Network upfronts: Drama edition

While I have a firm grasp on network comedy, I’m not as comfortable with network dramas. For the most part, I don’t watch them. In the last decade, the rise of the procedural mirrored the rise of cable dramas, whether premium (The Sopranos, Dexter) or basic (The Shield, Mad Men). I’ve devoted much more time to the latter, which the rare exception of something groundbreaking like Lost. Still, a rose is a rose is a rose. Here’s a look at the networks’ dramatic offerings this fall.

NBC: Anything you can do, I can do, too. Part 1

For the most part, the last place network is looking to break their losing streak by opting for ideas that have worked beofre. Grimm, from the non-Whedon folks behind Buffy and Angel, mines similar territory with a high concept procedural that asks “what if the Grimm fairy tales were real?” Smash looks to cash-in on the musical craze, and even features an American Idol veteran, Katharine McPhee. The Playboy Club apes Mad Men, but in attempting to be everything to everyone, it seems unfocused; the sex, lies and murder drama would probably work better on cable. In Prime Suspect, Maria Bello tries to break into the homicide detective boys-club; the series was long-running and critically acclaimed in the UK, with Helen Mirren in the lead role. The trailer shows promise, but it’s tough to get attached to a cop show these days.

The exception to my “no more cop shows” rule just may be Awake, the dream-versus-reality thriller that is drawing comparisons to Inception. Sure, there is a police procedural here, but the premise sets it apart. After surviving a car crash, Mark Britten (Brotherhood‘s Jason Isaacs) lives two separate, parallel lives: one in which his wife survived instead of his son, and vice versa. He goes to sleep in one and wakes in the other, unsure of which is the dream. The trailer is chilling; I’ll definitely be watching this one.

ABC: Anything you can do, I can do, too. Part 2

ABC’s line-up is very similar to that of NBC, opting for the familiar and proven over real innovation. In several places, ABC and NBC are using the the same ideas: ABC’s schedule includes a “fairy tales are real” show in Once Upon a Time, and gives a woman’s perspective on the Mad Men / Catch Me If You Can time period with Pan Am.

I will admit, I’m not in the target audience for most of their other offerings. RevengeThe Count of Monte Cristo in the Hamptons – is bait for O.C. and Gossip Girl fans. Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal is Private Practice in the PR world. Good Christian Bitches Belles gets an adaptation and Charlie’s Angels gets a reboot. Yawn.

The only intriguing show is ABC’s attempt to recapture the magic of Lost. In The River, a Steve Corwin type goes missing in the Amazon. His family and crew try to find him, running into some shaky cam creepiness along the way, courtesy Paranormal Activity‘s Oren Peli. Like some of this fall’s comedies, however, this premise looks better suited to film than to TV.

CBS: Procedurals until we die!

CBS only added three new dramas, and two of these are approaching new levels of unintentional parody. A Gifted Man stars Patrick Wilson as a surgeon who gets help from his dead ex-wife. Unforgettable‘s main character has hyperthymesia, and can remember literally everything that’s ever happened to her; I wonder if that will help her solve crimes!

The winner here is Person of Interest, a crime thriller (with a sci-fi twist) executive produced by Jonathan Nolan (The Dark Knight) and J.J. Abrams (Lost). Lost‘s Michael Emerson and James Caviezel use surveillance knowledge and CIA training, respectively, to prevent crimes before they happen.

FOX: Gettin’ high (concept)

And the loser is Fox. Their line-up includes a spin-off of Bones called The Finder, about an eccentric, offensive skeptic who can find anything (House with an internal GPS?). Then there’s the time travel plus dinosaurs extravaganza Terra Nova which is getting by because it has an executive producer named Steven Spielberg. Kiefer Sutherland will return to Fox next year, but Touch, about a man with a precognitive autistic child, hasn’t filmed yet. J.J. Abrams tries to save another network’s fall line-up, but his time travel mystery Alcatraz looks a little absurd (at least it has Hurley!).

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