Every year during the upfronts, the major TV networks reveal their schedules for the next fall season—and every year, we find ourselves nodding along with their good decisions and shaking our heads at their bad ones. There are always good pickups and bad cancellations, there are always exciting, innovative ideas as well as forced trends, and there's always as much promising progress as there are foolish steps backward. This season was no different. Here are five things about the 2011-2012 season to get excited about, and five things we can only hope will improve.
NBC's Grimm—a dark, twisted procedural about a cop who learns he's from a long line of hunters that protect humans from supernatural creatures—has caught the eye of sci-fi fans. So when does NBC decide to schedule it? Fridays at 9 pm, against Fox's Fringe and The CW's Supernatural. Both Fringe and Supernatural already boast die-hard sci-fi audiences, and battled for viewers this season. Just how many DVRs do these network monkeys think we own, and how clueless are they to think we don't have personal lives? Why not plant one of these shows in the wide open expanse that is Tuesday night?
GOOD: Some of the Networks' Best Decisions Were Non-Pickups
Congratulations go out to some networks for finally showing restraint. NBC takes the prize with its decision to pass on the reboot of Wonder Woman, which was a disaster from the minute it was announced and turned into more a laughable trainwreck with every additional detail that was released. Props to CBS for passing on both sitcoms based on ESPN personalities, to ABC for shunning Carrie Ann Inaba's dancing family drama Grace, and to The CW for saying "no" to the angel lawyers of Heavenly. Some stinkers snuck through though, including ABC's Bent and Work It.
BAD: Edgy Women Overload
Have you noticed the tidal wave of new shows centered on edgy women? Comedy or drama, it doesn't matter. Just look at Prime Suspect, Whitney, Hart of Dixie, 2 Broke Girls, I Hate My Teenage Daughter, and Are You There Vodka, It's Me Chelsea. Shall I go on? Okay, Revenge, Charlie's Angels, Missing, Smash, Good Christian Belles, Scandal, Apartment 23. We love seeing the stereotype of women as docile homemakers get crushed to pieces, but this is a TV trend that's overloading our eyeballs. And when they're not edgy, they're hyper-sexualized, in Pan Am, Charlie's Angels, and, of course, The Playboy Club. As for the men, they're headed in the opposite direction, struggling to prove their manhood on shows like Man Up, How to Be a Gentleman, and Last Man Standing.
GOOD: New TV on Fridays and Saturdays
Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, you've got company. Friday is no longer the television graveyard it used to be. Networks started putting good, new shows on a weekend night last season after relatively successful experiments in the years prior. Among the shows airing on Friday nights this fall: Chuck, A Gifted Man, Blue Bloods, Supernatural, Nikita, Grimm, and Fringe. (Now if only someone would do something about the competitive 9pm time period for genre shows.) And CBS is going one step further by scheduling new episodes of the comedy Rules of Engagement on Saturdays. Will other networks follow suit in the future? We hope so.
BAD: The Hunt for a Network Version of Mad Men... With a Twist!
The buzz and attention bestowed upon AMC's Mad Men, a well-dressed drama set in the 1960s, got major networks thinking: "How do we steal that idea and repackage it for mass audiences?" The result is ABC's Pan Am, which follows the pilots and flight attendants of the titular airline in the '60s, and NBC's The Playboy Club, which is set in a smoky gentleman's hangout in 1960s Chicago. But both those shows get a twist, since network execs think a keen examination of the era and complex characters aren't enough. In Pan Am, some of the airline employees reportedly double as spies. In The Playboy Club, the murder of a mob boss by a Playboy Bunny sets things in motion. It's as if espionage and mafia ties were tacked on at the last second to give the shows some punch.
GOOD: Lost Actors Will Be Found Again in Primetime
We spent six seasons living on an island with the best ensemble cast ever assembled, and then last May they left us. But next season, Hurley (Jorge Garcia, Alcatraz), Ben (Michael Emerson, Person of Interest), Michael (Harold Perrineau, Wedding Band), Richard (Nestor Carbonell, Ringer), and Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick, Scandal) will all return with regular primetime gigs. And no, we didn't forget Charlotte (Rebecca Mader); we just choose to pretend that the awful-looking comedy Work It doesn't exist.
BAD: Where's the High-Profile Cross-Genre Mind-boggling Serial?
Every season since 2004, we've been able to ask "Which new show is the next Lost?" Even though several have tried to carry the torch and failed spectacularly (FlashForward, The Nine, The Event), the anticipation and hype surrounding these mysterious shows gave us something to look forward to. This year? Terra Nova is WYSIWYG, Once Upon a Time (from Lost producer/writers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis) looks soft, and everything else isn't even close—except for Alcatraz, and who knows where that show's focus is going to be. I guess the networks finally figured out that there will never be another show like Lost, so why bother?
GOOD: The Midseason Is No Longer Replacement Time
Once upon a time, when a show was held for midseason, the reason was that it was considered inferior to those on the fall schedule—and so midseason shows only existed to fill in gaps left by shows that faltered. But Fox took the lead with a strong midseason based around American Idol, and now we have new high-profile and promising shows to look forward to all season long. Among the new and returning shows held for 2012 are Awake, One Tree Hill, The 2-2, 30 Rock, Alcatraz, Touch, Apartment 23, The River, Scandal, and Good Christian Belles.
BAD: TV, White as the Driven Snow
Though activist groups rightfully complain every season, white people still rule television. Networks promise to improve the spectrum of the stars of their shows; it never happens. This season boasts 39 new shows by our quick count, and guess how many feature a major lead who isn't the color of Barbie (before she diversified)? If you're trying to think of a show besides Shonda Rhimes' Scandal (starring Kerry Washington, who is African-American—as is Rhimes), or Alcatraz (starring Cuban-Chilean Jorge Garcia as one of the primaries in what is actually an ensemble cast), don't bother. By our count, it's just those two. And with period pieces Pan Am and The Playboy Club set in the 1960s, we worry about how minorities will be represented in those shows. Where's Outsourced when you need it?
GOOD: Kyle Killen Gets a Second Chance
Awake creator Kyle Killen should by all rights be unemployed. His impressive drama Lone Star garnered early critical acclaim, and its greenlight to series gave us hope that network television could be more than just empty, satiate-the-masses "entertainment." But the show lasted all of two episodes after performing horribly in the ratings, we figured network execs would be scared off by intelligent, thoughtful television. That's why it was such a surprise that NBC went forward with Killen's impressive-looking Awake, a drama about a cop who lives in two realities: one in which his wife died and one in which his son died. We're hoping that Awake gives executives trust in emotional, conceptual dramas. And if it doesn't, then we hope Killen ends up where he belongs: at FX or AMC.
What do you think are the best and worst things about the upcoming TV season?