Doctors, Procedurals and Spirituality Are the Hot Genres for Networks

Doctors Procedurals and Spirituality trending TV
Ryan Heshka for Variety

The major networks are hoping to get religion, or at least a big dose of spirituality, on the air next year. Medical procedural shows are in demand, too, along with female-lead dramas and workplace comedies. Family dramas, period pieces, conspiracy thrillers and heavy-duty sci-fi concepts — not so much.

These are among the takeaways from the annual rite of summer in which talent agents and other reps for creatives make the rounds with TV development executives. The goal is for percenters to gain insight into the themes, concepts and settings most intriguing to network execs, in order to advise clients on how to shape pitches that are likely to strike a chord.

As ever, the subjects discussed in agency meetings deal only with the broadest themes, not hard-and-fast rules. One message that was consistent across the major networks was the push for writers to bring in passion projects, even things they don’t think will fly on broadcast TV, no matter what the genre. There’s also a premium placed on stories that are autbiographical for writers, rooted in the theory that “if you’ve lived it, you can write it.”

The major broadcast and cable nets all have distinct needs, but there are some common threads. One of them is a willingness to experiment with nontraditional episode orders for dramas, and oddball formats for comedies. “We need to rethink the way we present comedy,” a top exec confesses.

CBS and NBC are hunting for shows with a spiritual element woven into the storytelling. That doesn’t mean overt Bible-thumping, but rather a nod to a nondenominational Higher Power as an influence. That could be something that feels like a contempo spin on “Touched by an Angel,” or it could be a more intimate focus on a character’s spiritual journey.

Fox has particular drive to add an action-dramedy to its mix. ABC wants soaps that feel like a reinvention of the genre. And all of the nets crave shows that “capture the zeitgeist,” according to multiple reports — just as soon as writers can figure out exactly what that means.

In general, the broadcast nets feel the need to lighten up a bit. Dark is OK, bleak and dystopian is not. Conspiracy thrillers are all over the schedule this coming season, so those are likely to be a tough sell for the 2015 development cycle. There’s only room for so many covert agencies, shadowy figures and international terrorist cells in primetime, after all.

In varying degrees, all of the broadcast nets want another “ER.” Medical procedurals have been a television staple (paging “Marcus Welby,” paging “Quincy”) but the genre hasn’t had much traction in recent seasons beyond “Grey’s Anatomy” and “House.”

The nets are looking for a few good women to play enigmatic characters — think Julianna Margulies in “The Good Wife.” Female leads are seen as good counterprogramming to the parade of male antiheroes on cable.

The dawn of “Mad Men” in 2007 kicked off a craze for period pieces, but the yearning to look back in time is definitely easing, due to the high casualty rate (“Pan Am,” “The Playboy Club,” “Vegas,” “The Carrie Diaries”). NBC is taking a big swing at the late 1960s with its David Duchovny starrer “Aquarius,” which is already in production, but otherwise there’s not much action in the past.

Slice-of-life family dramas in the vein of “Parenthood” are falling victim to the need to be noisier and sexier in a world of binge viewing. More’s the pity for the sake of our culture, but it’s hard to deliver Twitter-worthy, OMG moments in a show about the everyday trials and tribulations of the nuclear family — unless the teenage kids happen to be zombies.

As for comedies, workplace settings are more in demand than family vehicles. HBO’s “Silicon Valley” has been held up as an example of how to mine big laughs from a very specific world.

Broad, jokey multicam prospects are likely to get a warmer welcome than quirky single-camera efforts. NBC is pointing to Jimmy Fallon as a tonal guide for comedies that are low on snark and high on mass-market jokes.

But execs emphasize that these are merely guideposts to the upcoming development cycle. Those who need more certainty should probably get in touch with their spiritual side.

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