Television

No Jeans, No Sound, And Other Lessons From The Network Upfronts

Kathy Bates in NBC's Harry's Law

Kathy Bates appears in NBC's Harry's Law, set for midseason. The premise of the show is only one of the oddities of the network upfronts. Trae Patton/NBC hide caption

itoggle caption Trae Patton/NBC

It's my first time covering the network upfronts — those annual gatherings where the industry suits introduce new TV shows to the advertising types they hope will be buying time on them — and I've learned two things about it that are anathema to a public radio reporter: First, you're not allowed to record sound. Second, you can't get away with wearing blue jeans.

Plunging into this economic ecosystem of TV executives and media buyers disabuses a person of any notion that TV programming is about anything other than delivering eyeballs to advertisers. There's much talk here about fractionalized audiences and competition from other media. At the ABC upfront event, Jimmy Kimmel scored one of the week's best lines, cracking, "We're not losing ground to cable. I believe we are gaining ground — on newspapers!"

ABC, by the way, showed one of the more promising comedy lineups so far. (I'm still reeling from the idiotic turbans-are-so-wacky humor of NBC's Outsourced, set at a call center in India.) The alphabet net would like us to believe it's on a roll since the deserved success of Modern Family, and its previews of Better Together, Mr. Sunshine, and Happy Endings all had genuinely laugh-out-loud moments — which is more than I can say for any of the comedy previews I saw at NBC or Fox.

(Although please let the new comedy Running Wilde, from Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz and star Will Arnett, be better than the trailer suggests.)

ABC is clearly banking on one new show in particular — a documentary-style drama called My Generation, about the fortunes of a group of young people who graduated from an Austin, Texas high school 10 years ago. But it was hard to glean any real sense of the show from its superficial Breakfast Club-style preview. (Meet the jock, the wallflower, the punk, the nerd, etc.)

ABC seems positively addicted to the mock-documentary form in the wake of Modern Family's success. It's adopted the same format for Detroit 1-8-7, about homicide detectives in one of the country's saddest cities. (Although ABC prefers to call the economically challenged Motown "transitional.")

Meanwhile, ABC's new Body of Proof, starring Dana Delany as a neurologist turned medical examiner, is, if nothing else, part of an encouraging new trend of broadcast TV shows centering on mature female characters. No doubt thanks in part to the success of The Closer and Damages on basic cable, Body of Proof joins Chase, an NBC offering about a female U.S. Marshal.

On the same network, the midseason drama Harry's Law will feature Kathy Bates in one of the season's most bizarre premises. Here goes: The life of a disaffected patent lawyer is transformed when a suicidal young man falls on her when he jumps off a building. (Both survive.) Not one of NBC's buzziest new programs, but hey — you never know.

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