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Four TV Critics Analyze Fall TV's New Shows

For a season that is roundly considered sub-par, a handful of projects show promise.

KEY SHOWS TO WATCH: "The Neighbors"
'The Neighbors.' No.

Last night I had the pleasure of hanging out with three top-tier critics I really like, talking about television and simultaneously lamenting a dearth of good programming while celebrating the fact there’s so much great stuff still on the schedule.

I joined USA Today’s Robert Bianco, TV Guide magazine’s Matt Roush and Variety’s Brian Lowry on a panel (moderated by Cynthia Littleton of Variety) and sponsored by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences aimed at talking about this fall’s fare, plus any number of TV, industry and critic related topics. We were gathered at the Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in North Hollywod and hit all the key notes asked of our ilk – how do you watch so much TV in a 52 week season, is broadcast television still relevant, what importance does the fall season have anymore, etc. – before talking about actual shows that are upcoming.

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For a season that is roundly considered sub-par, a number of series kept getting mentioned and some consensus was formed. Of course, before any of us put any kind of authoritative sentence together about a series we added the caveat that one pilot is not indicative of what’s to come.

In fact, we all had a good laugh at great pilots gone wrong – like FlashForward, The Nine, etc. It’s nearly impossible to judge the quality – or lack thereof – to come from a single pilot. That’s why the cable model of sending a number of episodes is ultimately more helpful and if there were any way the time-crunched network model could churn out at least one additional episode for preview it would be helpful. (Although Lowry wryly noted that getting seven episodes of Scandal didn’t do the series any favors.)

I don’t intend to speak definitively for the others, but I do believe there was a general consensus that there are five dramas out there we’d all like to see develop further. In fact, one of the things I noted was that if you can say to yourself, “I want to see another hour of that” after watching the pilot, there’s a positive that can be taken away.

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CBS did well with the four of us as we praised the pilots to Elementary, the modern Sherlock Holmes take featuring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu. CBS’s  scored again with Vegas, starring Dennis Quaid, Michael Chiklis, Jason O’Mara and Carrie-Ann Moss. The series is set in 1960 and based on the true story of Ralph Lamb, a sherrif who was there as Vegan went from cattle land to casino land.

NBC’s Revolution, from J.J. Abrams and company, also piqued a lot of interest (even if Bianco hilariously poked holes in the we-have-no-electricity-so-we-have-nothing premise). It’s a series that at least takes a big swing and we’ll find out soon enough if the ambitious concept can be sustained (producers promised a lot of the science and reasoning will be explained sooner rather than later).

ABC had two dramas keeping us talking – Nashville, starring Connie Britton and Last Resort, starring Andre Braugher (from series creator Shawn Ryan). The first is about a famous but aging country singer getting upstaged by the more pop-oriented and far less talented It Girl (Hayden Panettiere), whose youth and sex appeal cause real problems. The latter is about a nuke-enabled submarine told to fire on Pakistan, but the orders come from an abnormal channel, are challenged by the commander (Braugher) and the crew is left to wonder – underwater – if something crazy has happened back in Washington or in the White House.

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Will any of these five prove to be either great or massively entertaining – or popular? Who knows. Us critics are just at the forefront of trying to figure out qualitatively whether it’s an hour well-spent. But in a fall season when there are a mere 20 offerings and not nearly enough candidates to make a Top 10 list, five dramas that have hope attached to them is fairly promising.

Less so is the state of the fall comedies. There’s no much consensus. I like the possibilities of Fox’s Ben and Kate (my favorite fall sitcom) and The Mindy Project. We all talked about how comedies are more likely to improve dramatically over time, percentage-wise, than dramas. So any number could get better (or worse). But those are the two I like. There was some chatter about Go On, with Matthew Perry (meh) and The New Normal from NBC, but none of that chatter came from me (shudder).

The four of us stuck to the fall and didn’t talk much about midseason.

So, what did we collectively talk trash about? What was immediately awful to us? Hmmm. Well, there was NBC’s Guys With Kids and Animal Hospital, CBS’s Partners, Fox’s The Mob Doctor, Emily Owens M.D. from The CW, ABC’s Malibu Country and – especially – ABC’s The Neighbors.

It was a good time spent with good people, but for me the surprise of it all was that there are seven shows – freshman series – I’ve got hope for on network television. Out of 20 – that’s almost a miracle. So maybe it will be an awful fall, but for some quirky reason, I don’t think it’s going to be as bad as expected.

Of course, I also haven’t seen the second episodes of any of them.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com

Twitter: @BastardMachine