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New Shows: Fall '11 Network TV Predictions

With the television season about to begin, the scripts that we heard about in December that became Pilots in February and survived to see a 13-episode order in the spring are about to finally hit our television screens (or computer screens, or iPods, or wristwatches, or however you view your TV). They represent some of the riskiest (Terra Nova) and most controversial (The Playboy Club) that network TV has had to offer in quite some time.

And so, as the first episodes near, it’s time to make some wildly premature predictions of how these shows will fare. And just to make things interesting, I’ll try to not just predict how long they’ll last, but how they’ll get there.

I’ll probably be completely off, of course; such is TV, essentially an annual game of roulette.


With a budget of over $4 million an episode in addition to the most expensive network pilot of all time (sorry, LOST), Terra Nova is the big “event” this fall. Originally supposed to air in the spring of last year, then as a May preview, it is finally beginning on September 26th. Years of hype have finally led to a finished product for the world to see, and if the $20 million comes out clearly on the screen, it could be a real hell of a show. The question is, will anyone watch it?

Reasons It’ll Work: Steven Spielberg, Dinosaurs, and shades of Avatar. If it keeps up the big-budget movie look, it could be the most awesome television series ever made. People will flock to it on a “Dude, it was so cool!” - word of mouth. If it doesn’t though...

Reasons It’ll Fail:
… it’ll suck. Audiences have notoriously short attention spans, and if they come to the show expecting all-Dinos-all-the-time and instead get a few minutes of meh CGI dinosaurs every few episodes, they’ll jump ship. And if they do, the show will become too expensive, too impractical (what with filming in Australia and all), and collapse under its weight.

3 seasons. I think the effects and the writing will be able to hold it up for a little while, but as soon as it begins its inevitable viewers slide all shows experience, it’s done.


Of the two shows premiering this fall, hoping to catch a wave of viewers craving their Mad Men fix, Pan Am is the less controversial by a hair. The story of Pan Am stewardesses and the early ‘60s romance and espionage they find themselves in is another ambitious project, basically attempting to bring the period drama that has been cable’s forte onto a network channel.

Reasons It’ll Work:
Well, because people like Mad Men (and stewardesses?). Considering you wouldn’t be able to tell the show had anything to do about Cold War tensions if you’ve seen the TV spots, it’s clear the advertising is sticking to Christina Ricci and nostalgia to sell this one, and it just might work: Heroes had a great debut while LOST was on both a long haitus and a creative dark time; Pan Am may experience a similar effect.

Reasons It’ll Fail:
Audiences won’t know what they’re getting. Is it Mad Men or Alias? Will the writing attempt to mix multiple genres and end up with an awkward finished product? Or, will people be turned off by the implied misogyny that many have sensed in the stewardess-centric premise?

Prediction: 1 season. This, more than The Playboy Club, will catch a little of that Mad Men wave, but not to a renewal. Look for lukewarm critical reception and a spring ratings free-fall.


TV institution J.J. Abrams has put his name behind this Orwellian procedural written by Jonathan Nolan, the writer of The Dark Knight and brother of its director, perennial Oscar snub Christopher Nolan. Abrams has also brought aboard Michael Emerson, a.k.a. Benjamin Linus from LOST, and arguably that show's best actor. Linus plays Mr. Finch, a millionaire with access to technology that can predict violent crime, who recruits down-on-his-luck action man Reese (Jim Caveziel, a.k.a. Jesus) to stop him.

Reasons It’ll Work: .J.J. Abrams still has a lot of clout, even after Undercovers tanked, and this show’s combination of big, proven names with a watercooler-worthy premise sounds like a hit brewing. It promises procedural action with an overarching mythology, attempting to cater to people who both loved and felt burned by heavily-serialized shows like LOST that Abrams is best known for.

Reasons It’ll Fail:
The Abrams name has a lot of clout, but Jonathan Nolan’s doesn’t, unless you are beyond the level of casual viewer of film and television. The premise is a bit fantastical and, as a result, may lead viewers to feeling lost amongst the high-tech world Person of Interest envisions.

5+ seasons. It’ll start out middling but strong word-of-mouth will help it. In the end, it’ll settle as a more dystopian Fringe, with the ability to reach out to the casual CBS-procedural viewers who miss Without a Trace.


A network TV show about the Playboy bunnies? It had a target painted on its back from the minute it started casting. Already roundly condemned by the television moral majority, The Playboy Club also hopes to get those Mad Men viewers, throwing in a dash of murder and skimpy costumes for good measure.

Reasons It’ll Work:
If the writing is snappy enough and the storyline avoids straying into the exploitative, The Playboy Club may find enough viewers to survive as a high-profile soap opera in the vein of Desperate Housewives.

Reasons It’ll Fail: Many are already out to kill it, and many won’t give it a chance (at least with the family). The pilot has already been criticized not for being offensive, but just plain being bad. If it can’t hold its own creatively it has no hope of fending off the attacks of the offended.

Prediction: 13 episodes or less. It wants to be a cable show, and it’ll get exactly that: cable-level viewership.


Once Upon a Time is a modern fairy tale from LOST writers Eddie Kitsis and Adam Horowitz about a young boy who discovers that his Stephen King-esque Maine town is filled with fairy tale characters stuffed into normal, suburban life. Promises to be mysterious and fantastical.

Reasons It’ll Work: The LOST fanbase will give it a shot, and if Kitsis and Horowitz can pull the writing off, they’ll have a loyal fanbase, plus the Sunday timeslot and fairytale aesthetic will give it a “whole family” type appeal.

Reasons It’ll Fail: Simply, it’s too weird. Older viewers might be put off by the costumey spectacle of the fairy tale stuff whilst younger viewers might be bored with the relatively grey real-world stuff. And the combination of the two might be tough to pull off without having it become a confusing jumble.

Prediction: 2 seasons. It’ll just squeak past season 1, but won’t be able to get viewers to latch onto it long-term.


Another fairy tale show, this time with the sheen of procedural: A detective discovers he can see past the disguises that evil creatures wear, and uses that to fight them.

Reasons It’ll Work: It’s Supernatural for network TV, and if they can get the viewers who watch that and some younger ones weaned on the new teenage market of real-world flavored fantasy, it just might work.

Reasons It’ll Fail:
It’s Supernatural for network TV. Not only is Supernatural still on, but it has the same timeslot (!) - that timeslot being, for Grimm, on Friday, right behind Chuck - not exactly a ratings powerhouse.

Prediction: Dead on arrival. It gets three or four episodes, then gets pushed to winter or gets the “finale exclusively online” that NBC is so fond of.

Well, those are my predictions. Like I said, I’m probably totally wrong. But however it turns out, it’s going to be an entertaining TV season.

*grabs the popcorn*

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