TV 'Upfronts' Preview Next Season's Shows

This week, big TV broadcast networks released their fall schedules at an event in New York City.

The “upfronts,” as the event is called in the industry, draws in a huge crowd of advertisers, media executives, actors, agents and producers. It also serves as a chance for big networks to woo over advertisers.

NPR’s TV critic Eric Deggans attended the event and joins Here & Now hosts Robin Young and Sacha Pfeiffer to discuss what shows caught his interest, what he thinks might flop and to re-cap on some of last season’s shows.


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And now let's get the lowdown on the upfronts. That's what the television industry calls it when advertisers buy commercial space upfront on next season's shows.


It makes it a good time to take note of the trends.

PFEIFFER: Trends like comic book shows being big, "Scandal" knockoffs being all the rage, and hold on, Robin, but the originally reality TV shows are getting tired.

YOUNG: What? "The Voice," that's not an original, but I still want to hear how it's doing. NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans is here to talk about the new lines ups and what we can expect. Hi, Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hey, how you doing?

YOUNG: Good. And for people who don't know much, or anything about these upfronts, because they're so industry, although we're hearing more about them, I think, than ever before, how does it work?

DEGGANS: Yeah, you mean people have a life?

YOUNG: Right, yeah.

DEGGANS: So here's how it works. The big TV networks, actually, all the big TV providers have some period in New York where they roll out these big glitzy presentations about the shows that they're going to do in the next TV season, and they try to get advertisers to pay early. They'll get discounted rates for commercial time if they buy it now.

Now this has been happening with the cable channels for a while, and it's been happening with online. They call that the new front as opposed to the upfront. And now we're at the classic upfronts, which are the network TV channels.

So we had NBC and Fox on Monday, we had ABC on Tuesday, we had CBS on Wednesday, and the CW today. They unveil their fall schedules and they try to make them look as glitzy and as potentially successful as possible, because they want to sell as much ad time as possible.

YOUNG: Well, it has worked for me, because there's one that I know you want to talk about first that sounds great, well, but we'll hear from you, what is it?

DEGGANS: Well, you know, one of things you can do is once they've announced their scheduled, the networks tend to put up trailers for all of the new TV shows, because they have done pilots, but they haven't really done very many episodes. So you get just a taste of what they're like. So I've watched all of the trailers, yes, I've earned my pay as a TV critic having to wade through all this stuff early, and one I really liked is called "Gotham."

Now this is from Fox, and this is basically an early look at the "Batman" world before Batman became Batman. And I think we actually have a clip of this.


DEGGANS: So let's check it out.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Citizens of Gotham, we will not, we cannot let these killers and these robbers and these rapists and these thugs win, not on my watch.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: That's my new partner, Jane Gordan.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: What's your name?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: My name's Bruce Wayne.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: I promise you, I will find the man who did this.

YOUNG: Ah, I cannot wait for this. It feels like "Smallville," remember, which followed Clark Kent from high school until his time as Superman. It was on the CW.

DEGGANS: Exactly.

YOUNG: Yeah. What do you think of it?

DEGGANS: Exactly. Well, you know, and I know some people are a little wary because we had - ABC had a show called "Agents of Shield" that basically was the Avenger's universe, like, without the Avengers. And so - and even Jimmy Kimmel, who's on ABC, has this history of doing a standup comedy routine at ABC's upfront, and he made fun of "Gotham." He said, you know, "Gotham" is for all the people who love Batman without Batman.

But looking at the trailer, you really get a sense of the kind of story they're going to tell. It's going to be focused on James Gordon, who is a young detective. And, of course, we know he eventually becomes police commissioner and becomes Batman's sort of right-hand man.

And we get to see young Bruce Wayne and his parents killed, and how he copes with that. We see a 'tween aged Cat Woman. We see all of these characters in very young ages at sort of seminal points in their development. I think comic book geeks like me are just going to eat this up with a spoon.

YOUNG: Well, and so there's that. We'll have a list by the way at But we also know you want to tell us about a show called "Gracepoint." That's a remake of a British TV show.

DEGGANS: Yeah, now this is really interesting. So the BBC and it also aired on BBC America had a show called "Broadchurch." And it was one of the year's best TV shows. I listed it among my top ten from last year. And it was eight episodes focused on the murder of a young boy in a very small English town. And so much of the character of the show was about the people in this small town and how they reacted to something very horrific.

And you had a team of detectives, one who is an outsider played by David Tennant, and one who's an insider who was a part of the community and they had to investigate this murder. So Fox decided to do its own Americanized version of it with David Tennant playing an American and with Anna Gunn, who we last saw as the wife of Walter White on "Breaking Bad." And we have a clip of that too. Let's check out a little bit of that.



DAVID TENNANT: If you or someone you know has noticed anything unusual.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: Have you been talking to the cops?

TENNANT: Don't hide anything. But as we will find out...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: You won't get in trouble if you tell me the truth.

TENNANT: Please tell the police immediately.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: We have to work this out together.

TENNANT: There will be no hiding place for Danny's killer. We will catch whoever did this.

DEGGANS: Now you have got to love David Tennant's American accent. That was David Tennant.


DEGGANS: And he sounded great. You know, one of the things I was really worried about, you know, there are some English actors who I won't name names who don't necessarily sound American when they do their American accents, but his seems to be spot on, so that's great. But one of the things if you've watched the show and you see the trailer, every scene looks like a shot for shot remake of the British TV show.

Now Fox executives have promised that there's a different ending. The killer will be a different person. And I'm just wondering how different the show is and whether it's going to feel a bit like a rerun for people who admittedly were able to see it on BBC America. It was on iTunes. There were ways to see this show before Fox did its version.

YOUNG: Sure.

DEGGANS: So I hope they change it up more.

YOUNG: Yeah, well we'll look for that.

PFEIFFER: And Eric, Sacha here, I understand that's also a show that you aren't that thrilled with that you want to talk about. It's a show that contains a TV veteran, that would be "Will and Grace" alum Debra Messing and the show is "The Mysteries of Laura."

DEGGANS: Yeah. Well, OK. So you wade through these trailers and some of them look very promising. We talked about a few. And then some of them look like they're just dead men walking, or dead women walking as we might want to say. And this trailer was like a "Saturday Night Live" parody to me. This is about a woman who is a police officer, but she's also a mom. So I think, do we - we have a clip of this. Let's listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #7: 9-1-1 at Newhaul.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: This is a depraved, unspeakable act. Get ready to be inside for a very long time.


DEGGANS: Yeah, so it's Olivia Benson from "SVU" with kids. You know, I don't know what's going on here. I will admit, it is not necessarily fair to judge a whole show by a two-minute trailer. But if you can't make a two-minute trailer that looks better than what Andy Samberg used to do every week on "Saturday Night Live," I think you've got a problem.

PFEIFFER: Eric, you also have a category of TV shows that you describe as shows that look maybe great, maybe awful. So what do you put on that list?

DEGGANS: OK. So we've talked about the great. We've talked about the awful. Now we want to talk about shows that could be really cool, or if they don't do it right, they could be a disaster. OK. And the first one on my list is this one that ABC is doing called "Gallivan."

Now the way to think this is to think about "Spamalot," which was a really cheeky musical comedy on television, a cheeky musical comedy about medieval times on television. Or some people have said, I think they said, that it's kind of like the "Princess Bride" meets "Once Upon a Time" meets "Spamalot." Right?

So you've got music. You've got comedy. You've got all kinds of great stuff going on here. And I think we have a clip of this one too. So let's check it out.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #8: I want to shoot him with a crossbow. I want to stab him in the eye. I want to liberate his head from his neck and then pump bloody wreck sky high.


DEGGANS: Yeah, yeah. Isn't that wonderful? Isn't that beautiful?

YOUNG: It just makes me want to just not turn it on. Listen, I just have to ask, OK, so you are seeing comedy. You're seeing other trends like "Scandal" ripoffs, comics coming back, comic books, but maybe something like "Dancing With the Stars," "The Voice," "American Idol," some of these shows getting tired?

DEGGANS: Yeah, well what we're seeing is the very classic - well, one of the things the upfronts do is all the networks officially...

YOUNG: Woah, Eric, we need the one answer. We need the one word answer, Otherwise we'll be drifting off into...

DEGGANS: OK. What I'll say is shows like "American Idol" and "Dancing With the Stars" are showing their age and the networks have to reinvent them for the next season. How's that?

YOUNG: NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans from your lips. Thanks so much, Eric.

DEGGANS: Thanks for having me.


PFEIFFER: HERE AND NOW is a production of NPR and WBUR Boston in association with the BBC World Service. I'm Sacha Pfeiffer.

YOUNG: I'm Robin Young. I love "The Voice." This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.