Columnist Brian Lowry gives his opinion of the fall sked
Maybe the networks have taken a cue from the Tea Party movement. Because after a week’s worth of upfront presentations, call this The Year of Living Conservatively.The networks appear to collectively think a recession isn’t time to reinvent the wheel, resulting in a pretty steady diet of meat and potatoes. And while they bring their own spin to new procedurals, ABC and NBC have seemingly concluded that those older people dozing in front of the set watching CBS can’t all be wrong. Hence we get “Law & Order: Los Angeles” following “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” just like “NCIS” leads into its L.A. spinoff. Everyone has also rediscovered Friday night — at least, until the scripted shows fail and reality TV is thrown into the breach. It’s a shrewd if familiar way to try to get more money out of advertisers and fully capitalize on anticipated improvement in this year’s upfront market. The proof in the broadcast presentations will of course be in the full pilots, but here’s a preliminary appraisal in descending order of promise. The Eye network’s lineup of new shows — and just as important, savvy scheduling moves, none bigger than relocating “The Big Bang Theory” to Thursdays — seem poised to deliver at least a mini-bang. What really stood out was CBS’ willingness to gamble on unorthodox leads. What other network would dare build shows around a corpulent couple, 60-something Tom Selleck, 70-something William Shatner and Jim Belushi? And yet, most of it looks destined to improve the network’s performance — including “Hawaii Five-O,” continuing CBS’ “We’re going to keep casting Alex O’Loughlin until you love him as much as we do” strategy. When the original show’s theme began playing, even I was ready to run out and buy time. Successfully mixing sex appeal with violence, CW goes back to “Alias” territory with “Nikita,” a kick-ass action drama starring Maggie Q that will follow the network’s top scripted show, “The Vampire Diaries,” on Thursday night. The other new series, “Hellcats,” is about college cheerleaders. At the risk of ending up on a list of middle-aged men who should be viewed suspiciously, both of them looked pretty good and they should be a dead-on bull’s-eye with the netlet’s audience. Moving “Supernatural” to Fridays should help, too. Beyond the particulars, NBC demonstrated its determination to get back into the game after the botched Jay Leno experiment, from “The Event” — the kind of difficult-to-get-right mystery thriller that has frustrated ABC for years — to J.J. Abrams’ breezy, “True Lies”-like “Undercovers.” Sitcom “Outsourced” has the potential to be sweet and funny, but putting it behind “The Office” marks a tacit admission that “30 Rock” is never going to be a bigger non-hit than it already is. The lingering question involves NBC’s decision to try four new hours at 10 p.m., but inasmuch as ABC didn’t make much progress while NBC dicked around with Leno, opportunities exist on that front. The most interesting-looking ABC drama, “No Ordinary Family,” features Michael Chiklis heading a nuclear clan that turns into the Fantastic Four (wasn’t he in that too?). Everything else reminded me too much of previous series, marking a de facto retreat from big concepts that often appealed to critics (even when they didn’t work) toward more conventional ones. In other words, ABC appears to have at least temporarily given up, perhaps wisely, on its quest for “the next ‘Lost.’ ” Let’s hope the search for “the next ‘Modern Family’ ” isn’t equally frustrating. Fox, meanwhile, made live-action comedy a priority, but its three new half-hours (and a fourth animated one) didn’t do much to tickle the funny bone in cut-down form — never a great sign. The dramas played better, particularly the serial “Lonestar,” but the weak premiere of “The Good Guys” on Wednesday won’t do much to foster anticipation for that hour. For all that, Fox still has a formidable arsenal of returning anchor shows, even without Simon what’s-his-name.