Monday, May 17, 2010

A PEEK AT NBC's NEW SHOWS

This is a favorite time of year for me. I have always been captivated by TV. As a youngster, I looked forward to the weekly Nielsen ratings; I studied how shows fared from week to week and against competing shows on other networks. For the struggling shows that I cared about, I considered other places on the network schedule where the program might have a better chance. I also brainstormed ways to promote these series and critiqued not only quality of the latest episodes but the effectiveness (and frequency) of the promotional trailers for the next airing.

Mid-May is when I feel a sense of freedom. Shows end their season (or their entire run). I have more time to step away from the television set during the long summer of reruns and substandard fare that the networks dump under the guise of a new “summer season” (as ABC is currently promoting it). This year I watched ten hours of TV per week, not counting the evening news. During summer, I’ll be down to about four. That means more evening beach walks with the dogs and more time to write.

This is also the time when the networks release their fall schedules and air previews for new series. I enjoy looking over how the timeslots are filled, eyeing what each show is up against. And based on what’s available in print and in the form of promos, it’s my chance to speculate before Nielsen provides the cold, hard evidence. I get to think like a television programmer and contemplate what shows have hit potential and which ones will be the first to be unceremoniously axed and quickly forgotten by all but the diehard TV trivia fanatics. (Supertrain, anyone?)

NBC has released its fall lineup and what follows is my take on its new sitcoms, dramedies and reality shows after watching extended previews online.

Ø Outsourced—30-minute sitcom, airing Thursdays at 9:30 after The Office. The main character is a twentysomething white guy looking to climb the corporate ladder. He seems likable in the same vein as John Krasinski on the lead-in show or Ryan Reynolds in “The Proposal”. He works for a company that sells novelty products (e.g., fake vomit; cheese head apparel) by phone and the phone center has been relocated to India. So here we have the makings for funny: guy as fish out of water, thrust in a foreign culture. Unfortunately, the jokes about Sikh turbans and the danger of diarrhea from eating daal are cringe inducing. Watching a chubby Indian become Westernized as he dances and sings to the Pussycat Dolls’ “Don’tcha” should have prompted someone from the network to exclaim, “Don’t!” Even if the writing frees itself from the initially offensive stereotypes and cultural mockery (one character’s name, Manmeet, is fodder for some desperate chuckles), I don’t think America is ready to watch a sitcom set in India on a weekly basis. I wonder if the creators and the network were partly inspired by the success of Little Mosque on the Prairie in Canada. “Slumdog Millionaire” no doubt also played a part in the conversation during the development stage. This is a small step forward in that a network is daring to give a show set in India a prime time spot. Putting the show on after The Office may help but the sitcom is still a huge gamble and, based on the preview, I predict the show will be one of the first to be cancelled.

Ø Love Bites—One-hour dramedy anthology, airing Thursdays at 10:00 after Outsourced. I want to like this show. It has a good pedigree, coming from the producers of “Love Actually” and Bridget Jones’s Diary” and Sex and the City writer Cindy Chupack. I am also excited that it stars Ugly Betty’s Becki Newton. Did I say I want to like this show? Really, I do. The vibe feels buzz worthy, but the material has been done before on shows like, ahem, Sex and the City. There’s the man who competes with a state-of-the-art vibrator. And the two good looking men at the bar aren’t checking out the two hot single women; they’re checking out each other. Add to that a plotline about the faux virgin and it feels like an onslaught of dating mishap retreads. I’m hoping this show finds its legs. It’s not going to have any help coming from its lead-in. Still, the quick demise of Outsourced may not come soon enough to enable this show to generate some heat.

Ø Perfect Couples—30-minute sitcom, saved as a midseason replacement. Hands down, the worst show of the lot. Three couples whom I couldn’t distinguish in the preview. The bromance between two of the male leads was promoted more than any other relationship. The women do not stand out at all. If there is a woman on the writing staff, her voice isn’t coming through. Strange since the show, by its very nature, will attract a larger female demographic. Watching the preview, it felt like the actors were trying too hard and coming off as grating instead of intriguing. This show is destined for a short life.

Ø Friends with Benefits—30-minute sitcom, slated for midseason. This is another show I want to like. The fact it comes from the makers of “(500) Days of Summer”gives me hope. The dating scenarios seem to come from the Seinfeld/Sex in the City vault, especially the goodnight kiss from the Face Licker—perhaps a welcome gesture from Fido, but not from your date. Still, the main couple (er, very friendly friends) come across as likable, and even more appealing is the male buddy who believes there has to be more than just sex. Yes, he’s a slightly altered version of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character in “(500) Days”, but it’s the type of male character we rarely see in a TV world of Barneys (How I Met Your Mother) and Charlies (Two and a Half Men). Not sure about the title, as I don’t know how long that initial premise will last. (Reminds me of the misnamed Cougar Town, named to generate initial media attention but failing to fit with any long-term story arc.) Programmers keep trying to come up with the next Friends or the next SITC. Maybe, just maybe, this will be it.

Ø The Paul Reiser Show—Presumably a 30-minute sitcom, slated for midseason.
I suspect Paul Reiser is an acquired taste. Lovable to some; an annoying schmuck to
others. I like Reiser. And I loved Mad about You. (Of course, much of that is attributable to the chemistry between Reiser and the remarkable Helen Hunt. Oh, Helen, where art thou?!) Paul Reiser and this show remind me of Larry David and Curb Your Enthusiasm. For me, that’s a good thing; for others…dunno. It’s the only preview that had a moment where I laughed out loud. I see potential for creating lovably off-center characters around Reiser. Still, it makes me wonder why NBC is holding off until midseason. Feels like the network is saying, “Meh.” Its timeslot will be critical. The show will be older skewing, not necessarily what the network wants as it tries to maximize ad revenue. I think the show will have a small, loyal following. Depending how NBC promotes it, the show could build momentum. I’d like it to stick around awhile, especially to see how the supporting cast develops.

Ø School Pride—One-hour reality show, airing Fridays at 8:00. This is my V8 moment. Bang on forehead,…I could’ve had a reality show! Ten years ago, I remember sitting on the sofa, watching Trading Spaces with a friend. “Why don’t they do this with classrooms?” I grumbled. “There is no money to make over schools. So many classes don’t look inviting. It all depends on how much money individual teachers invest.” Along comes School Pride, a grander show than I’d envisioned—more of an Extreme Makeover: Home Edition knockoff than a younger sibling of Trading Spaces. (Tangent: Is Trading Spaces on anymore?) When the show was announced last week as landing a spot on the fall schedule, I recall one of the first comments on an online message board bemoaning the latest lame reality as Law & Order got axed. Folks, I don’t think reality is going away. And this show is slated for the Friday night wasteland. Not sure what the ratings were for Jamie Oliver’s earnest diet makeover series on ABC, but I think School Pride will fare similarly, perhaps even a little better. (Viewers won’t be as cynical in asserting that a British celebrity-touting chef needs to return to the land of Yorkshire pudding.) There are worse things that could air. (Indeed, see Perfect Couples and Outsourced, supra.)


In all, NBC is particularly focused on playing relationship crises for laughs, with mixed results. Nothing stands out as a bona fide breakout show but there is hope for Reiser, Love Bites and Friends with Benefits. At the very least, it’s a step up from prime time Leno and The Marriage Ref.

Check out the trailers and post your comments below.

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