COVID-19 has impacted all segments of life and its ugly effects will be felt in the fall. Normally, the new television season aligns the start of the new school year. Just as municipalities are wrestling with whether to open schools, TV network executives are grappling with how to provide fresh programming when taping of new shows ceased because of the coronavirus.
The cable networks and the various streaming services seem to be positioned better than their venerable broadcast networks are with respect to fresh material. ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and the CW all canceled their panels for the Television Critics Association summer tour. CTAM (Cable Television Association of Marketing) was able however to host a week of virtual Zoom confabs for the press with many of the cable networks and streaming services.
NBC tried to present their fall slate of shows by reuniting the cast of “30 Rock” for a mid-July special as a way for them to introduce the new shows to the public in an entertaining way. Kenan Thompson, who has been the longest-tenured cast member in the history of “Saturday Night Live,” was scheduled to star in his own sitcom with Don Johnson that was going to be simply titled “Kenan.” Thompson and Johnson bantered for two minutes through Skype before they admitted that production hasn’t begun because of COVID-19.
The only new show NBC, or any of the commercial broadcast networks, has lined up for the fall is a medical drama, “Transplant,”which must have been shot at least a year ago.
Fox has three new shows: “Next” starring John Slattery which examines the dangers of artificial intelligence running amok; “Cosmos” has astronomer Neil Tyson DeGrasse taking over the hosting duties of the late Carl Sagan in an update of the late 1970s PBS series: and “Filthy Rich,” starring Kim Cattrall and Gerald McRaney as the powers behind a corrupt ministry both financially and morally. The recent foibles of Jerry Falwell, Jr. should give it some extra unexpected promotion.
PBS does have an intriguing series scheduled for mid-October, “Generation Nation,” which looks at how different age groups look at life in our country.
Here is a look at what some of the cable networks and streaming services have in store for us:
Nat Geo, which is now owned by the Disney Corporation, was originally a broadcast extension of iconic National Geographic Magazine. “Virus Hunters” returns the network to its magazine roots as correspondents travel to remote corners of the world to examine which animals are responsible for transmitting viruses to humans.
Host James Longman believes bats, who will always be associated with COVID-19, get a bad rap because the vast majority of the species are not venomous nor do they transmit anything harmful to people.
When Aretha Franklin died two years ago it was inevitable Hollywood would delve into her life. Jennifer Holliday is portraying her in a movie named after her most recognizable hit, “Respect.”
Not to be outdone, Nat Geo is having an eight-part dramatization about the Queen of Soul, “Genius: Aretha” with Cynthia Erivo in the title role. The showrunners of “Genius: Aretha” told the press that five episodes are in the can but no timetable has been set for the remaining three.
The network which has given us “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” and “The Walking Dead” is understandably looking for another tentpole series in the vein of those series.
The may have found one with “Soulmates,” a show that looks at relationships in the age of computerization. Anyone who has even seen a commercial for eHarmony or Match.com has heard claims of how technology can help one’s love life. “Soulmates” asks the question “Would you take a test and meet the person a computer thinks is perfect for you if you are already involved in a relationship?”
“Gangs Of London,” a show about organized crime families in the UK, debuted on that country’s Sky Atlantic cable channel this past spring. Series creator and director Gareth Evans was reticent to cite “The Sopranos” as an influence but it sure looked like a British knockoff of it. Hey, that’s not a bad thing.
If you want to see top entertainers portraying characters who discuss the issues of 2020 then you’ll enjoy”Coastal Elites.” Bette Midler, Issa Rae, Sarah Paulson, and Dan Levy all play slightly neurotic characters speaking to the audience from their homes as the series will be produced through social distancing guidelines.
Showtime is set to debut “The Comey Rule,” its two-part dramatization on how the up-and ultimately-down relationship between former FBI Director James Comey and President Trump, debuts at the end of this month. Jeff Daniels portrays the somber Comey while Irish actor Brendan Gleeson plays the famous Queens native who is currently residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
“The Circus,” Showtime’s must-watch Sunday evening show for politics fanatics, is back with new episodes after it was put on hiatus, like nearly everything else, when the pandemic struck this past spring.
The network which cut its teeth with the OJ Simpson trial 25 years ago and then faded after it was acquired by Time Warner (now Warner Media) is back under new ownership. “Judgment,” hosted by former NBC News reporter Ashley Banfield, who is best remembered for her work during the Gulf War in 1991, anchors a series about grisly crimes and the pursuit of justice. How this will differ from NBC’s “Dateline,” CBS’s “48 Hours,” Oxygen’s “Snapped,” or anything you will ever see Discovery Network’s ID channel is to be seen.
Streaming services have certainly benefitted from COVID-19 as the demand for home entertainment has grown exponentially. They were doing well even before the pandemic as more and more consumers have been ditching cable for other options such as Roku.
Since we’re talking about streaming services let’s start with the industry leader, Netflix.
Netflix started out as a competitor to Blockbuster Video as a way of delivering recent theatrical movies to consumers’ homes. With Blockbuster and other retail competitors long gone, Netflix has turned its attention to episodic television.
Anyone whoever saw the 1976 film, “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” will remember Louise Fletcher s chilling Nurse Ratched character who was the foil to Jack Nicholson’s Randle McMurphy as the matched wits and wills in an asylum.
Mildred Ratched is being revived in “Ratched” with Sarah Paulson taking over for Louise Fletcher. Sharon Stone and failed New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon co-star. The Randle McMurphy character apparently will not be part of the series.
Baby boomers will fondly remember “The Partridge Family” and the animated Saturday morning series, “Archie” and “Josie & The Pussycats,” where teens formed pop music bands and wound up having hits. “Julie & The Phantoms,” starring Madison Reyes, is about a budding composer who finds inspiration to form a band thanks to the ghosts of three musicians from way back in 1995. Nothing like that plot device to make a lot of us feel really old.
“Deaf U” is a reality series which follows the lives of students at the famous private university for the deaf, Gallaudet, located in Washington, DC.
Warner Media launched its streaming service, HBO Max, shortly after Memorial Day. The company sees this division of its massive empire as its main source of future revenue in the very near future.
HBO Max’s big fall entry will be “The Flight Attendant” which stars “Big Bang Theory” alum Kaley Cuoco who also is serving as its executive producer. Cuoco plays a carefree flight attendant who wakes up next to a murdered corpse after a one-night hookup. Think of this as “The Fugitive” with a touch of dark comedy.
“The Murders At White House Farm” have nothing to do with American presidents but rather a real-life 1985 murder of a family in a London suburb. A cast of British actors give their interpretation of a crime that shook England to the core 35 years ago.
“On The Trail: Inside The 2020 Primaries” is a look at how the media covered the battle to become the Democratic Party nominee to go up against President Trump. This appears to be a less playful answer to Showtime’s “The Circus.”
Hulu is celebrating its tenth anniversary in business as a subscription streaming service. It was launched in 2010 as a joint venture between NBC and Fox but through a series of corporate mergers and other transactions it’s now under the umbrella of the Walt Disney Corporation.
Actor and comedian Larmorne Morris, who recently co-starred with Vin Diesel in the action film “Bloodshot,” stars as real-life cartoonist Keith Knight in the topical “Woke.”
“No Man’s Land” is a dramatization of the Syrian civil war and stars French actor Felix Moati as Antoine, who believes ISIS is holding his sister captive, and will stop at nothing to reunite with her.
Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle are back for a second season of “PEN 15″ in which they humorously recall their junior high school days.
Jeff Bezos’s startup has branched out from being online bookseller to being the world’s biggest online retailer. If that was enough Amazon bought Whole Foods and started a streaming service a few years ago. “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” remains its most popular show.
John Cusack is set to star in “Utopia,” in which his character leads a band of rebels against an authoritarian regime while a pandemic is raging. The series producers swear the show was formulated before recent real world events.
Peacock is Comcast’s new streaming service which was launched on July 15. Unlike the others listed here, Peacock has a basic service that is free to consumers as their omnipresent TV ads remind us.
They have some intriguing programs in the hopper. The popular ‘90s NBC Saturday morning high school comedy, “Saved By The Bell,” is being rebooted. Elizabeth Berkley, who played a student in the original now plays a guidance counselor at her alma mater, Bayside High. Mario Lopez reprises his Slater character who is now a gym teacher there. Issues which were not on the radar in the early 90s such as transgender students’ rights are promised to be episodic themes in this updated version.
Will Forte created his MacGruber character when he was a cast member of “Saturday Night Live.” It was a sendup of “MacGyver” which ran on ABC from 1985-1992. In that show, Richard Dean Anderson’s character, Angus MacGyver, could get out of any predicament with just everyday items as a pen or a nail clipper. Forte will be starring as MacGruber on Peacock.
“AP Bio,” which had a short run on NBC, will have a third season on Peacock. The show stars Glenn Howerton as Toldeo high school teacher Jack Griffin who is not exactly the second coming of Mr. Chips. Howerton’s burned out and cynical Jack Griffin makes this show a fun watch even if it covers nearly the same ground as Cameron Diaz’s 2011 film, “Bad Teacher.”
Topic and Shudder
The advent of technology has opened the doors for a number of niche streaming services.
Topic caters to those with eclectic tastes who want programming that is not always available through the mass market streamers.
Topic offers the kind of documentaries which might play at the Film Forum In SoHo such as the biography of the late Caroll Spinney titled “I Am Big Bird.” It also offers offbeat series such as “What’s Your Ailment?” in which celebrities discuss therapy and mental health.
“The Accidental Wolf” starring Broadway veteran actress Kelli O’Hara is a drama about Katie, a wealthy but bored housewife living in a Manhattan penthouse who receives a phone call from a mysterious man whose life appears to be in jeopardy after she hears gunshots. When she hears him pleading to spare the life of his wife and young child, Katie decides to try to find them.
Shudder is a streaming service that is dedicated to the horror genre. If you need a Vincent Price or Christopher Lee fix, you’ll love Shudder. Halloween is the real holiday season for Shudder and among the titles they are showcasing this fall include “The Mortuary Collection,” “May The Devil Take You Too,” “The Cleansing Hour,” and “Scare Me.”