Last September, a Time cover story declared Jay Leno the “future of television” in advance of his soon-to-debut five-days-a-week-at-10 p.m. program, The Jay Leno Show. It was a daring pronouncement in conjunction with a daring decision. But there’s a thin line between “daring” and “stupid.” That leaves an unanswered question: If putting Jay Leno on the show five nights a week isn’t the future of TV, what is? Can the answer be found among this year’s crop of new shows? Let’s have a look! (All times listed are Eastern Standard.)
HBO, 9 p.m. (premières 9/19)
Premise: Atlantic City, 1920: Town treasurer Nucky Thompson (played by Steve Buscemi) pulls the strings on real estate, politics, and rum-running, while fending off threats from younger mobsters and federal agents.
How it might be the future of TV: Just like the movie business, television has been struggling to come up with programming that qualifies as an “event”—the kinds of shows people make sure to watch as soon as they can, so they can be part of the cultural conversation. With a creative team that includes Martin Scorsese and a number of the writers and directors who worked on The Sopranos, and a cast including such formidable actors as Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Kenneth Williams, Michael Pitt, and even some people not named Michael, Boardwalk Empire looks to be the show the cognoscenti will be digging and debating this fall.
Odds it actually will be the future of TV: High. If not the future of TV, it’s at least the future of HBO. After a post-Sopranos lull, HBO has been regaining some swagger lately with True Blood, and it’s looking to capitalize on that with a slate of buzzworthy new series. It’s no accident that Boardwalk Empire is the first out of the gate; early reviews have been raves, and HBO clearly thinks the show will draw enough new subscribers to justify the expense of everything it has planned over the next year.
Mike & Molly
CBS, 9:30 p.m. (premières 9/20)
Premise: Billy Gardell and Melissa McCarthy play a cop named Mike and a teacher named Molly, who meet at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting and embark on a romance, over the objections of their friends and family.
How it might be the future of TV: Maybe TV will go the way of the comics page and start delivering middle-of-the-road comedy targeted to different demographic groups. Today: the plus-sized. Tomorrow: the bespectacled. The possibilities are limitless.
Odds it actually will be the future of TV: Low. If anything, like all sitcoms produced by Chuck Lorre, Mike & Molly aims to be part of television’s past: multi-camera, shot in front of a studio audience, full of broad, crass jokes. Then again, Lorre’s shows are well-made and draw viewers, so they’ll likely be a part of the telescape for years to come.
NBC, 9 p.m. (premières Sept. 20)
Premise: The Event practically demands to be written about in all capital letters. HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT THE EVENT? WHAT IS THE EVENT?! Sad thing is, even after seeing the pilot, we’d be hard-pressed to tell you just what the titular event is, though we’d have a few spoiler-y guesses. It’s about a guy whose girlfriend disappears, a young president who has been kept out of the loop, and a bunch of people doing stupid things because the plot requires it of them.
How it might be the future of TV: NBC is taking its chance on a hybrid of 24 and Lost because there’s a tremendous upside for any network that manages the feat, in the form of DVD sales, a devoted cult audience, and water-cooler buzz. On the other hand, there’s a long, long list of shows that debuted after 24 and Lost, tried to copy those two shows, and completely failed. Most of them lavished far more attention on the pilot’s plot than its characters. At least in the pilot, The Event looks like its creators learned no lessons from those shows.
Odds it actually will be the future of TV: 50-1. Even if The Event overcomes its bad case of the pilots, it seems unlikely that TV will suddenly be buried in compelling, action-heavy, pseudo-science-fiction serialized dramas with high-concept premises. We already tried that. It failed. Thanks.
NBC, 10 p.m. (premières 9/20)
Premise: In Houston, U.S. Marshal Annie Frost (Kelli Giddish) has heart, soul, a dead mama, and a thirst for justice, or chasing bad guys, or consoling little girls, or some combination of the three. Apparently this makes her different from every other cop-show lead on television, possibly based on levels of grit and/or spunkiness.
How it might be the future of TV: Executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer has a string of hits under his belt by now. His CSI and its various iterations established the current format of cop procedurals, and Chase looks like it downplays the science in favor of sentimental ass-kicking.
Odds it actually will be the future of TV: Zero. In Plain Sight already exists, so if Chase is the future, we’re already living it.
CBS, 10 p.m. (premières 9/20)
Premise: A reboot/remake/re-imagining of the classic long-running detective show starring Jack Lord, this new version features Alex O’Loughlin as Steve McGarrett, Scott (son of James) Caan as Danno, Lost’s Daniel Dae Kim as Chin Ho, and Battlestar Galactica’s Grace Park as Kona. As in the original series, McGarrett is a Navy vet given carte blanche by the governor (Jean Smart, taking a break from Lifetime movies of the week) to combat crime in the island paradise.
How it might be the future of TV: It’s a pretty tough sell to say a straight-up redo of a 42-year-old show is the future of TV, but people often claim you look forward by looking back. Anyway, Lost was the future of TV at one point, and it shared with Five-0 not only Dae Kim, but a bunch of gorgeous Hawaiian filming locations that annoy those of us who don’t get to work on a tropical beach all day.
Odds it actually will be the future of TV: 15-1. It looks like a lot of fun, sure, and it might even turn out to be a hit, but honestly, the most forward-thinking thing about it is that the title has a zero at the end instead of a letter “O.”
Fox, 9 p.m. (premières 9/20)
Premise: It’s basically Dallas without the cheesier bits. Bob Taylor (James Wolk) is a con man working in the Texas oil fields and trying to pull his biggest scam yet as he gets roped into the fake life he’s leading, one that involves having a girlfriend in one town and a wife in the other. Along the way, he gets in over his head, of course, but always leaves himself an escape route. The cast also features Jon Voight and Friday Night Lights’ Adrianne Palicki.
How it might be the future of TV: Lone Star is Fox’s big gamble that the kinds of closely observed character studies popular with a niche audience on cable might also be popular with the broader audience that watches House on network television. Wolk’s resemblance to Jon Hamm is so pronounced, in fact, that this might as well be Dallas crossed with Mad Men.
Odds it actually will be the future of TV: 10-1. If anybody sticks around after House to watch this on a week-to-week basis, then more networks might take chances on more challenging, character-driven fare. More likely: The show attracts a fervent cult audience and suffers several scheduling changes before dying a quiet death at season’s end.
No Ordinary Family
ABC, 8 p.m. (premières 9/28)
Premise: A frazzled family of four survives a plane crash in the Amazon rainforest and discover they have superpowers, forcing them to deal with unexpected responsibilities and a new sense of closeness.
How it might be the future of TV: Um… no one’s sick of superheroes yet, are they? (Seriously, are they? ABC would like to know before picking up the back nine.)Odds it actually will be the future of TV: Low. Co-creator Greg Berlanti has been involved with similarly high-concept series (like Jack & Bobby and Eli Stone) that didn’t fully come off. And while stars Michael Chiklis and Julie Benz are terrific dramatic actors, they haven’t shown much evidence of having a light enough touch to play the sweet and sentimental scenes this show will require. Still, if the premise was good enough for The Fantastic Four and The Incredibles, there’s no reason to think it won’t do reasonably well again—for a season or two, at least.
ABC, 10 p.m. (premières 9/21)
Premise: Detroit 187 delves into the most violent side of the country’s most violent city, following Detroit’s homicide unit as it struggles to protect and preserve a city in crisis. Veteran detective Michael Imperioli heads up a group of stock characters, including a sexy, edgy girl from the streets; her smooth-talking, wisecracking partner; a 30-year vet struggling with retirement; and a strong single mother juggling home and work. Originally conceived as a mockumentary, Detroit 187 was retooled into a more traditional hourlong-drama format after Detroit banned police ride-alongs following a young child’s death during the filming of an actual police documentary.
How it might be the future of TV: Detroit’s rapid economic descent and the myriad social problems that accompanied it are more than a little similar to another once-great American city that served as the setting for a gritty police drama. Could Detroit 187 be the network-television version of The Wire, exposing the darkest parts of a city that the rest of the country has turned its back on?
Odds it actually will be the future of TV: It most likely won’t. The series’ promise of “crisis and revelation, heartbreak and heroism,” combined with the presence of executive producer David Zabel, who oversaw ER, another gritty show with a gooey center, bodes well for a standard crime procedural that makes viewers feel sympathy, but not empathy for the dying city. Factor in the fact that the pilot was shot primarily in Atlanta—in spite of Detroit’s recent resurgence as a hot filming locale—and the title’s reference to a California police code, and it’s clear that verisimilitude isn’t going to be Detroit 187’s chief concern.
Fox, 9 p.m. (premières 9/21)
Premise: The life of a pool cleaner (Lucas Neff) who’s still living at home takes a sharp turn when he’s charged with caring for the child he unknowingly fathered with a now-imprisoned felon (Bijou Phillips). Will his parents (Martha Plimpton, Garret Dillahunt) overcome their reluctance and help raise—pause to allow readers a chance to guess her name—Hope? Apart from the prison angle, the premise sounds sappy, but the show comes from My Name Is Earl creator Greg Garcia, and early clips suggest he’ll undercut the sap with the same absurdist humor and blue-collar detail. Plus, it’s great to see the underutilized Plimpton in a major role. And then there are these magic words: “Guest-starring Cloris Leachman.”
How it might be the future of TV: More like an early-’00s single-camera Fox comedy than an NBC program, My Name Is Earl always felt like a throwback to the recent past. Heart gave Garcia’s show distinction, however, and with Modern Family working a one-camera-and-hugs combo, television is safer than ever for shows that cut sharpness with sentiment.
Odds it actually will be the future of TV: Decent. Earl was a pretty good show that perpetually fell short of greatness. Maybe it needed Leachman?
Fox, 9:30 p.m. (premières 9/21)
Premise: The creative team behind Arrested Development returns with another offbeat comedy, this time about a spoiled oil heir (Will Arnett) who considers throwing away his fortune to win back his childhood sweetheart, environmental activist Keri Russell. For additional difficulty, the show is told from the perspective of a mute 12-year-old girl.
How it might be the future of TV: When it inevitably gets cancelled, hardcore telephiles will pine for more shows like Running Wilde, which means there’ll be another smart, funny, off-kilter, wildly unpopular sitcom arriving right on its heels.
Odds it actually will be the future of TV: Lower than low, so enjoy it while it’s around, and look forward to many years of creator Mitchell Hurwitz teasing us with a potential Running Wilde movie alongside his nonexistent Arrested Development reunion.
Better With You
ABC, 8:30 p.m. (premières 9/22)
Premise: Three couples: One (Kurt Fuller and Debra Jo Rupp) has been married for 35 years. Their daughter (Jennifer Finnigan) has been living with her boyfriend (Josh Cooke) for nine years. Their other daughter (Joanna Garcia) has just announced her engagement to a relatively recent boyfriend (Jake Lacy). Can this group somehow form a more multi-camera, punchline-driven modern family?
How it might be the future of TV: There’s been a mini-resurgence of traditional sitcoms over the last couple of years, and creator Shana Goldberg-Meehan, a veteran of Friends and, well, Joey, certainly knows his way around the field. He also enlisted veteran director James Burrows to assist behind the camera, and found a telegenic cast to provide the laughs in front of it. If it succeeds, we could see many more shows like this.
Odds it actually will be the future of TV: Depends on whether the laughs are there. The preview clips looks turn-the-channel-quick broad.
The Whole Truth
ABC, 10 p.m. (premières 9/22)
Premise: Maura Tierney and Rob Morrow are attorneys on the opposite side of the bench. Thrill as they square off, as the prosecution and the defense, respectively, on a high-concept new drama that shows what happens when a producer decides to create the next Law & Order, but also wants to save money on sets. But hey, Maura Tierney!
How it might be the future of TV: The Wire already went down the showing-both-sides-of-a-case road, but it never really caught the popular imagination. With Jerry Bruckheimer as one of the executive producers, and a cast stacked with TV ringers, maybe Truth can fine-tune the formula and inspire a new generation of balanced, immersive storytelling.
Odds it actually will be the future of TV: Irrelevant. There will always be shows about good-looking people shouting at each other in courtrooms.
CBS, 10 p.m. (premières 9/22)
Premise: Jerry O’Connell! Jim Belushi! It just wouldn’t be television without them, would it? One starred on According To Jim for 18 seasons (we think), while the other has been on every show you probably haven’t been watching for the last decade or so. Together they’re a tough team of hard-driving Las Vegas defense attorneys, because that had to happen eventually right?
How it might be the future of TV: Lawyers. B-list stars. Las Vegas. It’s already the past, present, and future of TV.
Odds it actually will be the future of TV: On the other hand, the combination of widely tolerated stars, legal-drama overload, and a too-familiar setting might sink it before it gets going.
NBC, 8 p.m. (premières 9/22)
Premise: Hey, remember Mr. And Mrs. Smith? That was pretty fun, right, what with attractive people and sexual tension and shooting and so forth. Now imagine that as a weekly series from J.J. Abrams, with Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw standing in for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
How it might be the future of TV: Alias, Abrams’ last attempt at a spy show, started strong but fell apart in the final stretch. Hopefully he’s learned his lesson, and Undercovers’ lighter tone and focus on relationship over mythology will satisfy fans for years to come.
Odds it actually will be the future of TV: 50 percent, or roughly one Hart. The ’80s retro-series has been hanging around the fringes for a while now, and this might be the show that finally puts it over the edge.
Law & Order: Los Angeles
NBC, 10 p.m. (premières 9/29)
Premise: In the criminal-justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime, and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories that take place in Los Angeles.
How it might be the future of TV: We in the television-critic industrial complex like to pretend that what we say matters, that the people of America are hanging on what’s coming up next on Sons Of Anarchy or Friday Night Lights just as much as we are. Generally, though, we’re wrong. The people of America tend to want shows that are as much like the other shows they’ve enjoyed in the past as possible, and if the network could put the title of the show they enjoyed in the past in the title as well, that’d be just peachy.
Odds it actually will be the future of TV: Even. Sure, it’s fun to pretend that shows like Lone Star or Boardwalk Empire are going to ignite a new round of auteur-ish TV, but it’s far more likely that people will return to their old comfort foods. A recent survey of which new shows viewers were most looking forward to this fall conducted by Program Pulse Premiere Tracking found the top two shows—in a tie—to be Law & Order: Los Angeles and Hawaii Five-O. As much as we’d all like to pretend otherwise, most TV is watched by your mom.
The CW, 8 p.m. (premières 9/8)
Premise: A couple of Disney Channel alums graduate to the teen-friendly confines of The CW in this comedic drama about a pre-law student (Alyson Michalka) who’s forced to put aside her jaded sneer and all-black wardrobe and resurrect her past as a gymnast in order to get the cheerleading scholarship she needs to stay in school. Along the way, she clashes with cheer captain Ashley Tisdale, charms her sexy new teammate Robbie Jones, and presumably learns a lot about friendship and teamwork and junk. Think Bring It On goes to college, with all the co-ed-dormitory and locker-room antics that implies.
How it might be the future of TV: Hellcats plays fast and loose with standard female hair-color signifiers, pitting an edgy blonde outsider against a brunette cheer captain. With casting chutzpah like that, who knows what other radical variations on the college-outsider theme this show has in store?
Odds it actually will be the future of TV: Slim, but not outside the realm of possibility. It’s based on Kate Torgovnick’s CHEER! Inside The Secret World Of College Cheerleaders, which takes an in-depth investigative look at the misunderstood sport, and the pilot was written by Desperate Housewives alum Kevin Murphy, who wrote 2005’s Reefer Madness. So perhaps Hellcats will avoid the standard Hollywood clichés about cheerleading, or at least have some fun with them. Plus, Smallville star Tom Welling is executive producing, and if Superman likes it…
FX, 10 p.m. (premières 9/8)
Premise: Ocean’s Eleven co-writer Ted Griffin and The Shield creator Shawn Ryan team up for a serio-comic crime series about an ex-cop (Donal Logue) who pairs with his best buddy (Michael Raymond-James) in an unlicensed private-investigation business. No cases are too small—the pilot has them recovering an abducted bulldog—but they can lead to bigger trouble.
How it might be the future of TV: Irreverent private-eye shows are no stranger to television—hello, Veronica Mars—but the mix of low comedy and Shield-style grittiness has the potential to reinflate the wheel, if not exactly reinvent it. Terriers is certainly trying to affect the future of promos: Can a show hook viewers with five-to-10-second spots that tell them virtually nothing about it? We’ll see.
Odds it actually will be the future of TV: Ryan’s The Shield enjoyed a seven-season FX run that ended as satisfyingly as any series in recent memory. It stands to reason that his return to the network will be fruitful, though how well he handles light comedy is an open question.
ABC, 8 p.m. (premières 9/23)
Premise: There’s this thing called high school, and in this high school, there are people called students. Sometimes those students graduate from the high school, and are forced to live in the real world. Then, 10 years later, they come back, because it’s not like anyone has anything better to do.
How it might be the future of TV: The “young people struggle to find meaning through sex and pop-music montages” genre is a staple of the modern TV schedule, but My Generation adds a new wrinkle to the concept. Instead of bringing a cast together at a single workplace, or making them all vampires, the show follows the graduating class of a Texas high school a decade after their senior year. The wide variety of potential storylines, plus the potential backstory reveals, could herald a new kind of cliché.
Odds it actually will be the future of TV: Maybe 30 percent. It’s hard to imagine the high-school setup staying relevant past the mid-season mark, and then it’s just blandly attractive archetypes going through the motions.
$h*! My Dad Says
CBS, 8:30 p.m. (premières 9/23)
Premise: In this television adaptation of the popular Twitter feed from twentysomething Maxim writer turned bestselling author Justin Halpern, William Shatner portrays a father who says all kinds of stuff to his son after the younger gent moves home during a cash-flow crisis. What kind of stuff? Stuff so salty, the show couldn’t use the real title of the Twitter feed, Shit My Dad Says.
How it might be the future of TV: In the future, all forms of communication will be limited to 140 characters or less. Brevity will no longer be merely the soul of wit, it will become government-mandated. Embrace this new paradigm or perish, foolish earthling! Along with this new, succinct world order will come a whole wave of shows devoted to popular Twitter feeds, preferably starring camp icons from television’s past. Can Late Night With Drunk Hulk be next?
Odds it actually will be the future of TV: Relatively small. $h*! does represent a new, potentially terrifying paradigm (anything can be a TV show!), but it feels more like the much-maligned television adaptation of the Geico Caveman commercials than a vision of television’s tomorrow. Then again, Halpern’s $h*! book did hit No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list, so maybe this really is where we’re headed as a culture after all.
NBC, 9:30 p.m. (premières 9/23)
Premise: Cultures clash and hijinks ensue when Ben Rappaport gets sent to India to serve as the sole American employee in an Indian call center for a company that manufactures wacky novelty items in this adaptation of a little-seen 2006 independent film starring Josh Hamilton. Will Rappaport find love and laughs against this colorful backdrop? Tune in and find out.
How it might be the future of TV: Globalization isn’t just a concern for your spacey friend who shops at Whole Foods and voted for Ralph Nader: It’s now fodder for zany workplace sitcoms as well! It’s about time television gleaned laughs from rising unemployment and the loss of American jobs. Outsourced slips into a time slot previously occupied by Parks And Recreation, which NBC relegated to midseason-replacement purgatory. If a show this dire-looking (the wacky-novelty-items-heavy commercials are already infamous online) replacing arguably the funniest show on television represents the future of TV, then be afraid. Be very, very afraid.
Odds it actually will be the future of TV: Low. While globalization may be here to stay, it’s doubtful audiences have been hankering for fake-dog-poop gags and characters named “Manmeet.” Outsourced promises to bring together the worst of both worlds.
The CW, 9 p.m. (premières 9/9)
Premise: Nikita is a reboot of La Femme Nikita, itself a TV version of Luc Besson’s 1990 French thriller Nikita (a.k.a. La Femme Nikita), which was remade as the movie Point Of No Return. Got all that? Okay. Executive producer Craig Silverstein promises that the story of an ex-criminal turned deadly government agent will feature new characters, a new plot arc, and other unexpected elements in a story that’s already been told and retold four times in 20 years.
How it might be the future of TV: In addition to being produced by someone with one name (director McG, whose history in television is a tad mixed), Nikita stars an actress with an initial for a last name (Hong Kong star Maggie Q). Now that’s progressive! The show’s creators seem to be projecting it as something like a blend of Alias and Dollhouse, both of which looked like they might be the future of TV for a season or so.
Odds it actually will be the future of TV: 4:1. The well should be dry by this point, but La Femme Nikita lasted a surprising five seasons, and America’s appetite for hot women who kick ass remains undiminished. It may not be cutting-edge, but it’s the franchise that just won’t die.
Body Of Proof
ABC, 9 p.m. (premières 9/24)
Premise: In a show crammed with great supporting actors (including The Wire’s Sonja Sohn, Windell Middlebrooks, and character actor John Carroll Lynch), Dana Delany stars as the world’s greatest neurosurgeon until she’s in a near-fatal car accident, from which she emerges as the world’s greatest medical examiner. In spite of her unconventional style, she solves difficult crimes while constantly coming into conflict with the police and medical establishment. She also tries to manage her thorny personal life.
How it might be the future of TV: It is possible that Body Of Proof (formerly known as Body Of Evidence) will start a wacky trend among young people for getting into deadly auto crashes in hopes of being transformed from one kind of highly successful medical professional into another kind of highly successful medical professional. It’s also possible that, with ’80s nostalgia nearly exhausted, fans of China Beach and Star Trek: Voyager will flock to see Delany and co-star Jeri Ryan.
Odds it actually will be the future of TV: 100,000:1. If you read the description of the show and felt like you’d heard it about a million times before, that’s because you have. Even watching the previews, it’s impossible to escape the sense that you already watched it while waiting for something better to come on.
CBS, 10 p.m. (premières 9/24)
Premise: Police chief Tom Selleck heads a family of New York law enforcers that includes a detective (Donnie Wahlberg) and an assistant district attorney (Bridget Moynahan). Together, they solve crime. Or commit it. Or cover it up. Right now it’s unclear what kind of show Blue Bloods wants to be. Sopranos veterans Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess created it. Showrunner Ken Sanzel came in to run it, but got forced out in a power struggle with Selleck.
How it might be the future of TV: Network dramas badly need something with the heat and complexity of cable shows. This could be that.
Odds it actually will be the future of TV: Poor. It’s arriving as a show in crisis in a time slot that doesn’t allow for much complexity. It will likely defensively bland itself out of existence before long.
NBC, 8 p.m., (premières 9/24)
Premise: Call it Extreme Makeover: Crummy Middle School In Compton Edition: In this uplifting reality series, communities come together on a 10-day project to rebuild poor, dilapidated school buildings. Lest you worry that the transformation is style over substance, the official description won’t set your mind at ease: “A little beautification can go a long way toward improving education.”
How it might be the future of TV: With the drawn-out recession and increased calls for budget austerity threatening our already inadequate education funding, reality shows like School Pride may be the only thing keeping our children from rotting away in moldy, rat-infested hellpits. Now, they can learn about the wonders of creationism and abstinence while sitting on ergonomic chairs in sparkling-clean classrooms.
Odds it actually will be the future of TV: None. School Pride is firmly rooted in the tried-and-true, applying the Extreme Makeover formula to the school system in order to give the illusion that benevolent network intervention can held solve intractable problems.
ABC, 8 p.m. (première date TBD)
Premise: In this adaptation of a British reality show, millionaires confront an almost unimaginable horror: living and working among the common people. What could inspire seemingly sane souls—heck, they’re better than sane, they’re rich—to pursue such a foolhardy endeavor? They’re driven by the opportunity to appear on television, of course. Oh, and we suppose they have a slightly more noble motivation as well: The millionaires seek out worthy causes and shower money on them, once they reveal themselves to be richer than old Scrooge McDuck.
How it might be the future of TV: As the middle class continues to recede, all television will center on rich people using their vast wealth and infinite moral superiority to help the human garbage on the lowest end of the socio-economic spectrum.
Odds it actually will be the future of TV: Moderate. For audiences still smarting from a seemingly endless recession and an ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor, this has a pretty nifty hook, and adaptations of British hits have proven successful in the past: American Idol, The Office. Still, Fox already gave this a shot a couple of years ago without finding traction.
NBC, 10 p.m. (premières 9/15)
Premise: A conservative Supreme Court justice (Jimmy Smits) shocks the country when he abruptly steps down from a lifetime appointment in the most powerful court in the land to serve as a private defense attorney. His mission? To represent “lost souls” in the legal system, like the wrongly accused death-row inmate (RZA) in the pilot episode.
How it might be the future of TV: If Outlaw is a success, perhaps other series about people who leave the most prestigious jobs in their field in order to “make a difference” in far less powerful positions will start popping up. How about the manager of the New York Yankees resigning to coach a ragtag team of troubled youths at a juvenile detention facility? Or a five-star master chef who transforms a soup kitchen into a trendy spot where the city’s most destitute can see and be seen?
Odds it actually will be the future of TV: Slim. Smits is a charismatic, bankable star, but the concept stretches credulity on so many levels that Outlaw seems like the lucky beneficiary of NBC’s Jay Leno Show-fueled scheduling woes. It’s as if the network executives heard the words “Jimmy Smits” and “law show” in the pitch meeting, and said “Stop right there. Sold!”
The Walking Dead
AMC (premières in October)
Premise: The natural home for a gruesome, take-no-prisoners zombie series on basic cable is, of course, AMC, home of Mad Men and Breaking Bad. And yet, from the limited footage we’ve seen, this looks like it could do the trick. Writer-director Frank Darabont—most famous for The Shawshank Redemption—is behind the adaptation of the popular comics series, and comics creator Robert Kirkman will write at least one of the episodes. All you need to know is that it’s about a handful of people after the zombie apocalypse. Things somehow get worse from there.
How it might be the future of TV: At just a six-episode first season and as an adaptation of a pre-existing work, The Walking Dead points toward the ways that TV, especially cable TV, is working hard to catch up to film in areas where cinema has traditionally dominated. The short episode run allows Darabont to be more hands-on than he would be with a 22- or even 13-episode run, and it also allows for a cast full of movie character actors. Plus, in 15 years, every series will feature zombies.
Odds it actually will be the future of TV: 5-1. More and more popular novels and comics series are being optioned for development, but some of these early experiments will really need to take off to justify the expense inherent in these sorts of adaptations.