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Broadcast TV Upfronts 2017 kicked off Monday morning as NBCUniversal took 119 minutes on the Radio City Music Hall stage to remind advertisers that network TV is still relevant, that Megyn Kelly is coming and that This Is Us makes people cry.
NBCUni had a lot of work to do, because unlike most of the other presentations this week, which will be broadcast-only, NBC was only part of the picture here, sharing time with USA, Syfy, E!, Telemundo, Bravo and No-Longer Sprout all getting promotional slots.
In case you haven’t been paying attention, Sprout is becoming Universal Kids, because kids love corporate branding. And in case you haven’t been paying attention, Oxygen is becoming a gritty network of crime procedural repeats, because truTV does comedy now and there’s apparently enough audience overflow for there to be two Investigation Discoveries. Also, in case you haven’t been paying attention, Syfy is now all about genre programming and reassuring audiences that it’s OK to watch genre programming without getting wedgies.
Over the course of this week, I’ll be doing quick reactions to all of the trailers being presented in New York City. This is the first step in a process that will continue with my Take Me to the Pilots series during the summer and then the actual reviews that will arrive in the fall. It’s all about using every piece of the television buffalo. It should go without saying that these aren’t reviews of actual pilots that I haven’t seen, but rather responses to how the shows are being chopped up as sales pitches in a multibillion-dollar fiesta of advertising.
Because NBC left a handful of its new shows un-previewed, including Reverie and Good Girls, I’ll give some hasty reactions to the cable trailers as well. And I’m ignoring the Will & Grace musical intro.
9) The Sinner — USA’s summer Jessica Biel/Bill Pullman drama teaser was creepy and intense, accentuating the excellence of Pullman’s beard and the courageousness of Biel’s relative lack of makeup. I’d probably rank it higher, but I’ve already seen the pilot and reviewed it.
8) Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Brothers — Since this Dick Wolf-produced limited series hasn’t actually been made, the sizzle reel was designed to highlight Edie Falco’s curly hair, the distinctive “chung-chung” sound effect and general similarities to The People v. O.J. Simpson. It couldn’t have given less indication of how this sensationalistic story is going to be told or, if you happen not to remember, what the story even is. Slo-mo bullets, pumping shotguns and spattering blood will surely attract some viewers, but I’m no more or less interested than I was before.
7) The Brave — I’m still ticked off about NBC rendering the already bland title For God and Country completely generic in a move that surely won’t help this series stand out in the marketplace. The trailer makes The Brave look like the macho, earnest, possibly jingoistic sibling of History’s Six and CBS’ blissfully canceled Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders. The hooks appeared to be Anne Heche’s hilariously thick glasses, Mike Vogel’s beard and some generic-sounding international intrigue. Networks think this is what Trump’s America wants, so we’ll see several virtually identical trailers this week. Shrug.
6) Champions — I like Anders Holm. I like Mindy Kaling. I have often liked The Mindy Project. So I’ll be looking forward to seeing how the pilot (and maybe the series) is better than the clip reel that concentrated almost exclusively on Holm and Kaling’s character’s son being gay. Since I suspect that’s probably only part of the pilot and the series, I’ll be interested to see how it all plays in context. I can already sense this is going to be a premise-heavy pilot, so I’m also already hoping for more than one episode before reviewing in September.
5) A.P. Bio — NBC showed two comedy trailers and I didn’t laugh once, and I also didn’t smile once, and that’s hard because both shows feature a lot of actors I find reliably funny. I guess this one is Bad Teacher meets The Good Place? Ideally? I’ll give Glenn Howerton and Patton Oswalt pretty much all the time they need for this show to find itself, but nothing in this trailer gave even an iota of a sense of tone or how the main character’s philosophy background will actually be used or if the kids in his class are supposed to be important or anything. It’s also bizarre than in 2017, we’re still pretending that the genre standard is inspirational stories about outstanding teachers and that a slovenly, disinterested teacher is a twist.
4) Krypton — This Syfy Superman prequel looks like Vancouver science-fiction standard in terms of production values, the portentous voiceover linking it to the DC Comics franchise was trying way too hard and other than the inevitable “Krypton is going to explode some day” backstory, I got little of the story for the series. Even after watching this trailer, I doubt I could pick a single castmember out of a lineup. But you know what I appreciated? The relative lack of dramatic irony. There were no cringe-worthy beats introducing us to a young, rebellious John Zod on the eve of his military school induction, nor did anybody say, “That would be super, man.” Best-case scenario here is that Krypton establishes its own brand fast. This suggested it might be able to do that. I’m still skeptical this is a series I need, but I’m not more skeptical.
3) Telemundo’s La Reina del Sur and El Secreto de Selena — Remember that I’m not reviewing shows or even predicting the long-term quality of shows here. I’m reacting to sales pitches, and the trailer for El Secreto de Selena made me think I might be interested in watching that look into the investigation of the murder of the legendary singer. Taking my interest from “Zero” to “Some” is the sign of a good trailer. Will I actually watch once screeners make their way to me? I dunno.
2) Rise — Coming from Jason Katims, the pitch was basically Glee meets Friday Night Lights, and that’s exactly what the trailer sells. I’ll be very interested to see if the trailer overemphasized how Glee-esque this is, or if we really are getting ready to watch Josh Radnor basically playing Will Schuster in How I Met Your Musical. I’m just not prepared to invest in another show getting high drama out of, “But he’s a football player, how can he also be a singer?” Whatever reservations I have, though, are pretty much tabled by the continued certainty that Auli’i Cravalho is a star, and she will be interesting to watch regardless of how corny anything else is. Put your money on a Golden Globe nomination for Cravalho right now (because this is an NBC show and the Globes love being star-makers).
1) USA’s Damnation and Unsolved — See the Telemundo reaction above. I came in with limited interest in Damnation and Unsolved, and now I’d happily sit down and watch both of them. So that’s a win for USA. Damnation appears to be a combination of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and ABC’s short-lived Blood and Oil. I’m still disappointed that Cinemax’s Quarry is dead, so I’m glad Logan Marshall-Green bounced back fast in peak Tom Hardy-lite fashion. David Mackenzie (Hell or High Water) directed a pilot that looks stylish, soapy and, assuming it takes itself only half-seriously, fun. The under-use of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls‘ music in the Unsolved trailer kept me from full investment, but I’m there for a cast including Jimmi Simpson, Bokeem Woodbine and Josh Duhamel. Marcc Rose and Wavyy Jonez look reasonably well selected as Tupac and Biggie, respectively, and Anthony Hemingway, director of the pilot, is one of the best there is.
Back in a few hours with Fox!
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