Tuned in: ‘Peak TV’ brings new premiere, cancellation patterns
November 25, 2015 12:00 AM
The stars of "Superstore" from left: Lauren Ash, Nico Santos, Ben Feldman, America Ferrera, Mark McKinney, Nichole Bloom and Colton Dunn.
Eva Longoria as Ana Sofia in "Telenovela."
By Rob Owen / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
There are a lot of changes to how the TV business operates in this era of “peak TV,” the theory introduced by FX Networks CEO John Landgraf that there’s simply too much scripted television, so much that networks won’t be able to support its high price tag because viewers’ attention is so divided among so many shows on multiple platforms (TV, basic cable, premium cable, online streaming services) vying for their attention.
It’s a theme Mr. Landgraf has echoed several times over the past two years and I wrote about “too much scripted TV” back in May before Mr. Landgraf’s August press conference at the Television Critics Association summer press tour when the notion of “peak TV” — #peakTV in social media parlance — really began to garner media attention.
Mr. Landgraf cited FX research that found 371 original scripted series on assorted platforms in 2014 with an estimate of more than 400 scripted series in 2015.
“I, long ago, lost the ability to keep track of every scripted TV series, as I know you do, even though we all do this for a living professionally; but, this year, I finally lost track of the ability to keep track of every programmer who is in the scripted programming business,” Mr. Landgraf told TV critics. “This is simply too much television. My sense is that 2015 or 2016 will represent peak TV in America, and that we'll begin to see declines coming the year after that and beyond.”
Since August, the TV business has shown signs that peak TV is not just theory but reality. Earlier this month, Spike TV canceled what was to be its first scripted series since filmed-in-Pittsburgh drama “The Kill Point” in 2007. WEtv burns off its first scripted series, exorcist drama “South of Hell” starring Pittsburgh native Lamman Rucker, in a seven-episode Black Friday Binge beginning at 6 p.m. Friday.
In addition, networks are taking different approaches to how they handle doomed shows. Rather than canceling a series outright and pulling it immediately, networks are cutting episode orders and allowing low-rated series to air as network researchers monitor not only overnight ratings, but also delayed ratings that include viewing via DVR and on demand.
But make no mistake, these yet-to-be-canceled series, including Fox’s “Minority Report,” NBC’s “Truth Be Told” and ABC’s “Blood and Oil,” are just as much goners as the season’s one true cancellation so far, yanked-from-the-schedule ABC serial killer drama “Wicked City.”
Networks also use new tactics with premiering shows. Launching a show’s first episode online before it airs on TV is by now routine, but NBC is taking that one step further by airing the premiere episodes of two new occasionally funny comedies, “Superstore” and “Telenovela,” as stand-alone sneak peeks a month before the programs start airing weekly. Both programs debut following ratings-winner “The Voice,” with “Superstore” up first Monday at 10 and 10:30 p.m. and “Telenovela” at 10 and 10:30 p.m. Dec. 7.
America Ferrera (“Ugly Betty”) returns to prime time as the most responsible staffer at a Wal-Mart-type big box store, Cloud 9, who has a semi-flirtatious, fremeny relationship with new clerk Jonah (Ben Feldman, “A to Z”) while trying to wrangle loose cannon employees, including a pregnant teen, Cheyenne (Nichole Bloom, “Shameless”); clueless Bible-thumping store manager Glenn (Mark McKinney, “Kids in the Hall”); and combative assistant manager Dina (Lauren Ash, “Super Fun Night”).
Created by writer Justin Spitzer (“The Office,” “Mulaney”), “Superstore” has its funny moments as it alternately mocks People of Wal-Mart types while trying to protect the dignity of the store’s employees. It’s difficult for the show to have it both ways.
“Superstore” is at its funniest when it’s also at its most ruthless and offensive, but those moments are few. In the episode “Mannequin,” Glenn proposes adopting Cheyenne’s unborn child, using his status as a foster parent as proof that he’d be a good choice.
“Foster children are a blessing, but it’s as if you’ve been driving used cars your whole life,” Glenn says, preparing to offend any former foster children who might be tuned in. “Just once it would be nice to experience a brand new one straight from the factory that hasn’t been all dinged up.”
“Superstore” will air in its regular time slot, Mondays at 8 p.m., beginning Jan. 4.
Eva Longoria makes her post-“Desperate Housewives” return to prime time as telenovela star Ana Sofia, whose diva-dom is threatened when the network hires Ana’s ex-husband (Jencarlos Canela) to co-star in her telenovela series.
The pilot episode has fun riffing on TV stars with swelled heads and telenovela camera trick clichés, and it all plays to Ms. Longoria’s comedic strengths.
The show clearly wants to be like the movie “Soapdish,” but “Telenovela” can’t quite pull it off. A second episode is considerably less funny than the pilot, a danger sign.
“Telenovela” will air in its regular time slot, Mondays at 8:30 p.m., beginning Jan 4.
TV writer Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook for breaking TV news.
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