The new fall TV season starts this week. Can you feel the excitement?
I know, I know: It’s become almost cliche to whine about what a weird fall launch this has been. But cliches are cliches because, well, they’re true. And the fact is, there are fewer new shows than usual, networks haven’t sent out several major shows for screening, and the buzz on what has been sent out so far has been far from stellar.
As if that weren’t enough, Fox continues to mock us all by insisting on keeping the low-rated “’Til Death” in production and on the air. It’s hard to get psyched for a new season when shows like “Death” get second and third chances to find an audience but brilliant efforts get the ax after 13 episodes. And yes, that’s another plug for “Swingtown.”
Another reason it’s hard to get pumped for the fall: The demise of the TV Guide Fall Preview issue. Technically, the magazine still produces an advance look at the season. And I don’t mean to diss the hard work of the magazine’s editors and staffers, particularly its supremely talented critic Matt Roush.
But there’s just no comparing the current glossy, big-print incarnation of TV Guide with the digest-size marvel that used to arrive every autumn. I (and millions of other TV geeks) would count down the days until the wise seers of television would unveil their exhaustive show-by-show, night-by-night analysis of the new season. Entire sections would be devoted to specials, soap operas, kids’ programming and movies of the week.
And the best part? The black-and-white listings section would be packed with page after page of advertisements from both networks and local stations. Before the age of spoilers and video previews, these ads were how my fellow small-screen addicts and I discovered that Charo would be guest-starring on the season premiere of “The Love Boat” or that “Donahue” and “Sally Jessy Raphael” were switching time slots.
In 2008, “Knight Rider” is streaming on Hulu long before it hits the airwaves. Where’s the fun in that?
But enough of my Andy Rooney act. The point of this column is not to mourn TV’s past but to make a few predictions about its immediate future. So, keeping in mind the fact that pre-season prognostications generally are worth about as much as shares in Lehman Brothers these days, here goes nothing:
- ABC will give Fox a run for its money in the race to win the season among adults 18-49. Barring a complete “American Idol” collapse, Fox probably will still pull out a win. But ABC’s decision to take its time developing new pilots, while renewing a slew of its 2007 fall shows, seems like a smart strategy. I’m also keen to see if “Life on Mars” can join ABC’s already long list of buzz hits. I’m betting it will.
- Speaking of Fox, while all the attention has been focused on “Fringe” and the upcoming “Dollhouse,” I’m most interested in seeing how “Glee” turns out. It’s the Ryan Murphy-penned musical soap opera about high school singers that almost certainly will find a slot (for at least a week or two) behind “Idol.” Fox has been trying to develop a music-based drama since Gail Berman was running the network. “Glee” seems like the perfect mix of music and melodrama.
- Get ready for a flood of old-fashioned variety shows. Fox’s decision to greenlight a show starring Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne has sent other networks scrambling to get into the act. NBC, for example, has talked to Rosie O’Donnell. I’d love to see Queen Latifah take a stab at the format, or watch Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey revive their ABC series of specials. (Watch the divorce sparks fly!) Many of the attempts at variety no doubt will be painful to watch, but the networks are smart to try to bring the form back.
- George Clooney will make an unbilled cameo on the final episode of “ER.” At least I hope he will. He demonstrated amazing grace by sticking with the show even after he became a star. A guest turn would cement his rep as Hollywood’s class act.
- And finally, there will be substantial management change at the top of two networks’ entertainment divisions by this time next year. And while cable executives are fond of looking down their noses at the networks these days, USA’s Jeff Wachtel and TNT’s Michael Wright would fit in nicely at one of the Big Five.