If you're looking for deep, meaningful punditry you've come to the wrong place.
This is the time of the year when claims and counterclaims about newly created hit shows and renewed creativity abound. Some might even be plausible. And certain pundits might be certain that an enormous – nay, cataclysmic – shift in the TV racket is finally under way. Not here.
All we've got to extrapolate from is a trailer or two and the shocking news that ABC is reducing Dancing with the Stars to one night a week. Looking for meaning is a mug's game. What can be discerned is a series of hints about the ceaseless weirdness of the business. That is, make a whole bunch of shows and pray that one or two are popular. If that doesn't work, do the same thing next year. Here are some utterly shallow but discernible traits and trends from the new season announcements by the major U.S. networks.
While some new series have straightforward titles – Hostages, The Trophy Wife – others are a bizarre mouthful. It might be true that Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly) has a fanatical following and a built-in audience ready to savour his new work on ABC, but that show, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., has a seriously unwieldy title. And then there's the upcoming spinoff from ABC's successful Once Upon a Time fantasy show. It's called Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.
These ridiculous titles only confirm the impression that network TV honchos don't actually experience TV the same way the audience does. Imagine looking at the on-screen TV listings and trying to figure out if the show airing tonight is Once Upon a Time or Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. You can bet that many people will tape the wrong show and curse ABC. As for the Whedon series, are people looking for info actually expected to type in every period in the word S.H.I.E.L.D.? Besides, in the world of Twitter and micro-texting, nobody will ever type the full title.
Thursday is chuckles night. Again
Back in the day, NBC ruled network TV with its "must-see TV" lineup of sterling sitcoms and then a hot drama. CBS is now attempting to repeat that feat by airing a two-hour block of comedies on Thursdays, starting at 8 p.m. and then airing Elementary at 10 p.m. The Big Bang Theory is at 8 p.m. Then at 8:30 it's The Millers. That features Will Arnett as Nathan Miller, a recently divorced news reporter who, when he announces his divorce to his parents, inspires them to divorce too. Dad (Beau Bridges) moves in with Nathan and, presumably, laughter ensues. Next at 9 p.m. it's Crazy Ones, which has Robin Williams as "a larger-than-life advertising genius," presumably creating gales of laughter. And at 9:30 p.m. it's Two and a Half Men. By 10 p.m., when Elementary comes on, the viewer's funny bone will either be tickled to death or they will be wishing Sherlock Holmes on Elementary would solve the mystery of why Two and a Half Men is still on the air.
Twitter matters more than ratings
If we are to believe Paul Lee, president of ABC's entertainment group, it's more important to be a cool brand with social media buzz than have actual viewers to tout to advertisers. ABC ended the 2012/13 TV season in fourth place among four networks (NBC would be fourth if it wasn't for The Voice), but Lee crowed that ABC is actually the "No. 1 brand on TV." In particular he cited the fact that the show Scandal generates a lot of chatter on Twitter. Possibly this means that the people at ABC who worked on developing all those failed and cancelled shows from last season (Zero Hour, the show that got zero viewers) will now be assigned to go on Twitter and tweet like mad about shows that have few viewers. Viewership is down but tweeting up! Little wonder the TV racket is so fabulously foolish.
The Office (NBC, Global, 9 p.m.) ends forever. "Past and present Dunder Mifflin employees gather for a wedding and a final round of interviews." Oh Jim, oh Pam. Also finishing their seasons tonight are American Idol (Fox, CTV, 8 p.m.), which crowns a new, forgettable singer, and Scandal (ABC, CITY-TV, 10 p.m.), which has "a game changer" according to creator Shonda Rhimes, one that "explodes the premise of our show." Stand back, everyone, there are explosions about to happen.