Fall TV Preview: Networks Stick With What They Know

May 17, 2018
Originally published on May 17, 2018 7:12 am
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OK. In the world of TV, "Last Man Standing" is still standing. That is Tim Allen's sitcom, and it's just moved to another network. There's also a reboot of "Murphy Brown" with Candice Bergen. We are talking about this because the TV networks have been presenting their lineups to advertisers this week in New York. It is called the upfronts, and NPR TV critic Eric Deggans has been interviewing network executives and covering all of this. He's with us. Hey, Eric.


GREENE: So it sounds like we're seeing reboots. We're seeing networks look to the past. Are they a window into what's going on right now and why the networks might be playing it safe?

DEGGANS: Yeah, there don't seem to be a lot of exciting concepts or big stars coming to network TV this year. Instead, the networks seem to be sticking with what's worked for them - actors with a lot of TV experience who just might click with an audience. And one thing that might also feed into this is there's some corporate instability going on. CBS is fighting over a possible merger with Viacom. You know, we don't know if Disney's going to buy parts of Fox. And that's led to some instability at these networks right as they are trying to figure out what they're going to put on TV for the next TV season.

GREENE: All right, so Candice Bergen, "Murphy Brown," she's back. CBS unveils that. Does that tell us specifically about the overall strategy of this one network, CBS?

DEGGANS: Yeah, definitely. I mean, CBS has unveiled its schedule to advertisers on Wednesday. And the reboot of "Murphy Brown" is the big deal. They're bringing back Candice Bergen. They're bringing back the original cast. She's actually hosting a morning show, and she's competing against her son who's also hosting a morning show but on a conservative network. So I can't wait to see that.

GREENE: Who would take on Candice Bergen? Not me.

DEGGANS: I wouldn't want to do it. But what struck me about CBS is they have a lot of new shows because they're completely revamping their Monday night lineup. They took a lot of heat from critics last year for a lack of diversity, so they've got new shows with highly-sought-after African-American performers like Damon Wayans Jr. and Cedric the Entertainer. And they're revamping "Magnum P.I." with a Latino lead, Jay Hernandez. They still don't have a lot of starring roles for women, but they are doing better with ethnic diversity among starring roles.

GREENE: Well, and, Eric, let me ask you about "Brooklyn Nine-Nine." Here's a show that is actually switching networks from Fox to NBC. That seems to be a trend we're seeing this year, isn't it?

DEGGANS: I mean, basically, "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" is made by studio that's also owned by the company that owns NBC. So they're joining the same corporate family. NBC also needs comedies that have an audience. You know, they've got comedies that critics like and that have gotten, you know, Emmy nominations like "The Good Place," but they do need some comedies that people watch.

Fox, for example, is facing a different problem. They've kind of decided to go away from more complex comedies, so they canceled "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," which is shot with just one camera. And they picked up Tim Allen's "Last Man Standing," which is a more traditional sitcom shot in front of an audience. And most of their new comedies are like that. So, you know, you can see these networks shifting their strategies to try and meet what they need in comedy and drama for the next TV season.

GREENE: One lesson I'm taking from this conversation - it's one thing for critics to like something, and then there shows the critics like but the networks need a lot of people to be watching shows as well (laughter).

DEGGANS: Exactly. And the networks are always riding that tight rope trying to find shows that will get them respect in Hollywood and get Emmy nominations and Golden Globe nominations and wins but also present shows that people will watch a lot of. The hunt is on for that this year.

GREENE: NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Always great talking to you, Eric.

DEGGANS: Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.