews from following police, in the wake of a tragic child shooting that occurred while another network's real-life docu unit was filming police action. The producers also cited creative reasons for dropping the technique, which could have hampered their ability to tell certain types of stories and character arcs. With a strong cast that includes The Sopranos' Michael Imperioli and NYPD Blue's James McDaniel, Detroit has the makings of a solid, gritty procedural that should survive just fine without the characters talking to the camera.
We'll have to wait and see how the new legal drama The Whole Truth plays (Wednesdays at 10/9c), now that Maura Tierney (sporting a very attractive short hairstyle) has replaced Joely Richardson as a DA who clashes regularly with a cocky defense attorney played by Rob Morrow. The original pilot, which cuts frantically between both legal teams' strategy sessions and courtroom antics, feels more like a trailer for a legal series than an actual show.
We'll have to wait and see if there's a large enough Friday audience to sustain Body of Proof, another generic procedural enlivened by Dana Delany's prickly performance as a know-it-all medical examiner (and former superstar neurosurgeon, until a car accident derailed her career). The producers say she's not really infallible, despite her insufferable cockiness in the pilot.
We'll have to wait and see if the sudsy My Generation turns out to be one mock-umentary too many, this one pushing the form to strained new self-conscious heights (or depths) as a camera crew catches up with and badgers nine former Austin high-school classmates 10 years after graduation. (This is intercut with footage dating back to 2000 from a graduation-year documentary which the show's producers suggest never actually aired—so why the sequel?) This one's pretty polarizing and airs in a tough Thursday time period (8/7c). To its credit, it's not another procedural.
Neither is No Ordinary Family, ABC's most offbeat offering, a high-concept hybrid of family drama and superhero fantasy about a family that gains extraordinary abilities (super strength, speed, intelligence, telepathy) after surviving a plane crash. This isn't The Incredibles, they hasten to point out—especially the voluble star, Michael Chiklis. And indeed, the tone isn't all that heightened, even once the characters discover their gifts. As exec producer Jon Harmon Feldman explains, "These powers are a metaphor for how a family can repair itself." We'll have to wait and see if this is too much, or possibly not enough, to satisfy the audience. It may take a Herculean effort to take on the juggernauts in this Tuesday time period (8/7c): Glee, NCIS and The Biggest Loser.
And finally, we'll have to wait and see if a traditional multi-camera sitcom (with live audience and laugh track), the romantically charged Better With You, can fit in to ABC's acclaimed Wednesday comedy lineup of single-camera hits. Better airs between The Middle and Modern Family at 8:30/7:30c, and exec producer Shana Goldberg-Meehan says its family storylines make it compatible despite the different styles. "I think the hope is that funny is funny." Better is fairly amusing, as it contrasts one impulsive sister (JoAnna Garcia), who gets engaged after a brief courtship, with her more cautious sib (Jennifer Finnigan), who's been with the same guy for nine years without sealing the deal. (For wry contrast, seasoned comedy pros Debra Jo Rupp and Kurt Fuller play the long-married parents.)
This may not be groundbreaking stuff, but on the plus side, Better is miles better than Hank, last year's Kelsey Grammer dud that stunk up an otherwise stellar night of comedy. We didn't have to wait to see that one was a loser.
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