What do the British, psychics and The X-Files have in common?
By Bert Ehrmann
June 6, 2008
You may not know this, but mid-May is the time of year that the TV networks decide on their upcoming fall/winter TV schedules. It’s also the time of year that new series commissioned by the networks are either picked up and added to this new schedule or discarded altogether. But this May is different than Mays of past. Overall network TV viewership is on the decline and the writer’s strike didn’t help matters by destroying the ‘07/’08 TV season. So, to say that the networks are desperate to get things right next season and retain what viewers they still have might be an understatement.
When compared to the group of new shows that premiered last year with the likes of the TV commercial spin-off sitcom Cavemen and the “so good it aired just twice” Viva Laughlin, series set to premiere next fall/winter seem positively brilliant. Still, there are a few common elements in some of these new shows. One is that a more than a few are based off of successful foreign series while another seems to be the idea of a psychic, or someone pretending to be psychic, solving crimes. Oh, and series that are like the series X-Files seem to be back in vogue.
Some of the new shows based off of foreign series are the dramas Life on Mars, Eleventh Hour and the comedy Worst Week that are all based on British shows. ABC’s Life on Mars focuses on Sam Tyler, a detective operating present day that’s hit by a car while hunting a serial killer and is magically sent back to the early 1970s where he continues the chase in a world yet to discover “No Smoking” signs. Worst Week on CBS, based on the series The Worst Week of My Life, is about a couple about to get hitched and the groom trying his best to win over his future bride’s parents, but failing miserably along the way.
Eleventh Hour on CBS has the “distinction” of being both based on a foreign series AND seems to be inspired by The X-Files. This series focuses on Dr. Jacob Hood, a scientist assigned to investigate science-related crimes. Another series that probably owes its existence to The X-Files is the “not based on a British” series Fringe on Fox. From J.J. Abrams (Lost, Alias), Fringe focuses on an FBI agent who investigates mysteries that might all lead to a “shocking truth.” Oddly enough, both Eleventh Hour and Fringe feature female FBI agents and their male non-FBI agent co-leads.
One of NBCs big ideas next season is to spin-off characters from their kind’a successful series The Office into a new as yet untitled show. Oddly enough, I can see this series working since it seems as if the memorable episodes of The Office are the ones that focus on a limited number of characters rather than everyone. Maybe fewer characters spread out over two series might be beneficial to The Office franchise?
The Mentalist on CBS is about a pretend psychic that solves crimes with the powers of observation that seems to be equal parts Dexter and Psych while The Listener on NBC is about “real” psychic paramedic who solves crimes. (Adding the paramedic “twist” makes this series nothing like Medium.)
The most intriguing series of the season (and winner of the “kiss of death” award that goes to every “most intriguing series of the season” year after year) is Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse. I’m still trying to figure this one out, but Dollhouse features Eliza Dushku as “Echo,” a person with no memory or personality of her own that can be programmed with whatever memories or personalities are needed to go on various secret and dangerous missions. I’m still a bit confused over the basic premise of the show (like what makes a character with literally no personality interesting?) but a willing to give Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly) the benefit of the doubt.
What series am I looking forward to most next season? Why that would be the remake Knight Rider on NBC. I loved the campy Knight Rider movie of the week that aired last winter and have high hopes that Val Kilmer will return as the voice of the car KITT in the full series.