For many reasons, I enjoyed the 2004-2005 television season. I was 18 years old, and it was the first time I can recall seriously thinking about the television that I watch. What really helped my development as a conscientious television viewer was the high quality of programming that the networks produced that year. Sure, HBO was having a little fun with some eye-catching shows featuring mobsters, the west, and gratuitous nudity, but the networks really trotted out some heavy hitters that year. Some Hall of Famers debuted (House, Desperate Housewives, some goofy show about an island), and some old favorites kept chugging along (24, NYPD Blue, The West Wing). While the recording process wasn’t that sophisticated yet (or the Internet for that matter), quality television could be had on a nightly basis even if your television service consisted of a 20″ television with five channels.
Because the idea of TiVo was still a relatively foreign concept to most people in 2004, many folks were forced to make choices regarding their favorite television shows. On Tuesdays at 10, were you going to watch NYPD Blue or Law and Order: SVU? Being forced to make this choice seems so preposterous nowadays, it’s hard to imagine in retrospect. Nonetheless, I was forced to agonize over the choice to watch the new show Lost or opt for something with an established track record. Fortunately, I made the right decision and decided to watch a bunch of people live on a mysterious island and provide no resolution to about 1,000 different things that I was curious about. (I’m willing to listen to arguments that I didn’t make the right decision.)
Somehow, a short eight years later, we have arrived at this point. Television is everywhere. The opportunity to talk about television is everywhere (Meta sentence alert). Also, did I mention that television is everywhere? The amount of television to digest these days is comical. It becomes a blessing and a curse. Sure, it’s fairly easy to find television that will appeal to your sensibilities (or lack thereof), but there is so much to wade through you eventually feel like someone on their first trip to Las Vegas: It’s full on sensory overload. No longer can someone just give a quick scan of their TV Guide and decide which network crime procedural they are going to watch Wednesday at 10 PM. There’s too much to see.
The idea that we have too much television to digest in the old ways is the genesis for my Premiere Week Manifesto. Instead of getting overwhelmed by the massive influx of television starting in mid-September, I decided to create a set of guiding rules and principals. The Manifesto is designed to provide you with a plan of attack for the coming assault of Premiere Week. Armed with a quality DVR service* and the Manifesto, you should be able to tackle all the week (and beyond) has to offer you.
*For the sake of the post, I will be assuming that you live in a household with 1 DVR. That being said, spend the extra 10 bones, get another one, and change your life for the better.
Let’s start with some stats. No network renewed more than half of its new shows. Of the 46 new shows offered by the Big 4 (NBC, ABC, Fox, CBS), only 19 of them will see the light of day this year. Even the woebegone CW only renewed two of its freshman offerings. The message from the networks is clear: They would rather retread established shows, regardless of quality, that get a little better ratings than take a chance and try to cultivate a new show. New shows get a very short window of time on the major networks to prove that they can hang. If they aren’t meeting the projections put forth by the network, then off they go.
Digging deeper, it’s pretty easy to establish what types of shows are easier to get renewed. Here is a look at the new shows that were renewed for a second season.
ABC: Don’t Trust the B—- (comedy), Suburgatory (comedy), Last Man Standing (comedy), Once Upon a Time (drama), Revenge (drama), Scandal (drama)
CBS: 2 Broke Girls (comedy), Person of Interest (drama), Unforgettable (drama)
NBC: Betty White’s Off Their Rockers (reality), Fashion Star (reality), Grimm (drama), Rock Center (news), Whitney (comedy), Up All Night (comedy), Smash (drama)
Fox: New Girl (comedy), Touch (drama), X-Factor (reality)
CW: Hart of Dixie (drama), The L.A. Complex (drama)
That’s the list ladies and gentlemen. Here’s the thing: Last year, the numbers were even worse. Going in, you need to know that comedies and reality shows are far easier to get renewed because they can be made on the cheap. Dramas often fall hard if they can’t latch on to a dedicated audience because of the far greater cost involved.
With all of this in mind, if you are trying to decide between two shows on a given night, the safer play is to watch the show that is clearly established in the American zeitgeist. It’s tough to go out on one show to watch a new show only to see the new show canceled within 3 episodes. Now, you have to find the time to catch up with the other show. That being said, feel free to roll the dice if you think the established show has gotten stale/terrible. Just don’t say you weren’t warned when Revolution gets canceled, and you have to figure why Castle and Beckett are having relationship issues.
Historical Example: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip- Everybody jumped on this bandwagon, the show never hit its stride, and Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford, D.L. Hughley, and Amanda Peete were all out of work after 22 episodes.
2012 Example: Revolution- Though some TV critics have pointed out some issues with the series, the hype machine is still set on “Lost” for this new series. It’s certainly worth a watch, but it has a difficult time slot and not enough people who were Gus Fring on Breaking Bad. Add that to the fact that it airs on NBC, and you have a recipe for short exit.
A lot of channels put up their shows on On Demand either right after or soon after the previous episode airs. Therefore, if you are trying to decide between 3 different shows, check your cable provider’s On Demand listings to see if they have the show on there. For the first week, you will just have to check and see if the show is available. For example, I know ABC has a solid database of On Demand shows with U-Verse. I know if I miss Modern Family on Wednesday, it isn’t a huge deal because I can catch it later On Demand.
If you are going the On Demand route with a show, be mindful of dates. Some shows will only make previous shows available for a few weeks. Always check to see how long the show will be available and plan to watch it before then. With your favorite shows On Demand, it is important that you don’t “try to find the time,” you make the time.
Channels that put a lot of their shows On Demand: ABC, AMC, Fox, FX, NBC, TNT, USA, HBO, Showtime, Starz
Some people are totally fine with watching shows on their computer/iPad/iphone/whatever. While some people don’t enjoy the experience, plenty of people don’t mind it or don’t even own a television and digest all their TV through those devices. If you fall into the latter group, then take comfort in knowing that most shows will pop up on Hulu or the television stations website. Not all of them will show up, but if your show doesn’t pop up in your On Demand database, you can usually watch them on your computer if worst comes to worst. More importantly than that, shows that get put online tend to stay there for a longer period of time.
Some Primetime Favorites on Hulu: Modern Family, Parks and Rec, Bones, Grimm, Castle, 30 Rock, Fringe, Once Upon a Time, Community
(Note: Though you can find some shows on their website, CBS doesn’t have a strong presence on the interwebs or On Demand. They don’t play by the new rules, and they frankly don’t give a f***. Make your adjustments accordingly)
Typically, I will turn off a show with a good story and bad acting before I turn off a show with good acting and a ridiculous story. That being said, TV history is littered with shows that have used non-household names and a great story to garner huge amounts of success. On the flip side, Hollywood chopping blocks are filled with the heads of big name stars that couldn’t carry a bad script. It is far easier to get wrapped up in a good story than it is to tune in every week for a particular character on an otherwise bad TV show. Since our goal here is to be able to identify shows that you think you will enjoy and will last, you are better off trying to find the next Lost than seeing if Christian Slater can carry another horrible idea. That being said, several good stories with good actors have been left hanging out to dry for reasons really unknown.
Historical Example: Lost- Matthew Fox hadn’t been seen since Party of Five, Evangeline Lilly and Jorge Garcia weren’t exactly household names either. Despite the lack of star power, Lost rode an incredibly compelling story to 6 years of water cooler conversation and intense speculation about all sorts of parts of the show.
2012 Example: Arrow- Yes, I’m sure plenty of CW fans are aware of the existence of Stephen Amell and Katie Cassidy, but the vast majority of Americans are not. Granted, the show is on the CW, but the show has a chance to reach a large audience (for the CW) if it delivers on the promise shown in trailers and the pilot.
A show’s promotion (or lack thereof) can tell you a lot about the network’s intentions and expectations for the show. This rule applies primarily to the big networks where they run 20+ new shows a year even before they start running midseason replacements. Networks tend to be pretty choosy about who they throw their weight behind during the fall season.
Many engrossing shows have failed and left viewers wondering “What was going on?” without any answers. For example, back in 2007, NBC premiered a promising show staring the up-and-coming Kevin McKidd called Journeyman. Having watched Rome, my brother and I were all over this show. Sadly, NBC decided to give it the dreaded 10 PM slot (rarely works out with new shows) and gave it next to no promotion. The result: NBC canceled a show that was beginning to hit its stride, Gretchen Egolf can’t get more than guest-star work, and Kevin McKidd was sent to TV purgatory (otherwise known as the train wreck that is Grey’s Anatomy). I blame the show’s promotion more than anything else. The people that were aware of its existence loved the show, but there weren’t enough of those people to keep it going.
Historical Example: Journeyman- Obviously, I am still bitter.
2012 Example: Chicago Fire- Based solely on personal observation, it doesn’t seem like NBC is wasting a ton of ad dollars on this one. That being said, most of the new shows are getting their fair amount of pub. However, with football season starting, it’s going to be easy to see which shows the networks are throwing their weight behind. Even if you don’t watch football, have someone who does keep an eye out for you.
With TV shows, I can be loyal to a fault. Just give me a half-decent idea, and I will stick around to see if it pans out. This past season, I watched every episode of Awake, Alcatraz, and The River. I will continue to watch shows even if I know there is little chance for a renewal. It’s a sickness.
Even though I take it to the extreme, it’s important that you give some new shows a chance. Early on, shows have to go through the motions of introducing the particulars, telling the viewer how they got to that particular place in time, and setting up storylines for future episodes. All of these necessary things can make a show seemed disjointed and lacking in depth in the early going. If you enjoy some characters or a storyline, stick around because they should (provided the show is any good) find their stride and smooth things out. Intricate storytelling is tough to get right from the jump. Looking at the slate, some shows are sure to start slow, but could really pay off for you if you choose to stick around.
Historical Example: Seinfeld- People forget that this show was not that well received when it first came on the air. As we all know, Jerry and the gang somehow turned that lukewarm reception into the greatest sitcom of all-time. Imagine the people who bailed early and refused to get back into it.
2012 Example: Nashville- This show has the capability to establish strong characters, led by Mrs. Coach herself, Connie Britton. However, because of the source material, some people may have more difficulties getting into it. If you plan to commit to the show, be willing to work with as it gets its feet wet.
For those people who don’t know Moon Bloodgood, drink in the image just above this sentence. Bloodgood is a very attractive woman who isn’t a terrible actor. She isn’t great, but she doesn’t take a lot of stuff off of the table either.
All of those things are true, yet Ms. Bloodgood has established herself as a pretty impressive show-killer. Her body count is pretty large at this point: the aforementioned Journeyman, Day Break, and Human Target have all felt the kiss of death from Moon Bloodgood. Unfortunately, her trail of dead shows extends back to 2002: Just Shoot Me (canceled the season she had a guest-star appearance), Fastlane (Tiffany-Amber Thiessen still hasn’t gotten the stink off of her), and North Shore (apparently, that is a real show). That’s 6 shows in a span of 8 years. Miraculously, Burn Notice and Falling Skies have avoided the Curse of Moon Bloodgood.
While Moon Bloodgood is my favorite example, there are plenty of other notable showkillers to fear. Do some research on your favorite new show: Does it star someone who has been given multiple opportunities without much in the way of success? Then you may have a showkiller on your hands. Sometimes it’s just dumb luck, but most of the time, there is a reason these people find themselves out of work so frequently. Feel free to watch a show with a noted showkiller, but buyer beware.
Unfortunately, not every night of the week is teeming with quality television. It’s important for you to identify those slow nights and take a chance on a show outside of your comfort zone. There are always slow nights during the year (Friday is always slow). Why not take a stab at something that may be outside of your usual genre? Keep in mind, you aren’t looking for something to fold your laundry to. This move is a lottery ticket. Do your research and pick a show that looks interesting and could really become one of your “must see” shows. Please note that if you choose to pan for gold, you need to make sure you adhere to Rule #6 with regards to the show.
Historical Example: CSI- This show originally aired on Fridays (the slowest night). You know the rest at this point: people fall in love with it to the point where it fosters two spin-offs and became the most watched television show of all-time.
2012 Example: Slow night: Wednesdays (Potential gold: Arrow (CW), Nashville (ABC), Animal Practice (NBC)).
Lots of people are high on both Arrow and Nashville. Arrow has an opportunity to become a legitimate show the CW can comfortably hang its hat on. Over on ABC, Nashville has put a lot of stock into the Connie Britton brand. Chances are, they will be rewarded as people will tune in expecting Revenge and stick around to watch different women be catty with one another.
Despite all of the hype surrounding premiere week for the major networks, it’s the cable channels who have been stealing the spotlight lately. Between Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Homeland and others, a lot of the network dramas get left behind and forgotten. Because such a high level of entertainment can be found on cable, it is important to search for interesting cable shows as well. Precious few will be released during premiere week (the cable networks like less competition), so a TV fan is forced to keep track of when they are going to pop up. Worst comes to worst, visit the cable websites and search for information on your favorite show.
Historical Example: Homeland- Premiered October 2nd. The show was thrust out there a few weeks after premiere week. Everyone knows what happened next.
2012 Example: Surprisingly, there’s nothing new for the fall, but beware of new things lying in the weeds for midseason.
Not all shows will debut between September 24-30. Some will go the week before like Boardwalk Empire, others will come a month later, and there are several new shows and returning favorites will pop up around midseason.
My suggestion: Get yourself a schedule and keep it handy. Fortunately, you don’t need to go anywhere else to find a useful television schedule. TV Equals’ daily schedules have you covered. If you would prefer something in list form, we’ve got you covered there as well.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s almost time for the best week of the year. I hope you are as excited as I am. Go forth and let the Manifesto be your guide.