For years now, ABC has rolled out Jimmy Kimmel to trash the network during upfronts time. The move is clearly aimed at reminding advertisers and critics alike that the Suits Who Dine With Mickey are oh-so-great because they are oh-so-aware-of-themselves. At what point this becomes obnoxious goes far beyond my low pay grade — sure, self-deprication is the easiest way to gain admirers, but once you get to Year 10 of this stuff, don’t you just want to turn around and say, “OK. We get it. We are stupid for believing your shows will be good, and you are stupid because you make shows that aren’t good?”
That’s not to say Kimmel isn’t worth a few genuine laughs each year. “NBC is on a roll,” he said last week during the network’s presentation. “Oh wait, not a roll. What do you call it? A spiral. It’s important to remember when you cancel one Matthew Perry show, three more rise up to take its place. Things are looking up for NBC since they finally got rid of their worst shows, ‘The Office’ and ’30 Rock.’ They’re planning a 12-day long game show called ‘The Million Second Quiz.’ The top prize is $10 million, which is pretty amazing. Not the prize, but the fact that NBC has $10 million. … The thing that’s important to remember is that last year NBC made a show starring a monkey and a lot of you bought advertising on it. So clearly none of us have any idea what we’re doing.”
We pour one out for you, “Animal Practice.”
As for what Donald Duck’s favorite network has in store for us in September … well, we have Joss Whedon (which will make some of you swoon), less dancing, lottery drama, the I-Still-Don’t-Get-It Rebel Wilson, a spinoff, something called “Trophy Wife” and, of course, the untouchable “Modern Family.” It’s nothing if not eclectic, friends, and if you can’t be eclectic in today’s world, you really have no business giving James Caan work, anyway.
So, behold entry No. 3 for this year’s upfronts coverage and three talking points for ABC’s upcoming television season (and, bonus Preakness coverage). That feeling in your fingers is the excitement that bleeds through the World Wide Internet. L.O.V. for you and me. It’s just the way it’s gotta be.
1. And about that whole Joss Whedon stuff …
The cult legend (and that’s not too strong a phrase) returns to television after a few years away with “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” a drama about super-heroes (surprise!), presumably in the same vein as his massively successful “The Avengers” (shock!). Because of how vehemently worshipped he is to some — and because of how well the aforementioned summer blockbuster did with those who may not have even known who he was beforehand — the results of this experiment may be one of the more intriguing subplots of the fall season. The guy behind some of the most celebrated and critically adored TV shows to never really be a commercial hit (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “Firefly”) has more traction with the mainstream now than ever. Combine that with the soaring popularity of well-done super-hereo-centric narratives and what you have is an equation that goes a little like this: Nerd Hero plus major network exposure minus former anonymity times a legion of die-hard followers divided by The Lion Kind equals ratings dream. All of this, of course, is in addition to what has become one of the more ballyhooed-about dramas on television these days, “Scandal.” The Los Angeles Times‘ Meredith Blake waxed poetic on as much last week when she noted how even Kimmel stepped away from the sarcasm to praise the show. “Even Jimmy Kimmel, in the middle of an otherwise caustic monologue, did some earnest ‘Scandal’ cheerleading,” she noted, “boasting that it’s the first network drama in 40 years to feature an African American female lead.” Rounding out the so-serious list will be the Steven Spielberg-led “Lucky 7” about a bunch of people who win the lottery and promptly see their lives go down the tubes, “Betrayal” about affairs, lawyers, court dates and, well, betrayal, and “Once Upon A Time In Wonderland,” a spin-off of the almost-unepextedly successful “Once Upon A Time.” Though this time, it’s in Wonderland. Get it? Good.
2. We can dance to the rhythm, we can dance to the morning light.
Bonus points for working a Zebrahead lyric into a blog post! “Dancing With The Stars,” the reality competition that found a home on the bridge between the universal appeal of “American Idol” and the immaturity of “The Voice,” is now cutting its go-time from two nights a week to one. And yes, we are going to spend an entire bullet point on this. Why? Because this is a clear indictment on the reality show phenomenon. “Idol” just blew itself up, and blew it up real good. “The Voice” can’t wait to get its original judges back next season. And (insert any show focused on food here) has seemingly been chewed up, digested and then spit back out (see what I did there?!) with both anger and apathy, two emotions that typically don’t generate good ratings. Thus, it must be asked: Is this the beginning of the end for the reality bubble? “Dancing With The Stars” seems like the sophisticated 45-year-old sister of an undergrad student. It has pizzazz. It has celebrity. It has drama. It’s aesthetically addicting. It still finds a way to incorporate popular music from artists we want to see perform. It humanizes those who need to be humanized. It is the answer for those who question singing competitions. And its originality is an element just enough to make it matter yet not enough to serve as a hindrance. Or, in other words, this isn’t “Top Chef: Volt” — this is a real, bona fide reality show that has real, bona fide traction. Its decision to go to one night a week could be the first in a long line of white flags that these type of zeitgeist-y shows begin to show in the coming years or maybe even months. No, it’s not going away entirely, but who’s to say that in five years we don’t look back on how this turned out to be the first move toward stepping away from celebrity competition as prime time programming? Tom Bergeron might want to start saving some royalties from those “America’s Funniest Home Videos” checks. He may have a lot of free time on his hands sooner than he thought.
3. A family that’s not modern.
I’m going to step outside for a second as Lisa de Moraes offers up this laugh-out-loud gem: “(Joss) Whedon’s new show is followed by ‘The Goldbergs,'” she wrote last week, “because Adam Goldberg, like so many writers in Hollywood, believes we never tire of watching shows about their childhood.” Indeed, “The Goldbergs” looks to be a play on the “Look at how wacky my family is” formula that ABC has had success with in the past. The trailer? Well, you can form your own opinions after watching the thing below. Joining that dumpster fire will be “Super Fun Night” from the Again-I-Still-Don’t-Get-It Rebel Wilson, presumably doing her young person’s impression of Melissa McCarthy. Worth noting again: It’s called “Super Fun Night.” Among those on standby for the first plane to go down will be “Mixology” that sounds pretty interesting on paper … until you watch the trailer. Again, you can form you own opinions on that after watching the thing below. Then, of course, something called “Killer Women” will be waiting in the wings for “Back In The Game” to fail so it can spread the word about females and Texas Rangers. “Modern Family,” meanwhile, will continue to make Wednesday nights infinitely more funny, despite the best efforts from “The Middle” to derail its run. When reached for comment, “The Middle” told me to shut up.