What did I learn at “TCA” -- otherwise known as the TV critics' press tour, wrapping today, and held biannually in Beverly Hills? Glad you asked. Plenty. Here are some observations:
1.) Big-ticket, big-concept, big"wow” has entered the big sleep. Not so long ago -- last season! -- the big four networks collectively reasoned that a certain means of attracting and holding audiences was via a time-tested, circus-tent strategy. Get 'em in with something so brassy, unique and fun that (well) they just can't leave. Last season brought “Pan Am," "Once Upon a Time," "A Gifted Man," "Smash," "Grimm," "Alcatraz," "Touch," "The River,” and -- the biggest brassiest of 'em all, “Terra Nova.” This season, just three ("Revolution," "Last Resort,” and "666 Park”) qualify. What happened? “Big” equals “expensive,” and not always “surefire.” As good as they were -- and they were -- Pan Am” and “TN” were flops. As a result, 2012-13 is playing it safe.
2.) CBS knows its business, but its business is kind of bland. No network has a better grasp of its audience than this one. CBS execs appear to have knocked on the door of every single viewer to ask “what do you want?” and those content viewers -- older, more conservative couch spuds -- said “nothing!” Nothing's wrong with nothing, I suppose, if nothing is working, and it is. CBS had a successful '11, of course. But a dull bland pallor has spread over the place. The new comedy ("Partners”) screams out been-there-seen-that. Even “Vegas” -- great cast and all -- feels a little bit sleepy. Compensating factor: the Sherlock Holmes procedural, “Elementary,” looks like a lot of fun.
3.) ABC easily has the most buzzable shows. Seriously, ABC does. Every night of the week -- except Saturday and Monday -- has at least ONE new show you have to check out. Sunday: "666 Park” (great creepy look, and bonus points for Terry O'Quinn); Tuesday: “Family Tools” (with the always good Kyle Bornheimer); Wednesday: “The Neighbors” (about neighbors from outer space who, when they cry, ooze green goo from their ears; it's a sitcom); Thursday: “Last Resort” (Andre Braugher saves the world! I think!); Friday: “Malibu Country” (starring insanely talented Reba McEntire, in what critics instantly dubbed “Reba 2.0.") Meanwhile, “Nashville” (Wednesdays at 10, starting in October) stars Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere as dueling country divas. This ranks as the top must-watch new show of the entire fall season.
4.) Autobiography is in. If it’s “trends” you want, here is your “Most Obvious Trend” of 2012-13. Creators of a generous handful of new comedies cited their own life experiences as inspiration for their show. Here, for instance, is Claudia Lonow talking about her fun newcomer: “I still live with my parents, and I’ve been living there for 15 years, and I’ve been working on the show for about 12, and by the time I got to this point, I decided that a good title would be “How to Live With Your Parents (for the Rest of Your Life)” because that seems like what is happening to me.”