It is that time of year, when television executives across America dump the dead weight and paint their faces in preparation for meetings with advertisers. The newest update is the decision to reduce the number of screenings of American Idol, though numbers show viewers are not necessarily sad about it. The FOX, NBC, and ABC lineups have reoriented away from endless iterations of reality shows to focus on action drama. It is DC v. Marvel on TV as three of those five networks have picked up shows that are tied to comic book intellectual properties. Viewers and advertisers are no doubt waiting for the upcoming seasons to determine who wears it best.
ABC announced last week that they were cancelling Mixology, Trophy Wife, and Super Fun Night. Mixology’s seamless series set-up was similar to that of Eastbound and Down, which fell under HBO’s axe. Other cancellations include Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, The Goldbergs, Suburgatory, and The Neighbors (that self-deprecating show about aliens living next door). Agents of SHIELD is among the survivors of the cut, despite a dip in the ratings. An investment of this size was unlikely to be cancelled after only the first season, what with multiple tie-ins to the Marvel movies. This is one example of the focus on action drama, though the familiar shows Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and Modern Family will all be back despite their comparative lack of shoot-em-up scenes.
Replacements are definitely action-packed. The Whispers is produced by Steven Spielberg, and early press describes it as an alien invasion show in which the aliens take over human children. That sounds similar to Falling Skies, another of Spielberg’s shows that airs on TNT in which, well, aliens invade and children are basically body-snatched. Falling Skies will start its fourth season in June. Marvel’s Agent Carter is the other new ABC show that is getting a lot of press. Starring Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, it is tied to the Captain America movies. Audiences will have to wait until fall to see how The Whispers compares to the TNT show, as they might compare Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter, but it is clear that the network is a venue for Marvel tie-ins and spin-offs.
As for NBC, the midseason starters Believe and Crisis sat at the bottom of their pile. Their receptions were mixed to begin with and their viewer numbers never picked up, so they are out. Dracula, Growing Up Fisher and The Michael J. Fox Show followed right on their heels. Revolution is out too—it did well when it came on after The Voice, but once separated from those carry-over viewers it flopped. Community was the other multi-season show in the list of NBC cancellations. It was on for five seasons, and fans saved it from one near-cancellation in 2009 when 30 Rock took its place in the Thursday night lineup. It is unclear if the fans will rally again and secure Community’s sixth season and a movie, possibly on Netflix or HULU.
The additions to NBC, the network that has recently been known for its comedy, do not court action fans as clearly as ABC and FOX. Will Ferrell’s two comedies and Ellen DeGeneres’ One Big Happy could draw attention, as well as David Duchovny’s return in Aquarius, but the executives did not forget to snatch up at least one comic book spin-off for action viewers: Constantine, of DC Comics fame.
As for FOX, they held off a good portion of their announcements until Monday. X-Factor was one of the first shows the network cut last week. Executives also cancelled Enlisted, Dads and Surviving Jack, Christopher Meloni’s new vehicle after leaving Law and Order, as well as Almost Human starring eye-candy Michael Ealy from the Barbershop movies.
The replacement that is garnering attention is Gotham, a Batman origin story that will center on Commissioner Gordon, not Batman himself. Southland’s Ben McKenzie will star as a young version of the police commissioner. A trailer shows him interacting with a really young Bruce Wayne; he says “I promise you, I will find the man who did this,” referring, of course, to whomever killed Bruce’s parents. This statement sounds like the show will feature yet another rendition of how the young Bruce became an orphan. How viewers will react to watching the rosy-faces of the youthful versions of established Batman comic characters is anyone’s guess, especially as counterpoint to the darkness implied by the setting.
Gotham seems like an attempt to outdo ABC’s recent action acquisitions, though FOX is splitting their DC Comics loyalists with NBC and the CW (which hosts The Arrow). The network’s Entertainment Chairman Kevin Reilly said they are “redefining the network experience [and] will deliver broadcast’s most youthful audience at scale.” This statement, in conjunction with their new schedule announcements, clarifies their approach to attracting younger viewers: action via comic adaptations. It will be Gotham, the Arrow and Constantine, versus Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter. Come fall, fans will see if Fox gets the last laugh.
Opinion by Aliya Tyus-Barnwell