This week, all of the broadcast networks announced their schedules for the fall 2010-11 season. There are a plethora of new dramas. Several of them may turn out to be breakout hits. A few will inevitably be canceled shortly after they premiere. Looking at the shows overall, some clear trends emerge. The crime procedural is still the king of primetime, with 11 new series that are about cops, M.E’s and lawyers figuring out whodunnit. It seems tedious and unoriginal, but the audience has a seemingly inexhaustible appetite for them. In addition, procedurals tend to perform reasonably well in reruns and often can be syndicated internationally.
The other major trend this season is escapist fantasy. There are shows about superheroes, super spies and even a family that travels back in time to live with dinosaurs. Realistic, character driven dramas are in short supply. Television executives think that people want to take a break from their real lives. But, perhaps out of sensitivity to the recession, the era of shows focusing on rich people who live in mansions and wear couture seems to be over. So is the obsession with New York and Los Angeles. There is a refreshing geographic diversity to the new series, perhaps due to generous tax credits from several states hoping to lure production to their neck of the woods.
Based on the clips that were shown at the network upfronts, some potential hits include the J.J. Abrams caper series ‘Undercovers‘ (NBC, Preview Here), the Bruckheimer U.S.Marshal series ‘Chase’ (NBC), Spielberg’s dinosaur series ‘Terra Nova’ (Fox), and ‘No Ordinary Family‘ (ABC), about a family that gains superpowers. All are unique, well produced shows with a clear hook. A show that seem less likely to succeed is the oddly cast legal drama ‘The Defenders’ (Jim Belushi and Jerry O’Connell: together at last). The biggest “what the hell were they thinking?” show is NBC’s ‘The Cape,’ another superhero drama about a guy who fakes his death and trains with a troupe of “circus performers/crooks” to become a crimefighting vigilante to impress his son.
Since television is ultimately a numbers game, in the tradition of the Harper’s Index, here is a look at the new dramas by the numbers.
Number of shows about cops: 6 (‘Detroit 187,’ ‘Blue Bloods,’ ‘Hawaii 5-0,’ ‘Ride Along,’ ‘Chase,’ ‘Law & Order Los Angeles’)
Number of shows about coroners who solve crimes: 1 (‘Body of Proof’)
Number of shows about lawyers: 4 (‘The Whole Truth,’ ‘Defenders,’ ‘Harry’s Law,’ ‘Outlaw’)
Number of shows about doctors: 1 (‘Off The Map’)
Number of shows about spies and conspiracies: 4 (‘Nikita,’ ‘The Event,’ ‘Undercovers,’ ‘The Cape’)
Number of shows about superheros: 2 (‘No Ordinary Family,’ ‘The Cape’)
Number of shows about dinosaurs: 1 (‘Terra Nova’)
Number of shows not about crime, law or medicine: 4 (‘My Generation,’ ‘Hellcats,’ ‘Lonestar,’ ‘Terra Nova’)
Number of remakes and spin-offs: 4 (‘Hawaii 5-0,’ ‘Criminal Minds Spin-Off,’ ‘Law & Order Los Angeles’, ‘Nikita’)
Number of shows set in Texas: 3 (‘My Generation,’ ‘Lone Star,’ ‘Chase’)
Number of shows set in New York: 2 (‘The Whole Truth,’ ‘Blue Bloods’)
Number of shows set in Philadelphia: 2 (‘Body of Proof,’ ‘Outlaw’)
Number of shows set in Los Angeles: 2 (‘Law & Order Los Angeles,’ ‘Undercovers’)
Number of shows set in Detroit: 1 (‘Detroit187′)
Number of shows set in Chicago: 1 (‘Ride Along’)
Number of shows set in Las Vegas: 1 (‘Defenders’)
Number of shows set in Hawaii: 1 (‘Hawaii 5-0′)
Number of shows set in Memphis: 1 (‘Hellcats’)
Number of shows set outside the U.S.: 1 (‘Off The Map’)
Number of shows set in Prehistoric Earth: 1 (‘Terra Nova’)