Comedies, Female-Led Dramas Fill Fall Lineups
MICHEL MARTIN, host: So now you've come back from the restaurant and you've had your small plate and you want to watch some shows. What are you going to watch? This week, the television networks announced their new lineups for the fall. Here's one of them.
SIMON COWELL: We called the show "The X Factor" because it was an expression we used a lot. You don't have to necessarily have the best voice, you may not be the best looking person, but you have something which defines you as a star. Like Lady Gaga, she's got the X factor.
MARTIN: That, of course, was Simon Cowell, talking about his new singing show "The X Factor" that will premiere on Fox this fall. In addition to more music, the new shows range from a comedy about three men trying to find their inner tough guy, to a remake of "Charlie's Angels." Across the networks, we expect to see more comedies and dramas with women in the lead. And we wanted to hear more about what we should look forward to and what we should avoid, so we've called on Eric Deggans. He's been following the networks' new lineups as the TV critic for the St. Petersburg Times, and he's with us on the line from his office in Florida. Thanks so much for joining us.
ERIC DEGGANS: Good to be here.
MARTIN: We also wanted to know more about the difficult and often hilarious process of pitching a new television show, so we've also called Firoozeh Dumas. She's a commentator and author of two books, "Funny in Farsi" and "Laughing Without an Accent." Last season she worked with ABC in a TV pilot that ultimately was not picked up by the network. We're sad. And she joins us from a studio in Costa Mesa, California and she's going to tell us about that. Firoozeh, thank you for joining us as well.
FIROOZEH DUMAS: Thank you for inviting me.
MARTIN: So Eric, what are some of the shows that you are looking forward to next fall that you would want us to look forward to?
DEGGANS: That I'm looking forward to. The short answer is I'm not seeing much yet.
MARTIN: That pause was scary.
(Soundbite of laughter)
DEGGANS: I know. I know.
MARTIN: No a good sign.
DEGGANS: What we're seeing is that number one, the networks are stepping up with a lot of new shows. NBC has 12 new shows over next season. I believe ABC has something like 13. CBS today just announced five new shows, which is a lot for them because they're a pretty stable network. So we're going to see a lot of new shows coming, but it's hard to tell from these previews. We really have only seen two or three minute clips of most of these shows. The critics will get to see the full pilots later this month and we'll be able to judge better what's going on then. I have not seen much, I'll tell you, that really inspires me very much.
The shows seem to be - they're banking on comedy a lot so comics like Whitney Cummings and Chelsea Handler have new shows coming. Tim Allen is coming back to ABC with a show that feels like a thinly veiled, you know, 21st century version of "Home Improvement." You know, so there's a lot of comedy coming and there's this nostalgia. You know, there's two shows that seem inspired by "Mad Men." One called "Pan Am" that's on ABC and one called "The Playboy Club" that's on NBC. And, you know, the question is, you know, "Mad Men" is such a specific and very layered show. How in the world is network TV going to do something that has mass appeal with the same kind of focus?
MARTIN: Well, of course, "Mad Men" is on cable, so that's part of the issue. But, you know, also, before we get to Firoozeh, you also have reported that the shows that many people talked about last season that had diverse casts, including "Outsourced," "Detroit 187," "Outlaw," "The Event," all of those were cancelled.
MARTIN: Now a lot of shows were canceled. But did you notice that the diverse shows were the ones that seemed to fall more quickly under the ax?
DEGGANS: Well, on NBC especially they were. Jimmy Smits' show "Outlaw" I think was one of the first ones that NBC got rid of. But those shows were also pretty troubled creatively. And one show on NBC, "The Event," starring Blair Underwood, did manage to last until the end of the season. I think what we saw was that NBC in particular stepped up and did a lot of shows that had diversity in them but unfortunately, they did it during a TV season where almost every network canceled every new show they put on. So, you know, NBC canceled every show that debuted in its fall - last fall. I believe Fox canceled almost every show. And CBS was the only one that retained more than one show that it debuted in the fall. It retained I think two or three. So it was just a really bad batting average and unfortunately, that was the year that at least one network chose to try diversity.
MARTIN: Firoozeh, you worked with writers to develop a pilot sitcom for ABC based on your memoir "Funny in Farsi." The book is about your life growing up Iranian-American in Newport Beach, California. Can you just tell us a little bit about it?
DUMAS: Yes. Well, my memoir took place, starts in the '70s and so when ABC optioned my book, they decided that the sitcom "Funny in Farsi" was going to be taking place in the '70s and this was in the early '70s, so when people still didn't even know where Iran was. And the writers that they hired was a husband and wife team of Jeffrey Hodes and Nastaran Dibai, and Nastaran, the wife, is actually Iranian herself, so it ended up being an absolutely hilarious script. I mean I was...
MARTIN: If you say so.
DUMAS: ...so pleased.
MARTIN: But they didn't pick it up. Any idea why? Did anyone ever tell you?
DUMAS: Well, nobody tells you. But I'll tell you this; the pilot was hilarious. I mean people were, people in the industry who had seen it had said it was just one of the funniest pilots they've seen in a long time. It was also very heartwarming. But at the same time when ABC, the president of ABC was making his decision whether or not to pick up the show, there was that whole mosque at ground zero controversy going on. And I had so much support from literally all over the world. I mean there was a Facebook page for the sitcom of "Funny in Farsi," which had within two weeks 15,000 fans from all over.
But given what was going on in this country with this whole just hysteria around this mosque at ground zero, you know, it didn't get picked up and I wonder how much of it was because of that because it really was a very funny, funny pilot.
MARTIN: Hmm. Eric, what do you think?
DEGGANS: I think they were scared of the show.
(Soundbite of laughter)
DEGGANS: I think there was no doubt they were probably scared of the show. And, you know, it's interesting, I talked to an actress by the name of Diane Farr who's also a writer and she put together a pilot script for a show about interracial relationships. She had a show that she was developing for Fox. And Fox called a huge meeting late in last year where they got all the producers of all their shows together in one meeting. The head of entertainment, Kevin Riley, told them that he wanted more diversity in their shows. And everyone was looking at Diane and saying wow, this is great. You've got this script, you know, interracial relationships, this is going to be wonderful. And guess what show did not - guess what pilot script did not get filmed?
And you will look at Fox's lineup now and you'll see that random characters have been changed into people of color. But that doesn't mean that network TV is ready to actually write a show that features the cultures of people of color. I think they're still very careful about that and it's going to take, it may even take, it's going to take another Bill Cosby, another Shonda Rhimes to step up and get that done for the networks.
MARTIN: On the other hand, there are number of shows that seem to be targeting female viewers. NBC has 12 new shows, at least five have women in the lead. Is that a new thing, Eric?
DEGGANS: I don't - it feels like there's more of it now. But I think the question is what kind of women are being featured? You know, on NBC, for example, you have "The Playboy Club." So this is a show that's centered on, you know, the swinging '60s, Hugh Hefner lifestyle. And now the women in that show, they'll be a lot of them, but they'll all be dressed like bunnies and they'll be serving men.
Same with "Pan Am." It's about an airline that was founded on the idea of the sexy stewardess, so there are lots of women. Christina Ricci is one of the stars who's on the show, she plays a stewardess, but they're all going to be sexy stewardesses. Whitney Cummings and Chelsea Handler are two comics who are known for being very sexy and very bawdy and also very attractive. So, you know, what is their comedy going to be like? And are women really going to feel like they're being well represented by these shows? We have to see the whole pilots to know, but I'm very suspicious.
MARTIN: Hmm. I see. Firoozeh, we only have about 20 seconds left. So, discouraged? Coming back for more? Try again? what's next?
DUMAS: No. Well, I mean if somebody options the show, you know, is Steven Spielberg, does he listen to your show?
(Soundbite of laughter)
DUMAS: But basically, I think ABC really made a huge mistake, given how much attention I received, just months leading up to this decision, I think the whole world was watching to see if an American network would actually put on a show - a very funny show - about an Iranian immigrant family. So I'm really sorry that ABC did not pick up on that opportunity.
MARTIN: All right. Well, fingers crossed. Life is long.
DEGGANS: Hey, FX, HBO.
MARTIN: All right.
DEGGANS: Yo, listen up.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Listen up. Radio documentary? Radio serial.
DEGGANS: There you go.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Firoozeh Dumas is a commentator and author of the books "Funny in Farsi" and "Laughing Without an Accent." She was with us from Costa Mesa, California. Eric Deggans is a TV critic for the Saint Petersburg Times and he was with us from the studios at the newspaper. Thank you both so much for joining us.
DUMAS: Thank you for having me.
DEGGANS: Thank you.
(Soundbite of music)
MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and you're listening to TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.
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