Upfronts 2014: Black-ish

Could this be the return of the black sitcom?

This is the question on everyone’s minds as the Laurence Fishbourne/Anthony Anderson comedy gets slated for ABC’s post Modern Family time slot. It’s definitely a strong lead-in, both because of Modern Family’s consistently high ratings and Emmy nominations as well as being similar family programming. Check out the teaser trailer below:

Based on Barris’ own life (loosely), Black-ish will follow an upper-middle class black man, intent on raising his kids with some sense of cultural identity, in the face of an assault of constant contradictions and obstacles coming from various directions, insisting that his children be color-blind.

decided to do this project when I looked up and realized that everywhere I go I’m constantly the fly in buttermilk… I’m usually THE Black guy at work. We’re THE Black family in the neighborhood. My kids are basically THE Black kids at school. I think it’s kind of a situation of be careful what you wish for. It’s almost in like moving on up, I’ve sort of priced myself “out” of being Black,” said Barris.

The show makes me both excited and nervous. I’m excited to see a black family on television. I’m even more excited to see a black family in a single camera sitcom (has there been one? I can’t think of one  Everybody Hates Chris was one!). But oh boy am I nervous. As a person who is often not seen as black because of the things that I like and the way I speak and the education I got, and as a member of the Black Girl Nerds community and seeing a lot of other people who struggle with being called “oreos” or “not black” and often being the only black person in your work/school/extracurriculars, there are a lot of sensitive issues to deal with. As long as the show deals with being black in a middle class environment without the characters losing their identities as black people.

The title alone is a little worrisome–black-ish implies that through their middle class lifestyle, they’re not fully black, only a little black or sort of black. Just because they have Jewish friends or hang out in affluent neighborhoods shouldn’t take away from the fullness of their blackness. It sounds like the character “insisting his children be colorblind” means that 1. they accept everyone regardless of their background and 2. the struggle the father endures through the series is that the children should be allowed to be who they are and like what they like with it having no reflection on how “black” they are. That’s not the kind of colorblindness we should have, but is often the kind we get: accepting characters regardless of their color but erasing any ethnic identity they have. I don’t know if I am explaining things right or if it’s truly the measure of how I believe things should be. Again, it’s sensitive issues and hard to define or draw the lines, but hopefully the team behind the show address these issues with comedy and class. Maybe the title was just a catchy way to express what the show is about.

So I’m excited! I’ll definitely be checking it out; I hope it’s funny and strong and I hope I can relate to the characters, as their experiences already speak to mine. But I am also nervous.

 

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Upfronts 2014: Hieroglyph

Just how gorgeous is this image? (I love and wear gold eyeliner.) I’ve been excited about Hieroglyph since I heard about it for several reasons. Number 1 being diversity. From the trailer, the cast seems really mixed. Often, tales in Egypt get whitewashed (then tanned), but this story actually includes people of color. Exciting!

Also, I really like Ancient and Classic Antiquity (thanks wikipedia!) Egypt. Two reasons for this: The Royal Diaries book series, of which Cleopatra – Daughter of the Nile was one of my favorites to read and reread (I might just do that, for my other blog). And The Mummy (this one’s a bit more obvious and standard). I think this will be a cool show and will get to explore some lesser known mythologies, now that fairy tale and mythology shows are coming back into fashion. Of course I love the idea of it being a supernatural, fantastical story with mystery, action-adventure, and intrigue.

It’s not airing until 2015, presumably in Sleepy Hollow’s time slot (though I wish they were being paired together), but I can’t wait to check it out.

Watch the teaser trailer below:

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Upfronts 2014: Parks and Recreation

Before I talk about the new shows coming up, let me mourn the shows going out.

We all know now that Community is gone for good. And while I knew it was probably the case, the other NBC stanchion from the last comedy block era, Parks and Recreation, is headed into it’s last season. Parks is easily one of my top 2 shows right now (along with Castle). I love a show that can make me smile every single time I watch it (a reason I love The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon). Parks knocks it out of the park (oh, oops, totally not on purpose) with comedy, heart, emotion, zaniness, inspiration (who hasn’t been inspired to do something big and crazy after Leslie Knope tried something big and crazy), and a love of waffles and whipped cream. Even the dullest episodes of Parks make me smile in some way that hold me over until the next big episode.

And it’s all of the above that let me know they couldn’t do it forever. Mostly, the idea that they don’t hold characters back to adhere to comedy/storytelling/tv tropes. Ben and Leslie got together and then stayed together. Chris and Ann faltered a bit, but then had a baby and actually moved out of town. April has gotten married, (graduated? left school? they’re a bit fuzzy on that) and moved up in her career several times. Ron has gotten married and had children! Talk about character development! The show’s commitment to allowing their characters to be people, to be funny but real people is why it couldn’t last forever, because we’ve hit moments that are series enders. Leslie having a baby, Leslie finishing Lot 49, Leslie moving up in government are all series enders. We’re moving past the premise (and title) of the show, so it definitely couldn’t last forever. Leslie’s character could never stay cooped up in the Parks department, if she did, we’d love her less, or at least lose respect for her and her huge vision.

So I knew this was coming, but it doesn’t make it any less sad. And mad. Because NBC hasn’t put it on the fall schedule. How dare they make their longest running sitcom thus far wait until a new show is cancelled before putting it in the line up?! Do they not care about Parks fans? Seems not if this is how they’re treating Parks fans, which just by virtue of enjoying the show, are loyal fans. We wouldn’t like the show is loyalty wasn’t important to us, because it’s important to Leslie. I won’t be watching any of their new comedies (there’s only 4 of them. Could that be a record low for recent years?) and if the trend is right, other Parks fans probably won’t either. Mike Shur, Parks Executive Producer, has a show on another network that fits the Parks brand. Even the other FOX comedies feel more in line with Parks than NBC shows do. So NBC lost a lot of points with me by doubling my negative emotions. But once season 7 begins, I’ll forgive them, just for the half hour Parks is on, until the series finale. (This summer they get my Maya Rudolph eyes. And Jimmy Fallon. And sometimes Seth.)

I am excited to see what they do for this last season. Knowing that it’s ending gives the writers an opportunity to take risks they couldn’t before, to push the boundaries of both comedy and storytelling, because it’s their last shot. And they can take the characters to the end goals you know they’re headed towards with more time than a rushed series finale. Hit those home runs, Parks team, I know you will.

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Upfronts 2014: Shondaland Thursday Coming This Fall — But Can She Sustain It?

 

Shonda Rhimes is ABC’s biggest money maker right now. She’s been re-upped through 2018 and nearly all her shows get greenlit without much effort or fuss. Scandal is one of television’s hottest shows right now and Grey’s Anatomy has been 10 years strong, so it makes sense to keep that legacy going. And of course, if Grey’s starts to falter and Scandal has a tentative “end date,” then ABC wants to get some Shonda shows in there that could overlap and continue the dynasty.

This fall, Thursdays become Shondalnd Thursdays. In addition to Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, Shonda Rhimes’ new show, starring Viola Davis–How to Get Away with Murder–will premiere in the 10pm slot. Talk about a strong lead in. We know just from the Shonda brand that it will be highly watched, highly talked about, and will get ABC the Thursday ratings they want for the first few weeks at least.

But can she sustain it? Doing two shows at a time has got to be rough. The last time Shonda Rhimes had three shows on the air–no one remembers Off the Map, in conjunction with Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice? Exactly, that’s what happens when you have three shows on the air. Grey’s was in it’s seventh season and Private Practice in what became it’s second to last. Three shows is draining. Three shows is stretching yourself thin. Three shows is hoping you can trust the people in charge of your other shows with the characters, with the storylines. And while there are shows with big names attached spread across multiple shows (Dick Wolf (L&O), Jerry Bruckheimer), they don’t have the showrunner, creator, creative input that Shonda has. So we’ll see how well each show does with Shonda spreading herself across them like this.

My biggest example of a highly involved creator trying three shows at once is 2002 Joss Whedon.

It’s almost like he’s saying, “Shonda, beware!”

As he was entering Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s seventh season and Angel’s fourth season, Firefly came out. Cult hit that it (and the other two shows as well) was, that was a rough year for Whedonites. Yes, there were other factors to Firefly’s cancel (cough*FOX executive meddling*cough), but season 7 of Buffy and Angel’s 4th are some of the most contested seasons among fans. There’s a lot of dislike in the character development, storyline speed and progress, and just a general division among fans about whether or not they’re the weakest seasons in the bunch. Firefly was cancelled after 13 episodes (well, more like 10?), it became Buffy’s last season, and Angel’s second to last. In addition to all the other pressures that caused each show to go through it’s personal rough patch, it could not have helped that Joss had to concern himself with all three shows, in some way. Focusing on Firefly doesn’t mean that he could have completely ignored showrunner responsibilities for Angel and Buffy. That kind of stretching takes a toll on the showrunner and the shows.

I hope this doesn’t happen to Shonda. Both Grey’s (simply due to it’s length) and Scandal already have many fans once in love with the shows expressing apprehension about the coming seasons. Grey’s is losing a major, fan favorite character. Scandal’s struggled with White House saturation. With these cracks in the armor, can Shonda risk dividing her attention to another show? Only time, and ratings, will tell.

 

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Upfronts 2014: FOX, NBC what are you doing?

Let’s start network-wide. Fox and NBC swapped for me in the past year, NBC going from a favorite, most watched network, to me having one show next season (the mid-season, finale season Parks debacle…). While FOX went from me abandoning several of it’s shows due to reordering episodes and demanding stasis in characters that achieved character development to the network I have the most shows I am interested in this fall. And FOX pulled me in with the commitment and success in diversity. So let’s talk about what they’re doing this fall.

NBC– honey, what are you doing? They’ve cancelled most of their comedies, leaving Parks and Recreation, their current longest running sitcom as a mid-season replacement in it’s finale season. According to the schedule listed in the link on Vulture, there are only 4 comedies on the schedule, split between Tuesday and Thursday 9-10 comedy hours. What? Has NBC given up on reclaiming it’s must-see-tv fame? I suppose it wasn’t working, but it kills me that not one of the four comedies is Parks. What a way to alienate your little comedy fanbase. Why not use Parks and the final season momentum to pull your existing fans over to new shows? You now have to do the work to get non-NBC comedy watchers (those who didn’t watch 30 Rock and Community and Parks in the hey-day of low-rated but cult favorite comedies). I suppose they no longer want those fans. They want new ones entirely. Or they’re trying to sustain the network on the Voice, Dick Wolf, and the Blacklist until they figure out something that works. But, to me, it doesn’t seem like they’ve found the formula yet. I’ll see you mid-season, NBC, when you put Parks and Recreation back on the schedule. (Let’s face it, it’s a cancelled-new-show replacement. As soon as one of the new comedies fail, they’ll stick Parks in the 9pm comedy spot until the rest of the season is done. More on Parks later.

 

 

FOX, homie, you’re doing a lot of things right, but one thing feels very wrong. I will be watching seven FOX shows this fall. That’s more than any other network and more than I’ve ever watched FOX. They’ve been getting some good, diversely cast comedies in these past couple of seasons. New Girl confirmed Damon Wayans Jr as the 6th member of the cast, rounding them out to Friends proportions, The Mindy Project had a strong finale with lots of possibility, and Brooklyn 99 came out of the gate with comedy, diversity, and heart. So why are they sending Brooklyn 99 to the Sunday animation slot?! It seems ridiculous to me. Vulture says,

There’s logic behind this year’s changes: Family Guy is pretty much a multi-camera sitcom that happens to be animatedand Mulaney is multi-cam; Brooklyn is sophisticated single-cam that could mesh with the sensibility of The Simpsons. And once Fox picked up both Brooklyn and The Mindy Project, it was obvious one would either move or wait until midseason: Fox simply doesn’t have the comedy strength to support a two-hour sitcom block on Tuesdays.

But that seems absurd. I definitely think they could sustain it. But even if it can’t, splitting the comedies into the animation block disturbs something that’s been working on FOX for years now. Animation fans won’t necessarily hold up these fresh comedies and when was the last time comedies aired on a Sunday night?! This makes me nervous for both BK99 and Mulaney (which I may watch), because they’re basically hiding it in the schedule. No one looks for comedies on Sunday nights. That’s typically a Feature film, Sports, Drama night. FOX made success with animation as alternative programming to this trend, but this upcoming change might break both the animation block and the comedies they want to succeed. Sigh. There are few shows I want to succeed more than Brooklyn 99. I hope they just suck it up and block the comedies together.

Schedules change, often by November sweeps when networks figure out what’s working and what’s getting cancelled. So we’ll see if this remains the schedule for the fall. But both networks are boggling my mind.

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Pilot Season/Upfronts 2014

It’s that time of the year, Upfronts (also here for another way to look at what Upfronts actually are), when networks present their pilot season shows and lineups to advertisers and the general public. I’ve been a bit busy or lethargic the last month or so, so I haven’t been posting (though I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the views I’ve still managed to get) but get ready for a deluge as I look at shows coming this summer, fall, and beyond, and discuss current shows’ trajectories (I’m a bit mad about NBC’s treatment of Parks and Recreation. We’ll get there).

I’ll write a bunch and try to spread them out over the week as to not spam. Also, I’ll post my current fall tv chart–it’s looking as busy as usual as I find out about all these new shows!

Let the Upfront madness begin!

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