Fall TV preview: What can replace ‘Breaking Bad,’ other faves?
Several major TV shows are either already gone, are about to leave or have only another season or maybe two to go. A few new shows look promising, but the bar is awfully high, writes San Francisco Chronicle TV critic David Wiegand.
San Francisco Chronicle
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It’s easy to spot the trends in TV in the fall of 2013: pretty much the same as last year, but more so. Broadcast is flailing around as it tries to compete against cable and new content-delivery platforms, binge watching is all the rage, time-shifting is becoming the default way of watching shows.
But there is one big difference this year: Several major shows are either already gone, are about to leave or have only another season or maybe two to go.
OK, so what? Happens all the time.
Yes, but ask yourself if you’ve seen anything recently that might take the place of “Breaking Bad,” “Futurama,” “Burn Notice,” “The Office,” “30 Rock,” “Eastbound and Down,” “Dexter,” “Enlightened,” “Fringe,” “Southland,” “Vegas” or “Animal Practice.”
OK, yes, the last one was a ringer, but “The League” has one more season to go, FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” is about to launch its penultimate season and “Mad Men” has one more season, although AMC could do what it did with the last season of “Breaking Bad” and do half a season next year and a half later. AMC’s latest offering, “Low Winter Sun,” will be lucky to get an unmerited second season.
This list contains TV royalty as well as several shows that just demonstrated unusual creativity and imagination — they existed because television was willing to take a chance, and viewers have been the beneficiaries of that. Vince Gilligan has often said that “Breaking Bad” is a show that never should have gotten on the air. Bless you, AMC.
But when all of these shows are gone, what’s left? “Homeland” is still strong, but you have to ask how long the conceit of the high-strung CIA agent and the former POW can maintain this high-wire act. Are they exercising the shark yet in some tank on the lot?
Where are the new “Breaking Bads” or “Dexters”? And, on the broadcast front, where are the new “Nashvilles” and “Modern Families”?
Some good news
Surveying the array of new shows this fall, there is actually some good news: Several look watchable. We even see some real hope on the sitcom front, with Michael J. Fox and Robin Williams returning to series TV. Fantasy dominates big time in new drama, with “Dracula,” “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland,” “Almost Human,” “The Tomorrow People,” “The Originals” and “Sleepy Hollow.”
New dramas also continue to feed on our general sense of paranoia. Not sure any of the new shows do that quite as well as “Homeland” and “Person of Interest,” but “Hostages” might manage.
Premium cable isn’t offering a lot this fall, although Showtime is banking heavily on “Masters of Sex,” a dramatic series about the personal and professional relationship between Virginia Johnson and Dr. William Masters. The first couple of episodes left me unimpressed, although Lizzy Caplan is terrific as Johnson. But there is nudity — a lot of it — and the show could get better once Masters’ character, played by Michael Sheen, removes the stick from his nether region.
HBO has the Stephen Merchant sitcom, “Hello Ladies,” about a British Web designer looking for love in L.A., as well as a few one-offs, including a dramatization of the behind-the-scenes Supreme Court decision about Muhammad Ali’s conscientious-objector draft status.
BBC America will celebrate “Doctor Who” in a big way this fall, with a 50th anniversary special, as well as a feature film called “An Adventure in Space and Time,” about the first actor to play the doctor. It also has a new fantasy series coming called “Atlantis,” which mixes multiple myths together, but somehow I doubt it’s aimed at Greek scholars.
Some networks, like NBC, are looking more toward “event TV” to pull ratings and bucks while pretty much acknowledging that regular broadcast series are what they are, and will probably be even less in terms of viewers and revenue next year. In addition to the Olympics next winter, NBC will burst into the season this month with the “Million Second Quiz,” hoping to draw viewers away from series premieres on other networks.
But are any of the new shows candidates for either longevity or greatness? Television is less and less willing to take chances on shows simply because if they don’t hit big with viewers on their premiere dates, the odds are stacked more heavily against them than ever before.
In terms of the next great show, TV will be in a holding pattern this fall, and our best hope is for midseason and beyond. Think about that as you watch the final episodes of “Breaking Bad.”