Fox tonight was the first network to announce some of its 2010-11 pickups and cancellations – mostly cancellations. I don’t think Fox fully deserves its reputation as the evil cancellation-happy network; they’ve stayed with many shows through mediocre or worse ratings. But they’ve definitely decided to clean house this time, except for Fringe, which has already been renewed.
Simon Cowell is taking over the network with The X-Factor, which I greatly fear will be a crushing hit like it is all over the world, and that makes him the Jay Leno of Fox: everything has to go to make room for him. So in order to clear space for Cowell while still picking up some new scripted stuff, the network has canceled virtually all its “bubble” shows:
- Breaking In, which had decent ratings that were, however, heavily inflated by an American Idol lead-in, is gone. This makes Christian Slater’s third straight failed series.
- The Chicago Code is gone, making Shawn Ryan’s second canceled series in a year. This is the really sad one among the cancellations: a good cast and some good writing, plus the Chicago atmosphere (though they said “Chicago” too often). It was a potentially fine 10 o’clock series that had the misfortune of being on a network that doesn’t have any 10 o’clock slots.
- Human Target, after a bad second-season retool, is canceled, another demonstration that the broadcast networks have become puzzlingly bad at doing escapist action fare. USA and TNT do this stuff with relative ease.
- Lie To Me was canceled, and I don’t have much of an opinion on this one, but it hung on for 48 episodes.
- Finally, Fox canceled the comedy Traffic Light, meaning things haven’t been great for U.S. adaptations of Israeli shows - In Treatment bit it earlier this year.
The pickups Fox announced so far include The New Girl, their marquee comedy pilot: written by Liz Meriwether (who just wrote the successful movie No Strings Attached) and starring Zooey Deschanel, I’ve heard it described as kind of a cross between Three’s Company and Family Guy. Damon Wayans Jr. is in it, and as I said, it would be smart strategy on ABC’s part to pick up Happy Endings (apart from the fact that I like that show) since Fox would then have to recast Wayans’ part and spend money to reshoot all his scenes in New Girl.
The other comedy Fox picked up is I Hate My Teenage Daughter, starring Jaime Pressley and Katie Finneran; the fact that it’s a multi-camera show (aka Lowbrow Dinosaur Comedy™) suggests that the format will make more of a comeback this season than it did last season, when Fox and NBC didn’t pick up any such shows. Though if Fox tries to schedule it with a single-camera show it’ll probably wind up stone dead whether it’s good or bad – as Fox executives themselves have said, the two formats no longer go together.
The two drama pickups so far are J.J. Abrams’ Alcatraz and Hart Hanson’s previously-mentioned Bones backdoor pilot The Finder. Both are a bit surprising: rumours were (but you know where the rumours often come from: insiders trying to sell their show or tear down someone else’s) that Fox was more interested in other dramas. But instead Alcatraz is in and a couple of sure-thing pilots are out. The premise sounds like yet another attempt to make a new Lost without understanding what made Lost work – namely that there was an interesting premise to hang onto at first even if you didn’t really care about the big mystery. But you can never tell from a description alone. That goes for all the new shows, obviously.
Finally, a word about why this time of year is exciting to TV geeks: I think part of it is still related to the very compressed schedule that TV pilot pickups run on in the U.S. The pilots are shot, edited, delivered and then accepted or rejected in a very short length of time – sometimes a show may be picked up or turned down the week after it’s shot. The people whose pilots don’t get picked up can move on to other things, look for other jobs, but at least it’s quick, and it’s kind of exciting (if you’re interested in that sort of thing) because the answers come fairly fast. In Canada, where a tremendous amount of time may pass between writing and shooting, shooting and pilot pickup, making the series and airing it, it’s hard to create that kind of energy to the process.