TV in the Age of Trump: Musicals, Murders and the Military
Musicals, murders and the military.
Television companies closed out their annual showcases of upcoming shows this past week, and billions will be spent in the next few months as advertisers decide which programs they want their commercials to appear with this fall.
Predicting whether a show will succeed or fail is a fool’s errand, but several themes rose to the forefront during the week’s presentations.
Strong Military Presence
One of the most pressing questions for TV executives after President Trump’s election: How would the occupant of the White House affect what showed up on the air? One trend that has emerged is the rise of shows with military themes. NBC is betting big on a drama called “The Brave,” which is getting the coveted 10 p.m. time slot after “The Voice” on Mondays. The show will center on a group of undercover military specialists. The CW will introduce a drama this fall called “Valor,” about a group of highly trained helicopter pilots. They will go on missions and apparently get mixed up in messy intraunit romances.
Valor | First Look Trailer | The CW
Video by The CW Television Network
And CBS will debut a drama called “SEAL Team.” Executives at the network feel this show has the best chance of being a hit. It stars David Boreanaz, who had leading roles in “Angel” and “Bones.”
True Murder and Mayhem
Thanks to the popularity of last year’s limited series about the O.J. Simpson trial on FX, the true-crime copycats are coming in a hurry.
NBC is bringing its 1990s marketing slogan “Must See TV” back to Thursday nights by putting its most anticipated revival, “Will & Grace,” at 8 p.m. and its biggest hit,“This Is Us,” at 9 p.m. That will lead into a limited series that executives have high hopes for: “Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders.” NBC’s uber-producer, Dick Wolf, is closely involved in the series, and Edie Falco has been cast as the lead lawyer who represented the brothers Erik and Lyle Menendez when they were tried for the murder of their parents. The show will start in September and run for eight episodes.
Advertisers also saw a trailer for a USA show about the murders of the rappers Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. Anthony Hemingway, who directed several episodes of “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” will be an executive producer. At the NBC Universal presentation, Telemundo previewed “El Secreto de Selena,” about the murder of Selena, the pop star who was killed in 1995, and FX is filming a new season of “American Crime Story” about the murder of the fashion designer Gianni Versace.
ABC has “The Gospel of Kevin” on Mondays at 10 p.m., a comedic drama about a down-on-his-luck guy who is visited by a sort-of angel who provides life advice. The network claimed that its results were through the roof with test audiences. And what made it appealing to ABC Entertainment’s president, Channing Dungey?
The Gospel of Kevin - Official Trailer
Video by ABC Television Network
“It is a show that really makes you feel, and it is heartwarming and it is joyful,” she said.
Perhaps an antidote to these politically divisive times?
CBS is turning to a comedy called “By the Book,” based on a memoir by A.J. Jacobs. The show will debut later this season and centers on a film critic for a New York newspaper who decides, after the death of a friend, to live his life strictly by the Bible. Reminder: It is a comedy.
Please Don’t Stop the Music
How is it that we have made it this far into a story about television without discussing ratings? Ratings are falling, which is a constant concern among industry executives. Viewership among adults under 50, the key demographic, dropped 11 percent across the broadcast networks this season.
Thanks to the success of decently rated live musical specials on NBC (“The Sound of Music,” “The Wiz”) and Fox (“Grease”), the networks are prepared to unleash a whole new batch.
Fox is making two live musicals with Marc Platt, a producer of “La La Land.” First up is a remake of the 1983 movie “A Christmas Story,” which will come out in December. In 2018, Fox will air “Rent.” NBC is continuing its December musical tradition with “Bye Bye Birdie,” which will star Jennifer Lopez. And ABC is getting into the live musical game for the first time with a live-action and animated production of “The Little Mermaid” that will air in October.
But the music is not limited to live productions. ABC is bringing back “American Idol” only a year after Fox took it off the air. The speedy resurrection has rivals sniping. Dana Walden, the chief executive and chairwoman of the Fox Television Group, told reporters that it would be “extremely fraudulent” to bring the show back so soon. And CBS’s chief executive, Les Moonves, nodding to the show’s production costs, said, “the price is so expensive you need a 35 share to break even,” a reference to a now-impossibly high rating.
The Mayor - Official Trailer
Video by ABC Television Network
ABC is also creating a new competition show called “Boy Band” that will be hosted by the singer and actress Rita Ora. And the network has a new comedy called “The Mayor” about a rapper who makes a surprising entry into politics. It will feature plenty of music and stars Lea Michele of “Glee” fame. NBC will roll out a new midseason drama, “Rise,” which looks like “Friday Night Lights” meets “Glee.”
Investing in Start-Ups
We have seen this script before. This past season, Fox released a show called “APB” about a tech mogul who tries to use his digital savvy to crack a murder case. Its ratings were woefully low, and it was canceled. But that did not stop two other networks from taking a crack at making Silicon Valley work.
Starting in September, CBS will introduce “Wisdom of the Crowd.” Jeremy Piven plays a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who develops a crowdsourcing app to try to solve his daughter’s murder, and apparently to help forever change crime solving.
WISDOM OF THE CROWD - First Look
Video by CBS
ABC is making a Zach Braff comedy based on the podcast “StartUp.” Mr. Braff created and stars in the show, which is about a radio journalist who quits his job to create a podcast. The show will debut later this year.
Home Is Where the Stars Are
Who says Bravo’s Andy Cohen can only work for NBC Universal?
Andy Cohen, the host of Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live,” was part of NBC Universal’s presentation on Monday. Just a few hours later, at Fox’s event, Mr. Cohen was featured in a highlight reel for the network’s upcoming reboot of “Love Connection.” Mr. Cohen will host, taking over the role of Chuck Woolery on that show.
Ryan Seacrest was another presence at NBC’s presentation, as E! promoted its red-carpet coverage for major awards shows. Mr. Seacrest’s aura lingered at Lincoln Center during ABC’s event on Tuesday; he is now Kelly Ripa’s co-host for the network’s morning talk show, “Live,” and it is possible he could return to host “American Idol.”
Katy Perry is coming to ABC’s “Idol” as a judge. Ms. Perry also appeared in a sizzle reel at the CBS event, because she will be a featured guest in the “Carpool Karaoke” prime-time special, a spinoff from a popular segment of James Corden’s “The Late Late Show.” And Mr. Corden showed up at Turner Entertainment’s event to promote the new TBS show “Drop the Mic,” of which he is an executive producer.
As TV shows expand, stars will no longer be limited to a single network.