Recap: The 2014-2015 Network Upfronts

enhanced-17069-1399674839-7

by Kendra James

There was one clear winner at the network Upfronts this year: DC Comics.

Yes, DC Comics a company that hasn’t managed to do much this year except piss off their fans, came from behind, hurdled over the teen barrier that is the CW network, and dominated the fall 2014 pilot season. Thanks to pickups on NBC, FOX, and the CW, DC (in part with Marvel’s presence on ABC) has managed to leave CBS as the only network without a show centered around superheroes.

Of course, with a demographic needle pointed exclusively at the 45 and older column and two more NCIS and CSI spinoffs headed our way, it’s possible CBS just doesn’t care. Not that CBS was the only network with a line of uninspired pickups for the fall season– there’s plenty more of that (and the full details of DC’s television takeover) under the cut.

NBC

Let’s just get this out of the way first: Parenthood was renewed and I’m not crying, it’s just raining on my face.

There’s not a lot I’ve enjoyed on NBC over the past year and the two Jason Katims shows that I do watch, Parenthood and About A Boy, were both on the renewal bubble as we went into Upfronts week. Parenthood, a show that deals with a wide variety of topics like trans-racial adoptions and inter-racial relationships, was renewed for a final 13 episode season. About a Boy, which co-stars former Daily Show correspondent Al Madrigal (and occasionally crosses over with Parenthood), was renewed for a second season. Otherwise there was a bit of a bloodbath over at the Peacock. We’ve lost Community and Blair Underwood‘s project Ironside along with several other failed comedies and dramas (because, shocker, Growing Up Fisher and Dracula were not shows to bet a network on).

But Sean Hayes and Michael J. Fox’s losses are DC Comic’s gains. Constantine, based on the Hellblazer comic from their Vertigo imprint, arrives this fall starring Matt Ryan in the titular role, Lucy Griffiths (BBC’s Robin Hood) and Harold Perrineau as “Manny”. No word yet on who will be playing Constantine’s advisary Papa Midnight, and it’s possible NBC doesn’t know yet either. They tried casting the role on February 26th and had to get a lot less specific in a second call ten days later when their request for a Cuban actor apparently went unanswered to their liking:

con2a

con1a

Click to enlarge the castings for Papa Midnight

True Blood costars Oscar-Nominee Alfre Woodard and Janina Gavankar land on NBC on State of Affairs and The Mysteries of Laura respectively. Woodard plays the President of the United States to Katherine Heigl’s CIA operative on their hour long while Gavankar co-stars with Debra Messing on a new cop show. Lenora Crichlow moves from ABC (Back In The Game) to NBC on A to Z, a new romantic comedy (produced in part by Rashida Jones), and Craig Robinson will star in Mr. Robinson which we first heard about back in February of 2013. It co-stars Amandla Stenberg (Sleepy Hollow) as one of the students Robinson’s character teaches, and Larenz Tate.

And finally, Art would kill me if I didn’t remind R readers that the formerly kinda multi-racial Heroes will be back on television at some point during the coming season. There’s no trailer or cast, but the hopes of many (or just Art) are currently in show runner Tim Kring‘s hands.

ABC

ABC made the bold decision to sell nearly all of their dramatic airtime to  Shonda Rhimes  until 2018, leaving me wonder if this is truly what Reparations were supposed to look like.

The Scandal creator inked a 4 year deal with the network that comes on the heels of the pickup of her newest show, How To Get Away With Murder. Murder stars Oscar-winner Viola Davis, and features Alfie Enoch (Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter films) as the one main character we appear to be introduced to in the trailer below. We don’t quite know what Rhimes’ deal with ABC entails yet, but it starts with an all Shonda Thursday night lineup this fall. Grey’s Anatomy viewers will have to adjust their schedules as the show moves to 8pm, followed by Murder at 9, and Scandal’s fourth season at 10. It’s not a stretch to assume that Rhimes will spend the next four years developing shows for the network. Perhaps that collaboration with Awkward Black Girl creator Issa Rae that ABC passed on last year?

But because a network cannot survive on the shoulders of one woman alone (and because Shonda Rhomes doesn’t seem to have much of a sense of humour) the network also picked up a string of half hour comedies including the John Cho and Karen Gillian helmed Pygmalion-esque Selfie.

Fresh off the Boat will be the first comedy centerting around an Asian American family since Margaret Cho’s All American Girl from 1994. Boat takes its title from chef Eddie Huang‘s memoir off which it’s based. The show follows a young Eddie, played by newcomer Hudson Yang, as his family relocates from Washington DC to Florida in the 1990s.

Fresh Off the Boat (Midseason, TBD)

Then we have Black-ish, featuring Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Osacar Nominated Laurence Fishburne (you’re going to start to see a trend), about a Black family who begins to think that they may have assimilated into white society too much. I’d love it if we could bury the ‘real Blackness’ meme (or “New Black” as Pharrell’d like you to call it) deep, deep underground, so I’m not so hot on sticking it on national television.

I read part of the script for Selfie back when the casting breakdowns first appeared in January, and while my socks weren’t blown off by it’s progressiveness one can’t help but root for John Cho and hope that it benefited from some sort of rewrites. The only inside scoop we have from Boat (aside from the slight red flag that the phrase “tiger mom” was used as a descriptor for casting the mother) comes from Jeff Yang, real life father of Hudson. He wrote the following in his Wall Street Journal column:

I think I can safely share this much, however: The show is like nothing you will have ever seen before on television. If it makes it to air, it will blow minds, raise eyebrows and, to quote a line that my son says as Little Eddie, “change the game.” I would honestly say the same if I weren’t the lead actor’s father. It’s that different. And provocative. And, yes, gut-bustingly funny.

ABC also greenlit a Peggy Carter series starring Hayley Atwell, bringing their superhero show roster to two. I’m not going to be the person to decry a female led piece of comic book based media (Lord knows I’m 10x more interested in a Peggy Carter show than I have ever been in a Wonder Woman movie), but wouldn’t it be nice if the show ended up with a little more diversity than the main cast of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Ming Na’s holding it down, but if we could get some of those Howling Comandos from the first Captain America film or any mention of repercussions stemming from the Truth: Red, White and Black arc I’d be a happy viewer who actually felt appreciated by the company that gets a large chunk of my annual salary. The shows 1946 setting is no excuse for a lack of diverse casts or plot lines.

Otherwise, I’m rooting for Peggy and Hayley this fall. ABC is nothing if not chock full of dramas driven by their female characters –renewed shows Scandal, Once Upon A Time, Mistresses, Revenge, and Nashville, and new shows The Austronauts Wives Club and How To Get Away With Murder, are just a handful. Produced by Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters (Hawaii Five-0, Reaper),Agent Carter should see a stronger start than S.H.I.E.L.D in terms of quality, and will hopefully find a long network television life.

FOX

Fox never fails to produce an exciting crop of hour-longs brimming with potential that will have stabbed their audience in the back by the time May rolls around– and that’s literally, if you watch The Following. We’re losing one, Almost Human, which starred Michael Ealey and Karl Urban which debuted this winter, and gaining another. Like Almost Human, DC’s Gotham is a show that I would like to be excited about, but it’s airing on Fox. It’s just as likely to be a crap-fest that’s aired in order as it is to be a brilliant look at the streets and characters of Gotham City aired ass-backwards. This is Fox, after all.

Gotham stars Ben McKenzie (The OC, SouthLAnd) and features Jada Pinkett Smith as a crime boss character created specifically for the show. It was announced after the release of the trailer that Victoria Cartegena‘s Renee Montoya (a crucial lesbian Latina character from the comic Bat-verse) will also be a series regular.

Elsewhere, Oscar Winner Octavia Spencer (starting to see the trend here?) stars in Red Band Society, an hour long about the patients, nurses, and doctors in the pediatric wing of a hospital. Michael Pena co-stars in the American Broadchurch remake called Bordertown in this iteration, yet still starring David Tennant.

Oscar Winner Terrence Howard, Oscar Winner Gabourey Sidibe, and Oscar Nominee Taraji P. Henson arrive in the midseason debut Empire about a hip-hop media mogul, his family, and their business. Lee Daniels and Danny Strong are writing and Timbaland is producing the show’s original music. With Glee ending and ABC picking up a second original musical show (Galavant, with original music by Disney genius Alan Menken), Fox must have felt the need to get in the game. Personally, I can’t with Terrence Howard since the whole baby-wipes thing, but this is another Fox show that I’d like to see get a fair shot. Danny Strong wrote Recount and Game Change for HBO, and partnered with Lee Daniels on last summer’s The Butler, leading me to believe that if Fox airs the show in order and doesn’t completely change the premise a season or two in (see: Glee, The Following)  then there’s no reason for this not to be raking in Emmys in a year’s time.

Which is the exact opposite of what the drama Hieroglyph, will be doing. I’ve seen Condola Rashad on Broadway, and I promise you she’s better than this:

If you like snakes, eyeliner, sex, vampires (I think those were vampires?), and shows that focus on the sole shirtless white man in the middle of a country populated by various people of color, then I guess this is the midseason replacement show for you.

On the comedy side we’re getting Mulaney, which appears to be a modern day Seinfeld with a few more brown people. John Mulaney, Nasim Pedrad, Seaton Smith, Martin Short, and a dog in a dreadlock hat star. The Mindy Project was renewed, and Seth MacFarlane was allowed to produce a cartoon about a white border patrol agent and Mexican immigrants called Boardertown. So that’s happening, and I’m sure it won’t be offensive to anyone at all.

The CW

Because the CW will air a show until it goes out begging for a mercy kill there wasn’t much movement over here for 2014-2015. The network renewed Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries, The Originals, Arrow, Beauty and the Beast (starring Kristen Kruek), and Hart of Dixie. Freema Agyemen and The Carrie Diaries got the boot.

The Flash, introduced on Arrow this season, got the green light meaning that the Wests are officially a Black family now. Between this and The Fantastic Four casting news this week, racist comic book fans are not having a great month. Grant Gustin stars as Barry Allen with Candice Patton playing Iris West (eventual wife of Barry, and aunt of the third Flash, Wally West) and Jesse L. Martin playing her father, Detective West. The show comes from the team behind Arrow (which finishes a so far superb second season tonight) and if successful will probably stay on the air until I’m in my mid 40s. DC continues their conquest with iZombie, also debuting on The CW this fall.

Jane the Virgin joins the network starring Gina Rodriguez as the title character, a religious Latina woman who ends up pregnant after she’s accidentally artificially inseminated. The show is based on a popular Venezuelan telenovelas (much like what ABC did with Ugly Betty), but there’s not much more information than that. In lieu of a trailer, here’s a description of the series regulars:

jane1

CBS

The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men, CSIs and 20 NCISs are all still on the air, and all is right with the world.

I exaggerate the numbers slightly, but CBS heard the calls of many and is giving us NCIS: New Orleans this fall, co-starring CCH Pounder (most recently of Sons of Anarchy)CSI goes cyber with CSI: Cyber (yup) which doesn’t appear to have a fully announced cast as of yet. But if they stay true to the CBS procedural formula then rest assured the cyber team will consist of at least one Black person and one quirky white lady.

Stalker (Wednesdays at 10 p.m.)

Stalker with Maggie Q and Dylan McDermott (because once CBS finds a formula and pairing that works they run with it; Elementary also returns this fall) looks far more interesting. Kevin Williamson (The Following, The Vampire Diaries) runs the new drama that follows two detectives who specialise in stalking cases for the LAPD. That’s kind of… specific, but I’ve always loved the camp-fests that are Williamson shows, and Maggie Q is a gift, so let’s give it a shot.

Finally Oscar Winner Halle Berry’s  sci-fi show Extant begins this summer and  Kal Penn is set to co-star in Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan’s Battle Creek. It is, you guessed it, another detective show– a final brave and bold choice by CBS to end our coverage of the 2014 network Upfronts.

  • Zahra

    I for one look forward to Hieroglyph solely for the pleasure of reading about its ridiculousness on the internet!

    The Fresh Off the Boat trailer looks pretty fabulous, actually.

  • nevilleross

    DC Comics a company that hasn’t managed to do much this year except piss off their fans

    If by ‘pissing off their fans’ you mean canceling two comic books that were failing in sales and (almost) getting rid of a character that wan’t really going anywhere (and no, I’m sorry, but one old cartoon from ten years ago isn’t proof of said character’s wide popularity) then I fail to see how DC ‘pissed off’ anybody.

    Good call on Black-ish-apparently the creators haven’t seen The Cosby Show or talked to enough black families (hell, they could talk to me and ask me about mine.)