Once the new year rolls around network execs will be returning from their holidays with high hopes and new anxieties, filling the voids left by the unfortunate shows that were either D.O.A. or neglected – and promptly canceled (I’m looking at you, “Charlie’s Angels” and “Playboy Club”).
The chances of a new show debuting halfway through the television season – and succeeding – are slimmer than those of one that premieres in the fall. Few have been lucky. Earlier this year “Happy Endings “was granted a second chance to make us laugh after being released in the spring and quickly making a lasting impression (FYI, it’s currently inching up to “Modern Family” as my favorite comedy on TV). And let’s not forget that little medical drama that premiered at the top of 2005: eight seasons later, “Grey’s Anatomy” continues to maintain its grip on the zeitgeist.
Mid-season also means the return of old favorites. That said, “30 Rock” and “Cougar Town” cannot get here fast enough. But before we settle back in with a couple of our fictional friends, let’s direct our attention to a pair of new dramas that have beeping on my radar for the past several months.
“The River” (ABC, premieres Feb. 7) – Wildlife expert Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood) goes missing in the Amazon, and it’s up to his family, friends and a documentary crew to find him. Among the group are Emmet’s wife Tess (Leslie Hope), his son Lincoln (Joe Anderson), the sexy and resourceful Lena (Eloise Mumford), loyal mechanic Emilio (Daniel Zacapa) and bone-crushing bodyguard Captain Kurt Brynildson (Thomas Kretschmann). Shot in Hawaii (how “Lost” of them), this serial thriller comes from the producer of Paranormal Activity, so expect some shaky-cam “found footage” blended with traditional narrative elements.
My thoughts: Great premise and awesome promos, but I pose the same question I’ve been asking every other suspense-driven drama this season (“Revenge,” “Ringer,” etc): How long can they keep up the mystery? I’m filing this highly anticipated show under High Concept/Low Longevity Potential. Sure, producers can tell us how much they’ve learned from the mistakes of the best mythologies from the past (“Lost,” “The X-Files”), but I guess I’ll have to commit to it to believe it. And yes, Steven Spielberg’s name has been slapped on to this thing, but a compelling series this does not always make. Case in point: J.J. Abrams and the ironically titled “Person of Interest.”
“Smash” (NBC, premieres Feb. 6) – Speaking of Spielberg, his name is also attached to this musical drama (a dramusical?) that’s attempting to lure Gleeks and showtune lovers to its shiny spectacle. Chronicling the bumpy journey to the opening night of a Broadway musical, “Smash” reveals the behind-the-scenes trials and tribulations of everyone involved. There are the singing hopefuls (Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty), the sleazy-yet-sexy director (Jack Davenport), the veteran producer (Anjelica Huston) and the bickering composers (Debra Messing and Christian Borle).
My thoughts: In this “Voice”-“Idol”-“Glee” era we live in, who wouldn’t love a scripted drama about the goings-on behind the curtains? The pedigree of talent attached to this ambitious project is hella impressive (“from the producers of Chicago and Hairspray!”), and the return of Debra Messing is always a plus in my book. Where they’ll take this seemingly sensational story is anyone’s guess. After all, what happens after opening night? I’m already predicting a few Broadway cameos. Theater geeks, rejoice.