Monday, October 09, 2006

The New Show Power Rankings

In case you missed the big news, CBS has already canned Smith, while NBC is subjecting Kidnapped to a slow, torturous "death by short-run series on Saturday nights." Yes, that's right, it's that time of the year: when new shows start getting axed and network execs start saving face!

Like any good gladiator-type activity, you can't tell the players without a scorecard. That's why this seemed like a good time to introduce a new gimmick to the BlogCritics domain, and thus, to the massive, freakish community we call the Internet.

Starting today, my very handsome brother, Drew, and I will be posting a weekly "New TV Shows: The Power Rankings" column to keep you up to date on what to watch, what to TiVo and maybe-watch-if-all-else-fails, and what to avoid at all costs. Okay, so it won't be that in-depth, but it will still rate the top 10 new shows each week in real time. (And by shows, we mean shows with real actors, no reality TV.)

This isn't an end-all list, but rather a concentrated place to chatter about the new slate of television, argue about what is working and what isn't, and to rail on the general populous for watching reruns of CSI: Miami while our favorite new shows die on the ratings vine. To us, the most interesting things going on in television right now are A) the ongoing battles between studio-produced shows and reality TV, and B) the annual survival of the fittest competition undertaken by all the new shows. We can keep on eye on all of that right here.

The initial list will focus more on the big picture, while subsequent Power Rankings will feature movement based on the previous week's slate of shows. Let's get it going.

The Top 10

1. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. It appears Aaron Sorkin is back to his old manic (you fill in the blanks) ways and the rapid-fire dialogue, multi-tiered cast, and revolving plots of Sports Night and early seasons of The West Wing are back with him. The question is whether the viewers that failed to keep Sports Night on the air will show up this time around. We know from Entourage that a surprising number of people will tune in to an industry show that might seem too far inside at first glance. However, we also know that Entourage airs on HBO, where the pressure to bring in 15 million viewers isn't a factor. So far the show has been fantastic, allowing Matthew Perry to shine while balancing him against a stellar ensemble cast. It will be interesting to see if the story lines can remain riveting now that "Matt and Danny" are firmly entrenched at Studio 60.

2. Heroes. If you were going to back a new show in the hopes that it will survive and thrive in the same way that Lost did two years ago, this might be your best bet. Heroes is getting good buzz from critics and fans alike and has posted good numbers to boot. It feels a bit too much like a scaled-down X-Men rip, but that actually works out okay, because this is the year of derivative television. Studio 60 mocks SNL. Ugly Betty is borrowed from a Spanish Channel Telenovella. Friday Night Lights is a TV show based on a movie which is based on a book. The recently-canceled Smith just threw together some scenes from Heat, Ocean's 11, and The Italian Job and called it a day. Kidnapped is merely the product of someone thinking, "Hey, what if we made Man on Fire into a TV show?" And on and on it goes. So once you understand the landscape, you can really get behind Heroes, which is well-done, intriguing, and showing a capacity for real mystery, which is what made Lost a sensation long before the more compelling human dramas kicked in. (Although I think we can all agree that the cast of Heroes is a far cry from that of Lost.

3. The Nine. I'm not sure people are going to tune in often enough to keep this one on the air, but here's hoping that they do. There was a big drop from Lost to The Nine last week, and to be honest, I'm not sure why. It is another drama about human connections and relentless adversity, so you would think the audience is there. Maybe it just too much in one block of time. That said, the pilot was extremely compelling and the show seems to have a Matthew Fox type that can anchor the ensemble cast in Tim Daly. It is a little jolting to see Scott Wolf back at work, but other than that, this show might be a winner.

4. Jericho. CBS' new concept drama doesn't seem to be as well-written as the previous shows on this list, but the sheer fact that this fictional world is going up in a literal mushroom cloud of smoke makes for good entertainment. I could do without Skeet Ulrich and his vacant expressions as a lead, but the actors are pretty tolerable across the board. Jericho has two big things going for it: A) It is doing pretty well in the ratings department, which means that fans of the show have some hope, and B) The possibilities are endless for plot turns. I have a good feeling about this show, even if I don't know why.

5. Friday Night Lights. You should know that we're not NBC acolytes, even if we do have three of the Peacock's shows in the top five. It seems a lot of people are singing the praises of these dramas, yet NBC is getting crushed in the ratings. This just proves once again that the average American just wants to turn off his brain when it comes time to plop down on the coach and watch the tube. I'm not sure how to solve this problem, other than to convince the networks to convince the advertisers that sometimes quality is better than quantity. Bright, engaged viewers who are willing to lock in for a demanding, challenging show are far more likely to retain something from the ads that float across the airwaves. Or something like that. Anyway, we had low expectations going in for Friday Night Lights because it was just made into a movie a few years ago, but the pilot was phenomenal. The game action could use some work (too many close ups, implausible scenarios, and continuity issues), but the human drama was fabulous. Peter Berg strikes me as one of those guys that knows an incredible amount about the world, yet is able to deliver it in a manner that is easy to digest and completely lacking in pretense. Is that a genius? It might be.

6. Shark. One recent trend in studio television is to anchor a new series with a proven actor. Ever since Keifer started blowing everyone off the screen as Jack Bauer, networks have been eager to get their greedy little paws on a proven commodity. We've seen Jeremy Piven light things up on Entourage, Dennis Leary absolutely dominate on Rescue Me, Steve Carrell own the comedy world on The Office, and even Martin Sheen pass as a president on The West Wing. It makes me wonder what would happen if Leo DiCaprio ever did an episodic drama; we'd probably wet our collective pants. This year Bridget Moynahan lends a hand on Six Degrees, Amanda Peet stars on Studio 60, and Ray Liotta crashed and burned on Smith. The latest attempts have ranged from "largely irrelevant" to "unmitigated disaster" with one notable exception: James Woods is owning his new role as a defensive attorney-turned-prosecutor. Episodic legal shows have done well for decades and this latest incarnation appears to be following in that tradition as it is holding up in the ratings and getting some pretty good buzz.

7. The Class. Here's our first sitcom. We've obviously become spoiled by the likes of The Office, Arrested Development, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Scrubs, because many of us absolutely CAN NOT tolerate a laugh track. It makes you want to gouge your eyes out with a spoon. Nevertheless, this is actually a decent show with some funny lines and sight gags. We felt obligated to put a sitcom on here, so there you go. Let's see if it sticks.

8. Ugly Betty. People seem to really love this show, which makes sense, as it is pulling off the rarely seen "Double Rip." Not only is it an American version of a Telenovella, it is also blatantly cashing in on the success of The Devil Wears Prada. Amazing. That said, it is still well-done, funny, and occasionally poignant.

9. Dexter. This is totally cheating since Dexter is a Showtime contribution and they clearly play by different rules (I don't think a network could get away with a show about a good guy running around and killing people to feed his homicidal urges). That said, it is new and it is a show and Showtime doesn't have a "its not television" ad campaign, so we're counting it. The fact that it falls this far down the list is proof that it really isn't that good. For pay cable, I was highly disappointed. Michael C. Hall is pretty terrific, but it seems like they picked up the rest of the cast by handing out casting invites on Melrose Street. Just a lot of really, really bad acting in the pilot.

10. Six Degrees. J.J. Abrams' latest opus on the connectivity of life is more like a tribute to mediocrity. The aforementioned Monyahan is mailing it in, Jay Rodriguez is wearing a "when do I get to do another teenie bopper movie?" expression, and Erika Christensen continues to prove what a fluke her performance in Traffic was. If it wasn't for the guy that plays Hugh Grant's limo driver in Two Weeks Notice (playing, shockingly, a limo driver in this show), the cast would be pretty much uninspiring across the board. All of that said, we find ourselves tuning in every week to see all the crazy ways that people's lives overlap and connect. (Of course, we are the only ones, as this looks like a ratings disaster.) If you like that "Oh wow, they bumped into each two years before at a bar!" aspect of Lost, this might be the show for you. Without the polar bears, hatches, and Others, of course.

Just Missed: Brothers and Sisters, Men in Trees, and everyone's favorite soon-to-be-cancelled guilty pleasure Justice.

On The Way: 30 Rock, Twenty Good Years, and Knights of Prosperity

Little Chance of Ever Making This List: Vanished, Standoff, Happy Hour, 'Till Death, and Help Me Help You.

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