15 January 2009

Is this a further sign that complex, character-driven serialized storytelling is on the wane at the broadcast networks?

In an era when scripted TV is being reduced to the lowest common denominator, or being replaced by brainless game and reality shows and the likes of Jay Leno, there is some good, well written shows out there. Unfortunately, some are finding their road on the idiot lantern difficult.

Take, for example, a few shows on Fox. When it comes to genre, the House of Rupert Murdock has had a rocky road. These days, the success of The X Files, and its 9 season run, seems to be shocking in a day where it takes only an episode or two for it to end up on the cancellation bin.

Today, while The Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is still around, despite low ratings and an apathetic audience who seemed to be confused by well written, character based stories, its long range fate is muddled. It will be moved from its Monday slot to Friday soon, teamed up with Joss Whedon’s new show Dollhouse -which has a huge problem on its way to the airwaves.

At the recent winter TCA press tour, Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly talked about Dollhouse and other genre shows on the network. "Joss Whedon does a certain kind of show. He’s right in the zone again on that. It's the kind of show that we know has a core passionate audience. In some other scheduling scenarios there could be enormous pressure on it ... we have a very compatible lead in with ‘Sarah Connor’... we’re going to let the show play out for 13 episodes and hopefully it will catch on ... if we can do some business there, that would be a great thing for the future."

Dollhouse has already had its pilot re-shot and re-worked, its concept tweaked for an audience, it appears, might be confused by deeper story.

Ron Moore's Virtuality pilot is being recut, possibly from two hours to one: Reilly said that "It could air as-is and a certain segment of the audience would flip for it. But it's a little dense."

Dense, eh? Still, series co-creator Michael Taylor agrees the show could be a bit dense, “It's dense in the same way Battlestar was/is, in that it introduces a bunch of complex, intriguing characters, along with a compelling sci-fi scenario with several layers to it. In other words, it's dense in the way good science fiction often is. The pilot puts a bunch of balls in the air but I think it does a great job of juggling those balls and setting up the scenario up in a way that makes it easy for the audience to understand without having to be hit over the heads with a lot of heavy-handed exposition. That said, it's definitely challenging material, the kind of story you need and want to pay attention to, especially in the pilot. But to us that's what made it so much fun to create, and what will ultimately pay off in series, by allowing us to tell exciting layered stories in the mold of shows like Lost.”

Meanwhile, Fringe has doing excellent and Reilly assured the press “the show's been a bear creatively because it's been very ambitious. They've really found the storytelling model now ... what you're going to see in the second half in the year, if you follow the serialized story you will not be disappointed, yet the stories really do reset themselves each week. I would not expect it to take off after 'Idol,' but I do think it will tick up another level."

Expectations are the show will be picked up for a second season.

Meanwhile, NBC Entertainment chief Angela Bromstad -who announced that the Peacock Network has picked up my two favorite comedies for the 2009-2010 TV season, The Office and 30 Rock - said that Bryan Fuller’s return to the embattled Heroes has already been helpful, and that the next chapter, Fugitives, is basically going to reset the show. While she said the show is “secure,” its fate has yet to be decided. But the rumor is the show will indeed be picked up for a fourth season.

What is not known is the future of other shows on NBC with the network giving Jay Leno the 10pm spot. What will be the fate of the Law & Order franchise, Life, Chuck, and Medium (which returns for season five on February 2nd). My Own Worst Enemy and Knight Rider are not expected to survive, and the network is developing six dramas and 4 comedies for the fall.

No comments: