Monday, July 27, 2015

The known unknowns of the 2015-16 TV season on the eve of press tour

Yesterday's "Code Black" posting was the last Take Me To The Pilots entry that I was able to do for a fall network series. It was the 14th TMTTP for Fall 2015, a number that might increase before mid-September, but which will still come in far below what we normally see for the start of a new season.

In Rumsfeldian terms, I guess these 14 entries, as of today, represent the known knowns:

Take Me To The Pilots '15: CBS' 'Code Black'
Take Me To The Pilots '15: ABC's 'Blood and Oil' aka 'Oil Tree Hill'
Take Me To The Pilots '15: CBS' 'Life in Pieces'
Take Me To The Pilots '15: NBC's 'People Are Talking'
Take Me To The Pilots '15: FOX's 'Rosewood'
Take Me To The Pilots '15: CBS' 'Limitless'
Take Me To The Pilots '15: ABC's 'Dr. Ken'
Take Me To The Pilots '15: NBC's 'Blindspot'
Take Me To The Pilots '15: FOX's 'Grandfathered'
Take Me To The Pilots '15: CBS' 'Angel From Hell'
Take Me To The Pilots '15: ABC's ' 'Quantico'
Take Me To The Pilots '15: NBC's ' 'The Player'
Take Me To The Pilots '15: FOX's ' 'The Grinder' 
Take Me To The Pilots '15: CBS' 'Supergirl'

That's not many and if you've been following along, you have a sense of my general enthusiasm.

Continued below...

Then there are the known unknowns. "The Muppets" was picked up on the basis of a 10-minute presentation that ABC has already made available to the public. The CW picked up "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" on the basis of a half-hour comedy pilot for Showtime, which has been sent to critics, but will only represent part of what actually airs in an hour-long slot this fall. I'd have to go back through my records, but I don't think I've ever don a Take Me To The Pilots on a presentation, which would be even less fair than doing a non-review on a full pilot.

If you wanted, you could include NBC's "Heroes Reborn" as a known unknown. You remember "Heroes." You know series creator Tim Kring. [I'd say "You watched USA's 'Dig,'" but you clearly didn't and you're clearly the better for it.] Leaving aside the five years that have past since "Heroes" left the air, you're going to watch either because you still loved "Heroes" when it ended or because you've been fooled by a couple sizzle reels into thinking that "Reborn" will be whichever version of the show you once liked and not the version of the show that you abandoned. Either way, with or without the pilot, we have a sense of it. NBC's "Chicago Med" is also probably a known unknown, since a nested spinoff aired in the spring, but we haven't seen any stand-alone episodes, which isn't surprising.

But then there are the unknown unknowns.

The script for FOX's "Minority Report" was touted as the jewel of the network's development and the pilot was treated the same way in the various speculative stories run by Deadline and the like. But for all of the excellence that led FOX to order "Minority Report" to series, the pilot will be significantly enough changed by the time it airs that it hasn't gotten to critics on the eve of the TCA press tour.

Ryan Murphy's "Scream Queens" was ordered last fall, went into production in mid-spring and was running promotions on FOX all spring and I *think* it even screened at Comic-Con? The pilot was not, however, sent to critics before the start of the TCA press tour.

Also an unknown unknown is NBC's "Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris," but that was never something that would have made it to critics early, nor was it ever something that I would have done a Take Me To The Pilots for.

This is absolutely a greater number of known unknowns and unknown unknowns than we normally see at this time of year.

I also tend to do Take Me To The Pilots entries for midseason shows and I'll get to those after press tour. Standard Operating Procedure is for most midseason pilots to get to critics early. We do have things like NBC's postponed "Heartbreaker," ABC's "The Family" and CBS' "Rush Hour." And The CW's "DC's Legends of Tomorrow" doesn't have anything to send out. But for any number of reasons, we don't have pilots for things like FOX's "Frankenstein Code" and "Lucifer," ABC's heavily recast "The Catch" and "Wicked City," The CW's "Containment" (which got really solid buzz after screening at Comic-Con) and a few others. NBC's "Shades of Blue" was ordered roughly 15 years ago [OK, February 2014] when it was going to star a young Oscar winner Rita Moreno [OK, fine, always Jennifer Lopez] and if we live long enough, we may see a trailer with actual footage. For now, it's an unknown unknown that we'll have been talking about for two years before it premieres.

Summer press tour is usually a good opportunity to take a holistic view of the entire TV season to come, since we've usually seen all or most of the new shows for the next nine months. We know what's getting the big early pushes. We know which midseason shows are premiering in the spring as cannon fodder and which are precious jewels behind held back to escape the fall avalanche. We can speak to trends, both thematically general and narratively specific. So we can say that a season's big trends are... ummm... Diversity and shopping montages set to Peter Bjorn And John's "Young Folks." Or whatever. We can say, "It's a great year for single-cam comedies, medical procedurals and Dick Wolf, but a bad year for husky bearded guys, musical cop shows and Jay Leno." And we're usually right.

This year, it's hard to speak holistically. My instinct, based on what I've seen, is to deem this a rather dire year for new shows, across the board. But if three or four of the unknown knowns or unknown unknowns prove to be fantastic, that opinion could shift.

You think, "Well, if the networks are holding things back, they're probably not good," but as of this time last year, for various reasons, critics didn't have pilots for "Empire" or "Last Man on Earth," two of the big network successes of midseason. We also didn't have "Weird Loners."

So draw your own conclusions or draw no conclusions.

And stay tuned to TV Critic Twitter over the next two weeks for 10 to 15 of your favorite critics RTing the exact same quotes for nine hours per day, where every newly minted cast is like a family, every rushed episodic drama is like making a movie every week and everybody is happy with the creative contributions made by Katherine Heigl's mother.

Let the fun begin.


  1. There's no way that "Shades of Blue" is going to be anywhere near as entertaining as Tom and Lorenzo's comments on the publicity photos. Maybe we'll get lucky and it will have key art as insane as "Night Shift."

  2. Anonymous1:50 PM

    A humble request from one of your loyal readers who doesn't work in the TV industry.

    I'm not sure if I'm in your target audience or not.

    Anyway, here it is:

    Could you do some reviews of shows on the air now rather than sharing your insights into pilots or industry events?

    I'm not that interested in shows that haven't aired yet or ones I may never see.


    1. I'll probably be writing about shows on the air as usual come the fall. And I did just write about the "Wayward Pines" finale last week.

      I hope to have a good mix/variation of coverage. It just happens that this is the time of year when we're getting ready for the start of the fall season!


    2. Anonymous8:34 AM

      I disagree that there isn't much on during the summer.

      Johnathan Strange & Mr. Norrell for example, which just ended last week, was IMHO, a better fantasy series than Game of Thrones recent season.

      Sometimes I wonder if you actually enjoy TV, Dan :)

    3. I never said ANYTHING resembling "there isn't much on during the summer." Not even CLOSE.


    4. Anonymous8:56 AM

      So what's the problem?

      You've been back a month and you've reviewed one TV episode?

      Seems like you're ignoring all your fans who followed you here from HitFix :)

    5. Hmmm... I... don't know what to say to that. The "Take Me To The Pilots" series is one of the most popular things I do each year. I've done 14 of those. And podcasts. And other stuff.

      The stuff you seem to be wanting is stuff that Alan would do over at HitFix and that I wouldn't do anyway, so I hate to be thinking that I'm letting anybody down, but I also find it peculiar to be accused of slacking.


    6. Anonymous1:58 PM

      Maybe like a divorced housewife, you're going to have to figure out how to mow the lawn?

    7. How about YOU pay Dan to write about all of these shows, etc.?!?

      I don't get what's wrong with people. Leave Dan alone!

      - Erika
      He's being much more civil than I would be....

  3. Anonymous9:16 PM

    Will you be attending Press Tour this summer? What effects does your current autonomy/vagrancy have on your career?

    - Nicolas Mancuso

    1. I'm currently a TCA board member and the organization's interim treasurer, so I'll be there throughout. Long-term, my short-term autonomy/vagrancy would mostly just push me towards more freelancing. I hope it won't be long-term. But who knows?


  4. Anonymous7:40 AM

    Is there anywhere online where people can watch/listen to the TCA panels live (like today, Netflix)?

    1. No. The TCA press tour is a closed professional event. But because it's a closed professional event of reporters, basically every second will be tweeted by SOMEBODY and written about afterwards and whatnot.


  5. Anonymous8:01 AM

    Do you have schedules of which shows will be presented at the TCAs yet? Wondering which returning shows networks will feature.

  6. I think I've read all of your "not-a-reviews" over the last few weeks but off-hand I can't remember any that you really liked. (Supergirl?)

    Which ones did you like a lot? Or at least enough for more than just a perfunctory "another episode or two"...

    1. Marianne - None. "Supergirl" is the only one that I'm likely to give a series pass to already. Others could improve. I liked "Grandfathered." I liked the first half of "The Grinder." "Life in Pieces" was fine. It's NOT a good crop of new shows. But a few of them have room to grow. Ideally.


    2. Well, fortunately there are a lot of good shows out there already…

    3. I'm a bit appalled. Saw SUPERGIRL (the pilot has been online for what seems like forever) and was decidedly meh about it. I need a main character with more depth than a Chicklet here...

      Glad you are continuing to do these Dan. Thank you for doing it so we don't have to slog through the dreck.

      - Erika

  7. I, for one, love your take on the pilots. Also, the tca hashtag on twitter is always fun. I have loved, in the past, the way many of you all tweet @ each other during the panels. #tca15

  8. Well Kristin at Eonline has seen the Scream Queens pilot and raved about it. And she is *incredibly* discerning, so I'm sure her praise is a totally valid seal of approval.

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