Networks expect comedies to flourish
The networks are getting tough on primetime crime.If the broadcasters’ early pickups and top pilot contenders were any indication, the nets appear ready to move away from gritty crime procedurals — and are once again attempting a comedy comeback. The nets are returning to sci-fi in a big way as well, perhaps inspired by the boffo box office for such recent sci-fi adventures as “Star Trek” and “Wolverine” and the likely frenzy surrounding the upcoming “Terminator” and “Transformers” reboots. Given their appetite for crime-infused series, the networks aren’t going cold turkey. But the shows most likely to get on the air at least offer up a twist: ABC’s Jerry Bruckheimer entry “Forgotten” centers on amateur detectives, while Fox’s “Past Life” utilizes the concept of reincarnation to solve mysteries. This fall’s other likely new crime procedural, the “NCIS” spinoff on CBS, is simply carved out of a show that’s working big time — and so it’s more of a continuation than a new stab at the genre. But the crowded crime procedural space may finally be taking its toll on the genre. The two granddaddies of the space, CBS’ “CSI” and NBC’s “Law and Order,” have seen their ratings erode in recent years. “CSI” took a hit after star William Petersen left, while “L&O” has been on a downward spiral for a while, so much so that it’s expected to get a shortened order next season (and like this year, sit on the bench until mid-year). ABC hasn’t had much luck in coming up with its own crime drama — witness the disappointing returns for “Life on Mars,” “The Unusuals” and “Castle” (which is the most likely of the bunch to return) — while NBC was hopeful at first on cop skein “Southland,” but that show started limping by the end of its frosh run. Crime dramas may have also been hit by cable, where nets like Turner have tapped the genre with such shows as “The Closer” and “Saving Grace” — and the sheer number of “L&O” and “CSI” (and their spinoffs) off-net episodes in syndication means viewers may finally have had their fill. That’s why even procedural king CBS is looking to trim the criminal hedges: Vets “Without a Trace” and “The Unit” aren’t expected to return, while “Cold Case” may just squeak by with a last-minute renewal. Where’s all the blood and guts going? Look no further than the revived medical genre: NBC, which is losing “ER” after 15 years, has already picked up two dramas in that space, the fast-paced “Trauma” and the more relationship-oriented “Mercy.” CBS is also still mulling two medical shows, the organ transplant-themed “Three Rivers” and Bruckheimer’s “Miami Trauma.” Another one still in the mix was “The Eastmans,” about a family of doctors. There’s also plenty of action to be had in the sci-fi, mythology and comicbook world. The networks will tap those genres in a big way next fall — even though they’ve so far been unable to replicate the success of “Lost” in the five years since it launched. ABC is so high on “Flash Forward,” based on the sci-fi novel about what happens when the entire world blacks out for two minutes, that net promoted it during the season finale of “Lost.” NBC has the post-apocalyptic “Day One” on the docket for a limited run in midseason, while Fox already greenlit “Human Target,” based on a DC Comics title about a mysterious man who assumes the identities of people in danger. And then there’s the long-suffering comedy genre. Laffers are once again a priority, and execs say they’re bullish on this year’s crop. “Our goal is to have at least another hour of comedy, and we might even get it,” says one exec. So far the buzz is big for shows that center on quirky families — or odd-ball ensembles that act like a family. That includes NBC’s new single-camera half-hour “Community,” which stars Joel McHale as a thirtysomething guy who heads to community college and winds up surrounded by a bunch of fellow misfits, including Chevy Chase. “Community,” from Sony, Krasnoff/Foster and creator Dan Harmon, is already earning some of the best marks among pilot screeners and is expected to earn a slot on NBC’s Thursday night sked. NBC’s “100 Questions” has gotten a more mixed response, but the show’s multi-cam take on a group of unlucky-in-love pals is considered a new take on “Friends.” And the net could use a broad, slightly more traditional comedy in that vein. Plus, while it’s not a comedy per se, the hourlong “Parenthood” will mix comedy with suds in looking at the exploits of a large, extended family. Over at ABC, which produced more comedy pilots than any other net, execs are high on “Modern Family,” a mockumentary about three different suburban couplings. The Alphabet was also still said to be high on the Alyssa Milano starrer “Romantically Challenged,” the Courteney Cox entry “Cougar Town” and the Patricia Heaton-led “The Middle.” And Fox’s “Sons of Tucson” centers on three brothers who hire a hustler to pose as their dad — when their real father winds up in jail. Fox, which hasn’t had much luck with live-action laffers in recent years, already has a 22-episode order for returning sitcom “‘Til Death.” The nets are bullish enough on reviving comedy that they’re even expected to bring back several half-hours that looked like they were on the way out — starting with ABC’s “Scrubs.” CBS is also expected to renew all its current laffers. And if all of this doesn’t work … well, expect to see surge in crime once again on those mean network streets.