Upfront roundup: TNT and TBS are no longer content to be mere cable networks
In addition to the big upfront events for the big four networks and their annoying kid sibling The CW, the past couple of months have seen any number of upfronts for cable networks. We don’t cover many of these, because most of them involve the head of the network going before advertisers and saying, “We’re announcing a 400 percent increase in Guy Fieri content!” and the advertisers applauding politely or something similar. But we’ll make an exception for the core Turner networks—TNT and TBS—because they have a lot of new content coming, and they’ve also announced that they intend to begin their “evolution” from “linear networks” to “branded video destinations,” which sounds a lot like the TV equivalent of what happened to the Mayor at the end of the third season of Buffy. This evolution will take two years, and then we will gaze upon the higher cable lifeform in awe.
Honestly, we don’t know what all of this means, and the Turner press release on the topic is hazy. Presumably, it just means that there will be a dedicated website for streaming Turner-related content, but… the network already sort of has that with the TNT streaming media player, and it’s not so important that you’d think the company would devote so much time at its upfront to it (especially when TNT will be airing nine original series this summer, a basic cable record). On the other hand, business types get really excited about saying prosaic things in really elaborate ways, and we guess “branded video destination” sounds more exciting than “a YouTube personally curated by Ted Turner himself.” Anyway, you should know that if you watch a Turner network in 2014 or later, you will be gazing upon the Star-Baby of cable TV. And God forbid if you try to watch it linearly! Tremble before its majesty!
But for now, TNT and TBS will have to content themselves with being mere “linear” TV networks, which means they need to announce the new series they’ll be debuting this summer. TNT has Dallas, which you probably already know about, as well as new series Perception (Eric McCormick solves crimes) and Major Crimes (Mary McDonnell solves crimes). They’ve also got a host of returning series, including everybody’s favorite, Falling Skies. New series to come next season include Monday Mornings, a hospital drama from David E. Kelley, and a bunch of reality series. In fact, the network will get its start in the reality genre this summer with The Great Escape, which is exactly what it sounds like (by which we mean that contestants time travel into a grueling prisoner of war situation, then attempt to tunnel out).
TBS is further behind on the whole “original content” thing than TNT is, but it makes so much money from Big Bang Theory reruns that it will almost certainly catch up quickly. This summer will see the launch of the scripted series Men At Work and Sullivan & Son, with the show Wedding Band following later this year. And, as you may have heard, the network has picked up Cougar Town originals starting next season, thus removing all of the hard “development” work in developing a great comedy series. TBS also has a fleet of reality shows coming, but it lists them as being for “comedy rebels,” so if you watch them, you can know that you aren’t a conformist.
As per usual, the networks also announced a number of series in development. Most of these will never make it to air (and to read a full list, check out the network’s press release here), but we were intrigued by Steven Bochco’s attempt to redo his famed experiment Murder One in something called “Untitled Steven Bochco Murder Mystery project” and a small town drama from screenwriter Ron Shelton. Also, there’s a show that sounds vaguely similar to ABC’s new Last Resort, in which the crew of a naval destroyer discovers a pandemic has killed most of the world’s population. Michael Bay will direct the pilot if it happens, which should send shivers up everyone’s spine. Of course, we can theorize, but we all know that TNT will just pick up the series it has in development based on David Baldacci’s novels, as well as a reality series where Matthew McConaughey tries to pick the best unsigned bar band in America.
TBS, again, has less in the pipeline than TNT does, but two of its three scripted series in development are from Conan O’Brien’s production company, including the most generic small town comedy you’ve ever heard of (golden boy has to move back home) and a show where three roommates discover that an “evil but very hip alien” is now living in their building. So, yeah, he’s evil, but at least he’s hip!
And, finally, to bury the lede, TBS is also working with Norm Macdonald on an unscripted series called Norm Macdonald Is Trending that literally just sounds like a show where Norm Macdonald reads the Internet out loud to you. That… sounds pretty good, actually.
We’ll know more about if any of these projects in development actually become pilots or series later in the year.