Television's Fall 'Upfronts' A Relic Of Advertising Past

TV Networks are revealing their plans for the upcoming season. Audie Cornish speaks with media and television critic Eric Deggans of the Tampa Bay Times for more on the new shows, trends and surprises.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This week in New York City, the big broadcast networks have their upfronts. That's when they preview new fall shows for advertisers. And this year, it's quite a grab-bag of programs - everything from government agents in a super hero world...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.")

CLARK GREGG: (As Agent Phil Coulson) It's not just spy versus spy anymore. The whole world's in on the action.

CORNISH: To a family sitcom created around the actor Michael J. Fox.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE MICHAEL J. FOX SHOW")

BETSY BRANDT: (As Annie Henry) For 20 years, he's poured everything he had into work. Now, he pours it all into us.

MICHAEL J. FOX: (As Mike Henry) Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up.

BRANDT: (As Annie) Yay.

CORNISH: For more on what's headed our way from the TV world, we're joined by TV critic Eric Deggans. Hey there, Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS: Hey. How are you doing?

CORNISH: So first of all, the upfronts are this big rollout for the new season of shows in the fall. But, you know, it seems like networks, they debut shows all the time these days. So are the upfronts sort of an industry throwback?

DEGGANS: They really are. The legend is that the fall was when the new models of cars would come off of the lines in Detroit and, of course, that's a big advertising season. So the TV industry sort of pegged the start of all its new fall shows for that season so they'd have some great, new product that the automakers could use to sell their great, new product.

And, unfortunately, it's created this cycle that persists to this day. And we have competition from online places like Netflix and Amazon, on-demand and cable channels that will debut shows whenever they feel like it. And yet the networks are still kind of locked into this odd cycle where most of their new shows start in fall. And - you know, people, they want their shows when they want their shows. And there's more pressure to kind of break that down.

CORNISH: Oh, that's interesting history about the auto industry. So looking at this fall and these new shows, what are you most looking forward to?

DEGGANS: Well, I've said before that I'm a comic book geek.

CORNISH: (Laughing)

DEGGANS: I'm very much looking forward to the spinoff from "The Avengers" movie that Joss Whedon has developed for ABC. We heard a little snippet of it earlier - Marvel's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." It's a way to sort of take these agents who are supposed to investigate super heroes in the making, super villains in the making and bring their stories to television. And judging from the five-minute clip that we saw online, I think they've done a pretty good job.

CORNISH: All right. So for those of us who have moved past our inner geek, talk to me about...

DEGGANS: Never.

CORNISH: I know.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: Talk to me about dramas. I've got a soft spot for dramas. And what's out there that you like?

DEGGANS: Again, I'm sorry - I hate to keep coming back to the geek in me. But J.J. Abrams, the man who revamped "Star Trek," has what looks to be a really interesting show on Fox, called "Almost Human," featuring a cop who has some cybernetic implants, working with an android who has a consciousness. There's also a reinvention of a show - called "Sleepy Hollow," also on Fox. They're retelling the Ichabod Crane narrative in modern times. And there's a great drama starring James Spader as a rogue FBI agent who comes back and tries to push the agency into going after terrorists on his timetable, called "The Black List."

CORNISH: Wait a second. So there's no sexy soaps or period dramas?

DEGGANS: Oh, of course there's sexy soaps. (Laughing) And the period drama that NBC is doing is called "Dracula," and it stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers. You may remember him in "The Tudors," on Showtime. So that's your period drama; a little bit of horror thrown in. And then also, romance-wise, there's a show called "Betrayal," that's going to be on ABC. That's about a woman who seems to have an affair with someone, and then finds out the man she's having an affair with is also her husband's opponent in a legal case.

CORNISH: There you go.

DEGGANS: So yeah, yeah, we've got some interesting - and also, ABC's spinning off the "Alice in Wonderland" legend. There really is a sense that these networks are just throwing everything they can at the screen, in an attempt to sort of win back fans who may be turning, increasingly, to cable.

CORNISH: Eric Deggans, thank you so much.

DEGGANS: All right., thanks for having me.

CORNISH: Eric Deggans is TV and media critic for the Tampa Bay Times.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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