Déjà viewing

Other than a few notable exceptions (sadly, very few), there's a disappointing sense of been there, seen that in the crime-infested fall skeds...no wonder more advertisers are seriously looking outside TV to reach their audience. ...

Other than a few notable exceptions (sadly, very few), there’s a disappointing sense of been there, seen that in the crime-infested fall skeds…no wonder more advertisers are seriously looking outside TV to reach their audience.

However, the crew here who have been poring over the new lineups while putting together this issue’s whopping Fall TV Report cite That’s My Bush as one they’re waiting for. Matt Parker and Trey Stone have broken new ground in the whacked-out rudeness realm, that (unlike Tom Green) also happens to be insanely funny, and their new concept bodes well for exercising that bent in the live-action sitcom genre.

24 also stands out as a fresh concept (which means its format will likely be copied to death next year). It’s a whodunit told in real time over 24 eps with Kiefer Sutherland, a fresh face for TV (and a known commodity who might actually draw viewers), as the investigating agent on an attempted political assassination case. Beyond the spook entries, such as Alias, about a college kid who dabbles in CIA work, there’s very little freshness in the fare for that desirable next gen of consumers (so attractive to the media) to glom onto.

What’s with all this reality? I know it’s cheap, but does no one remember that with each iteration of a successful franchise the crowd tends to thin out? Remember Pokémon and all the other hopeful anime/collector card game taggers-on? Check the remainder bin of your local toy store, consider that the tightly targeted kid audiences refresh faster than your average 18 to 49 spread, and then give break-through odds on the new slew of reality formats.

If you’re looking for shows that stand out from the crowd, check out a few of Teletoon’s new offerings from serious toon talent. Family fare that happens to be animated often gets the short end of the media-buying stick, which is daft, given the wide demo some of the edgier shows can accumulate.

Sheep in the Big City from Mo Willems is about a sheep named Sheep ‘on the lam’ from a secret military organization that needs Sheep for its wickedly big sheep-powered dastardly weapon. Sheep, the sensitive farmer’s fave, has to flee the farm to escape this fate. However, he manages to find a job and apartment in the Big City – much to the disbelief of the narrator – and the series covers the inept military’s attempts at Sheep incarceration, and Sheep’s foiling of said plots. Like all classic toons, Sheep has that dual demo humour a la Bugs.

Another entry of note in the same classic mould is the latest John Kricfalusi creation, The Ripping Friends, a group of heroes so manly they don’t need superpowers. (FYI: at the TV Critics Tour the thirtysomething creator revealed that the peak of manliness in men is reached at 36, perhaps a discovery made during the very long development process on this series.) There’s that whole Ren & Stimpy following that has been waiting for something new from Johnny K., who eschews ‘caring and sharing’ in his animation, plus, anything with a farting villain is bound to win youth-approval ratings.

Also likely to cultivate a following are some of YTV’s picks, even though they sound like they came out of a tween show blender. Dead Last is a one-hour drama/adventure from WB that combines a rock band and the supernatural, with the exec producer team of Steve Pink and D.V. DeVincentis (High Fidelity). The oddly named Vampire High: The Mansbridge Chronicles is a Canadian co-pro that mixes blood lust and ‘biting humour’ with school. Whether or not they ultimately click, unlike many newbies, they looked edgy enough to earn some exploratory dialing.

Can the hamster channel be far behind?

As to the new digital channel offerings, those that make the most sense on the surface are the entries that have a clearly defined POPULAR niche, such as Global and Groupe TVA’s Mystery Channel, a category-one contender (which means guaranteed carriage). Let’s face it, with a two-million-household universe and distribution up in the air, it’s pretty much a crapshoot for the rest of the pack. What does have a shot is something like Scream, a category-two digital service from Alliance Atlantis and Corus, which is in a niche that any studio exec can tell you is a hot entertainment-consuming demo and for which finding programming is not a problem. Skedding horror films, from classics to cults to ‘good old-fashioned slasher movies,’ as well as series, this channel has the advantage shared by many of the digital services that abound in other countries – a clearly defined option that inspires destination dialing rather than surfing.

Many of the newbies do have a clear niche (curiously, not all are underserved); however, many niches seem unlikely to draw a whole lot of excitement. They’ll need to. As witnessed even in the much larger U.S. market, when digital channels replicate too closely what’s available somewhere else, the pickings remain so slim that survival never becomes easier, unless you’re vertically integrated and your programming and promotion costs are absorbed by the parentco’s other assets. Speaking of which, the nesting approach Corus is taking to launch some of its new offerings, such as previewing a weekly Discovery Kids block on YTV starting next month, reflects the level of visibility required by some of the still-non-existent marketing depts of the new channel entries.

However, if the current cycle of pre-empting series for reality stunting until the audience gives up on them, endlessly replicating legal shows, just-plain-bad promotion (I’ve seen network promos that don’t tell you when the show is on) and cancelling nifty new series (The Lone Gunmen made it into the top-20 ratings chart) continues, then maybe, just maybe, these new guys have a shot at stealing share – if only for their consistency.

But that’s just my opinion. Read the Fall TV Report and make your own calls on what will fly and what will plummet. Cheers, mm