August 10, 2011 4:35pm PT by Tim Goodman
10 Post TCA Broadcast Buzz Shows
Here's the problem with buzz -- it's almost indefinable. We know for sure that there's good buzz and bad buzz. There is also a great chasm between critical buzz and fan buzz. But even for this column's sake -- looking at some of the critical buzz shows that came out of the recently concluded Television Critics Association summer press tour -- there will no doubt be debate. As in, "I certainly did not add any buzz to 2 Broke Girls," etc.
Look at it this way. Lots of critics talked about Prime Suspect and Pan Am and Playboy Club and plenty of others. Is that buzz? Well, in the case of Playboy Club, I don't think it's a stretch to say the buzz was bad. Chatter about Pan Am was mostly static -- wondering whether it will work instead of whether it was good or bad. I'd say no definitive buzz hovered around Pan Am. In the case of Prime Suspect, a lot of critics hate it, others think it's pretty good as a procedural but are disappointed that it's calling itself Prime Suspect, since it bears almost no resemblance to the original (I'd put myself in the latter category).
One of the good things, however, about checking in on buzz after the TCA press tour is over, is that the sessions we all attended for the individual series each had the potential to add or detract positive vibes. It's certainly not a science, but when you get all the actors and creators/producers on the stage to field questions, you get a sense of whether the cast has chemistry that might be missing in the pilot or if the producers have any idea where they're going (or any idea of how badly the mucked up the pilot in the first place).
Keeping all of that in mind, here are 10 broadcast series (or specials) that generated buzz at TCA, in no particular order critically. Just by premiere date. (I'll file a separate column on cable series soon.)
Ringer: CW (Sept. 13, 9 p.m.). This series was developed for CBS, but the network, which adds only a slim volume of series each fall, decided against it but wanted to find room for it on sister network CW. It stars Sarah Michelle Gellar playing twins, each with disparate pesonalities. When one dies, the other assumes her identity. And yes, there's a big twist or two at work here. As with all drama pilots, more than one episode to preview would give a more accurate representation, but Ringer adds some gravitas to The CW and it's nice to have Buffy back.
Up All Night: NBC (Sept. 14. 10 p.m.). This was a genuinely funny pilot starring Will Arnett, Christina Applegate and Maya Rudolph, written and created by Emily Spivey (Parks and Recreation). Although the pilot is being reshot to give Rudolph a different job (and possibly a bigger role), the core is Arnett, who gives a wonderfully less strained, more naturalistic performance than in his last series and Applegate, whose comic timing is especially sharp here.
New Girl: Fox (Sept. 20, 9 p.m.) Zooey Deschanel = adorable. That is all. No, wait. The show is also funny, mostly because she's dorky and vulnerable and funny as a recently single girl who moves in with three guys.
X Factor: Fox (Sept. 21. 8 p.m.). Welcome to the next mammoth unscripted series. It's Simon Cowell (and, yes, Paula Abdul) but promises to be something other -- meaning different and better -- than American Idol. Bet against this at your peril. The definition of buzz.
Person of Interest: CBS (Sept. 22, 9 p.m.). How a series created by Jonathan Nolan (Memento, the Batman/Dark Knight franchise) and executive produced by J.J. Abrams doesn't get buzz is almost impossible. Starring Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson, the show taps into the dangers -- and possibilities -- of post 9/11 privacy issues and how the government can abuse those but two men can use the eavesdropping for good. A thriller shot in New York with procedural elements, which means if it gets traction it will be on CBS for a long time.
Terra Nova: Fox (Sept. 26, 8 p.m.). Arguably the most hyped drama of the fall, this genre series set 85 milion years in the past melds technology with the Jurassic era and a lot of CGI (and Steven Spielberg's name attached). It's either going to go big, as Fox expects, or go home.
Suburgatory: ABC (Sept. 28, 8:30 p.m.). Lost in the critical stomping of the ABC fall schedule is this gem, a truly funny sitcom with a breakout star, Jane Levy, who plays a teenage girl from New York City uprooted by her single father when he finds condoms in her room (they were not hers) and fears the big city is making her grow up too fast. Ah, but the suburbs are hell. A real surprise that gets a plumb Wednesday time slot.
Prohibition: PBS (Oct. 2, 3, 4; check local listings) Another piece of wonder by Ken Burns, the first installment is an intriguing wake-up call to all the things you thought you knew about this country's relationship to alcohol (and banning it) but did not. We critics get excited when we eat our veggies and they taste great.
American Masters: Pearl Jam Twenty: PBS (Oct. 21; check local listings). Yes, you can get out all of your Pearl Jam on PBS jokes right here and we won't mock you for the ease of them. But this Cameron Crowe biopic with 20 years of film, most of it unseen, is really going to rock your world, even if you gave up on Pearl Jam in the early years.
American Masters: Seriously Funny: The Comic Art of Woody Allen (Nov. 20, 21; check local listings). Three's a trend, people. All hail PBS for coming up with some very much talked about content on this press tour. Written and directed by Robert Weide (Curb Your Enthusiasm, among many others), this documentary has the approval and participation of the notoriously publicity/camera shy Allen and is going to be essential viewing. (By the way, it's a working title and I hope it changes, but the clips we saw were fantastic).