2013-14 Broadcast Television Season a Washout

The 2014-15 television pilot season is upon us (unless you believe Fox’s TV boss Kevin Reilly, and it doesn’t actually exist anymore). With just over a month to go before the new shows are presented to potential advertisers, let’s take a quick back look at how the 2013-14 season did.

In a few words: not real good for the broadcasters. The best new show of the season was, by far, HBO’s True Detective, which may well go down as one of the best shows in television history. Easily renewed for season two, True Detective will feature a brand-new set of characters, though it’s hard to imagine how they can surpass the exceptional quality of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson’s dark, dark (DARK) bayou detective story.

Though it started slowly (and by slow I mean like Chinese water torture), Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (I won’t be typing that again – that’s annoying) has somewhat quietly become one of the better shows on broadcast television. I’m anxious to see how it’s going to tie-in with the films going forward. Though that was promised to us at the start, it was impossible: both Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier were well into production before the show’s pilot was completed, so it’ll be The Avengers: Age of Ultron before any real impact is seen. But, as I knew he would, Joss Whedon has righted the ship – pushing the story forward now that he has his characters developed.

Another program from a famous director – Believe and Alfonso Cuarón (winner of the Oscar for Best Director for Gravity) – started off with a knock-out pilot, but hasn’t lived up to its promise since. Of course, this was to be expected. Cuarón is a favorite of mine and I love his directorial style, so there was always going be a drop-off after the pilot when he went back to other things. He and producer J.J. Abrams also went through a few show runners at the outset, so if you’re watching, give it some time – it’ll be a while before Cuarón’s vision shows back through.

A pair of comedies rounds out my list of new programs for this season: NBC’s About a Boy and CBS’ The Crazy Ones. Not only is About a Boy from Jason Katims, the creator of Friday Night Lights and Parenthood, but the characters from the show inhabit the same universe as those from the latter program. The humor is much the same, and Katims improvisational style shows through.

On the opposite end of the dial, the Robin Williams’ headlined The Crazy Ones, is a terrific comedy. Not only do Williams’ improvisations make for some of the few truly laugh out loud moments on television, but his cast plays off of him so well that it looks like they were written that way.

Each of the final three shows are still running, but are in significant danger of cancellation. Believe and About a Boy have limited audience potential – Believe due to its sci-fi nature and AaB because of its quirkiness. The Crazy Ones would be a home run hit on NBC, but it isn’t a fit on CBS, where you have to have a laugh-track to rate. Here’s hoping CBS drops it, NBC picks it up and everyone sticks around for eight more seasons.

This list aside, the nets produced a lot of crap this season. NBC’s new comedy Thursday was a MASSIVE flop, with three very un-funny comedies in Sean Saves the World, The Michael J. Fox Show and that Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner knockoff whose name I can’t even remember. ABC produced nothing really new outside of SHIELD. Fox had a decent hit with Sleepy Hollow, but not much else. Finally, CBS’ foray into serial dramas bombed; with Hostages in the ground and Intelligence on life support.

The nets really need to get behind the idea of more shows, shorter seasons, deeper character dives. There’s nothing wrong with The Newsroom only getting three seasons on HBO, even though that wasn’t the intention (I’ll write a specific blog piece on this when the show comes back, likely early next year). There’s a reason why the BBC is producing some of the best television out there – for all you’ve heard about Sherlock, they’ve only produced 18 hours in four years. People seem to keep watching; why can’t we get away from 22 episodes a SEASON in the United States?