6 Things You Won't See Anymore on Network TV
This week's "upfront" presentations, where the TV networks touted their 2015-16 slates to advertisers, told us a lot about what we''ll be seeing this fall -- and in the next couple of years, for that matter. What went unmentioned, of course, is what we won't be seeing.
It's not just shows that have been canceled, including some that have been on the air since forever. It's also some seemingly indispensable performers and even entire genres of TV fare that are disappearing. Here are some of the things you'll be missing on broadcast TV in the near future.
"American Idol" and "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." Yeah, we still have one more season of "Idol"' which Fox is pretending is a victory lap instead of a last-gasp cash grab. Is anyone going to be sorry to see it go? Is anyone still entertained by the witticisms of Ryan Seacrest, the sparkling repartee among the judges, or the nail-biting competition for an increasingly worthless prize? It's been a long time since "Idol" was a star factory, a show where even a seventh-place finisher like Jennifer Hudson could parlay her appearances on the series into a substantive showbiz career. But weep not for "Idol." It may be succumbing the brutal dictates of its own dependence on the collective wisdom of the viewers, but at least its copycats -- notably, "The Voice" -- live on. And it's not just reality/competition TV. We also have "Idol" to thank for such music-driven scripted "Glee," "Nashville," "Empire," and the "Pitch Perfect" movies. That "Idol" couldn't keep up with any of those probably says more about the way we watch TV now -- who has time to invest in several hours of live appointment-TV anymore? -- than it does about "Idol."
So it is, too, with "CSI," which, after its big two-hour September finale (William Petersen is reportedly emerging from cryogenic slumber to return for the wrap-up), will be survived by both direct offspring ("CSI: Cyber," a title that would have been really cool in 1994) and by CBS' many copycat series, from "Criminal Minds" to the entire "NCIS" franchise. Like "Idol," "CSI" invented a new genre, the forensic-team crime procedural, and it managed to run for 15 seasons even as its zippier stepchildren outraced it. So I don't think viewers will miss it much since, like those crime-scene stains that become visible under black light, its lingering traces will long remain apparent and hard to eradicate.
Harry Shearer. It's bad enough that the 26-year veteran of "The Simpsons" won't be around anymore to voice Mr. Burns, Smithers, Ned Flanders, Rev. Lovejoy, Principal Skinner, Kent Brockman, Dr. Hibbert, and seemingly dozens of other beloved characters. After all, the show plans to keep the characters, meaning Fox thinks it can actually find someone to replace Shearer. But then, this means, in his contract dispute with the show's makers, Shearer overestimated his value to them. (The sticking point of the deal wasn't money but schedule flexibility, both sides have said.) That doesn't bode well for the future of the series. Either the producers think they can do the show on the cheap, without accommodating a mainstay of the series in his request for "what we've always had: the freedom to do other work," or the folks behind the show are unwilling or unable to make available the resources the show needs (they already cut costs four years ago, forcing the six starts to take a hefty pay cut), or they don't care.. None of these alternatives indicate long-term confidence on Fox's part in the future of the series. The network has renewed it for two more seasons, but Shearer's departure certainly looks like the beginning of the end. Yeah, "The SImpsons" may be one of those shows, like "Idol" and "CSI," that has been enormously influential while outliving its own popularity, and maybe we won't miss it when it's gone because it'll be in reruns forever. But maybe the void will be so great that we can't even imagine it now.
Autobiographical sitcoms starring women of color. Farewell to Fox's "The Mindy Project" and to ABC's "Cristela." Now, their absence doesn't mean that the networks have lost confidence in female showrunners of color; indeed, Shonda Rhimes is increasing her domination of ABC with a new drama next season, "The Catch." But Mindy Kaling's show, despite its low ratings, seemed to appeal to the kind of affluent, city-dwelling, youthful viewers that sponsors would pay extra to reach. (Maybe that's why Hulu is considering picking it up.) No such luck for Cristela Alonzo, who, beside having the burden of trying to create a hit on the TV desert of Friday night, also had to get viewers and sponsors interested in the life challenges of a blue-collar woman. As Alonzo noted in a tweet last week, "You can't make people get something they haven't lived." Well, you certainly can't if the networks won't air it. Sure, The CW still has "Jane the Virgin," but otherwise, there are now two fewer opportunities for viewers to "get" the lives of people who may have different backgrounds from their own -- or, if you do share a background, to not feel invisible in the culture that television reflects back to you.
Sitcoms in general. Much has been written this week about how NBC -- once the home of Must-See Thursday, once the home of "Cheers," "The Cosby Show," "Seinfeld," "Friends," "The Office," "30 Rock," and "Parks & Recreation" -- is only going to air two sitcoms this fall, both on Fridays. Yeah, they'll have Neil Patrick Harris' variety show for a few weeks, but otherwise, the Peacock Network seems to have all but given up on scripted comedy. Less mentioned is that other networks are following suit.
CBS is keeping only two of its current comedies, "The Big Bang Theory" and "Mom" and adding two more; all will air on Thursday, leaving the Eye network comedy-free on six nights out of seven. Fox is corralling five of its comedies on Sunday and adding two new ones on Tuesday (three if you count hour-long tongue-in-cheek slasher-movie send-up "Scream Queens"), but the network is also canceling three sitcoms and holding back "New Girl" (now its signature live-action sitcom) and two more new comedies until winter. And the CW, which hasn't had any sitcoms for ages (no, "Jane the Virgin" doesn't count), is still not going to have any.
The comedy news isn't all bad. ABC is adding four of them, two of which ("The Muppets" and "The Real O'Neals") actually look good. So it'll have a total of 10 sitcoms, including its Wednesday bloc of four, anchored by "Modern Family." As for NBC, it does have more comedies planned for midseason, including its reboot of "Coach," a sitcom that may have given you a chuckle or two 20 years ago. And the one sitcom that NBC didn't cancel, "Undateable," will be doing all its episodes live, which could add some edge.
Still, it wasn't long ago that NBC announced it would stop making niche comedies (sorry, "Community" fans) and try to make more
lowest common denominator broadly appealing sitcoms. But NBC Entertainment President Jennifer Salke told Entertainment Weekly that the network couldn't even find any of those, "and we were turning over all the stones." (Of course, they could have had "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," but they passed and let Tina Fey take it to Netflix.)
Why are good new comedies so hard to find? Could it be that creating a show safe enough not to offend or alienate anyone means making a comedy too bland to be funny? Is the single-camera, documentary-style sitcom format as played out as the multi-camera, studio-bound format? ("The Muppets" trailer openly jokes that this is the case.) Or have we simply become so wise to formula that we're all just waiting for the next game-changer, the next "Cosby" or "Seinfeld" or "Office" that will come along to save the genre from irrelevance once more?
David Letterman. Not news, of course, Still hurts.