Why the 2014 Fall Television Season Is Terrible

Why the 2014 Fall Television Season Is TerribleIn the olden days, television awoke from its summer hibernation each September to launch a plethora of network programs, and its annual reemergence was the highlight of the TV-watching year. As the leaves began to change colors, we knew we'd soon be blessed with a bounty of shiny new and returning TV shows. But recently, we've been experiencing a devastating metaphorical famine. Last fall, we spent more time slamming our palms over our faces in response to series like Dads, Welcome to the Family, Betrayal, Super Fun Night, and Sean Saves the World than we did looking forward to offerings that seemed good by comparison. And sadly, the outlook for 2014 isn't much better. Guys, the new fall TV season is shaping up to be one of the worst in recent history. Of course, everything I'm about to say falls into the category of "my opinion," and you are certainly entitled to your own. But if you ask me, there are a few different reasons why the next few months are going to flat-out suck: 1. None of the new shows look all that exciting While it's true that all we currently have to go on are rough pilots and loglines that've been molded by PR firms and network executives, let's face it: It's pretty dreadful out there. And anticipating the fall season is usually one of the best parts of the fall season! There's nothing like relying on your imagination to envision a freshly announced TV series based solely on a premise and a few casting announcements, because your imagination is often better at writing television than most people who do it for a living, at least with regard to the broadcast networks. Let's take a quick look at the last three fall seasons and recall which shows we were excited about as September approached—just please note that I'm specifically talking about shows that sounded good or whose pilots were good; they didn't necessarily turn out to be good. 2011-2012: The River, Suburgatory, Person of Interest, Terra Nova (I know, I know, but dinosaurs!), New Girl 2012-2013: Last Resort, Nashville, Go On, Revolution (I know, I know, but Eric Kripke was coming off a great run on Supernatural!) 2013-2014: Trophy Wife, Almost Human, Brooklyn Nine-Nine 2014-2015: Ummmmm zilch. The "Promising New Network Show" is becoming an endangered species at a horrifyingly quick rate. Sure, you can throw The Flash onto this year's (very short) shortlist of new series to be amped up for, and I'm sure several of you are really excited for Gotham (whose pilot, unfortunately, is really not great), but even with those two, the fall 2014 freshman class has to be the bleakest one I've seen since I started covering television full-time about seven years ago. 2. Networks are simply dog-piling on trends and topics that worked elsewhere The broadcast networks are like that guy who weasels his way into other people's conversations and lies when he says, "Oh yeah, I like that too!" The broadcast networks are where innovation goes to die, basically. And because their natural inclination is to view potential audience members as numbers or percentages rather than real people, they spend a lot of time attempting to replicate their own and others' past successes instead of focusing on making good TV. To wit: Coming down the pike at CBS, Scorpion is The Big Bang Theory but with action (and Katharine McPhee), and for some reason the network is launching another new NCIS ( N'Awlins) AND another new CSI ( Cyber, taking procedurals into the dial-up age early in 2015). ABC is taking one more step toward becoming the Shondaland Network with the Shonda Rhimes-produced How to Get Away With Murder, which is essentially Scandal but in law school. Fox's Red Band Society and Gracepoint are both adaptations of foreign shows (the Spanish series Polseres vermelles and the U.K.'s murder mystery Broadchurch, respectively), and the latter is almost a shot-for-shot remake in its first couple episodes. NBC's State of Affairs mimics Homeland, but with a much weaker actress Katherine Heigl vs. Claire Danes) in the lead role of "badass CIA agent," while the network's rom-com A to Z brings the structure of ( 500) Days of Summer to the small screen. And The CW's Jane the Virgin—which is easily the season's best new series about getting pregnant without having sex—is also an adaptation, this time of a Venezuelan telenovela. 3. Prestige cable appears to be taking a months-long vacation from launching new programming With the exception of Showtime's upcoming drama The Affair, prestige cable networks are sitting out this fall with regard to launching new shows. And although some high-profile returning series like HBO's Boardwalk Empire and FX's Sons of Anarchy are coming to an end with hopefully strong finishes, they're second-tier to their networks' other offerings. Meanwhile, even though Showtime's Homeland and AMC's The Walking Dead will generate buzz and ratings, their glory years are long past them unless they can pull off a creative resurgence. Cable has shifted its weightiest shows to the midseason, spring, and summer, where The Americans, Game of Thrones, Veep, Justified, Mad Men, Silicon Valley, True Detective, Shameless, Fargo, and Louie all live (though that should change next year, when HBO and FX are looking to replenish their fall lineups). Even upstart networks like WGN America, SundanceTV, and BBC America are largely avoiding the fall in favor of serving up fresh meat during other parts of the year. It appears that cable knows it has a better chance of catching our attention not only by avoiding the traditional fall rush, but by waiting for our initial interest in the network newbies to wear out. And that'll probably be the case by, oh, let's say the second week of October. 4. There's no watercooler show to bring us all together Even just one excellent series can make a difference in a dismal television season. In their primes, Lost, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and other big dramas regularly set the television world aflame, breaking down walls between demographics and uniting viewers with the rally cry of, "OMG did you see last night's episode?" There just isn't going to be that kind of show this fall. The Good Wife is one of television's best dramas, but it's still flying under the radar. Sons of Anarchy can always be counted on to deliver a few great episodes, but even though the series is at an all-time high in the ratings, it's all over the place, quality-wise. And Homeland has been in a long slide since its excellent debut, even going so far as to enrage some particularly sensitive viewers such as myself. Yes, television is only going to continue splintering into niches, but let's not forget that it's still a medium that can bring people together, and that's when it's at its most fun and powerful. I don't see anyone throwing a Newsroom viewing party anytime soon. Put all those things together and this fall is looking super depressing, right? I mean, yes, duh, of course I could be totally wrong—in fact, I hope I'm totally wrong and that some of this fall's new shows will surprise us with their heretofore unseen excellence. But as of early September, it looks like we're in for a long next few months. Is it winter yet? Now that you know what I think about the upcoming fall TV season (I'm not impressed), hit the comments to tell the rest of the class what YOU think!

September 5, 2014 3:12 am

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