Fox has become the most schizophrenic network, with its relentless pursuit of the minimally talented in its reality programming, and its equally relentless pursuit of maximum quality in its scripted series. Any ads for its fall schedule might as well just consist of busts of two gigantic heads: Steven Spielberg, whose lavishly-budgeted Terra Nova is bound to be the season’s biggest economic and reputation-affecting production, and Simon Cowell, from whose waggling brow has sprung a Stateside version of The X Factor talent show, a sure-fire ratings-getter out of the gate.
There will be much initial curiosity over the state of Paula Abdul’s mental health and the degree to which Cowell will temper his temper to suit the current atmosphere of kind, positive, nurturing criticism that prevails on American Idol, The Voice, The Sing-Off, and probably The O’Reilly Factor any day now. After that, however, it’s going to take some effort on Fox’s part to keep X Factor from becoming The World Has Got Slightly Less Talent Than We Thought.
As for Terra Nova, this is one big-budget gamble I’m rooting for. Its concept — families from the future sent back to prehistoric time to save the world — is one of those extravagant notions that can work as absorbing fun with a potentially rich mythology, or as inadvertently campy giggle-fest, or as a grand folly that will be fun (provided you don’t have a paycheck involved in making the thing) to witness implode. Plus, I always root for anything that involves Stephen Lang, an actor whose TV work I’ve admired at least as far back as Michael Mann’s Crime Story.
In keeping with Fox’s tradition of scatter-shot programming that doesn’t cohere as a philosophy but succeeds by being The Network You Turn To When There’s Nothing You Want To See On The Other Networks, this season looks rather ripe.
Monday: Terra Nova leads off at 8, suggesting it’ll be at least somewhat family-friendly (and only slightly increases the chances it may ultimately resemble Land of the Lost). It’s followed by House, which may be headed into its last season, should Hugh Laurie decide it’s time to put the Old Gimp out to pasture.
Tuesday: Fox is all about squeezing every ounce of profit it can from Glee, even as the network must worry about the increasing division among its viewership about whether the show has undergone a creative renewal or a descent into musical ADD. It will be followed by New Girl, a show that will rise or fall entirely on the extent to which you find Zooey Deschanel charming, because it’s all about her as a gawky lovable sprite surrounded mostly by admiring men. I find her quite charming.
Wednesday: X Factor, for 90 minutes. Hey, there are four judges and two hosts — they need the time. At 9:30, it’s sitcom time. Much as I like Jamie Pressly, I Hate My Teenage Daughter looked like a chore to sit through, for the same reason Fox probably picked it up: It plays up antagonism between mothers and daughters. And the daughters seem really mean. And the mothers seem really needy. Can’t we all just get enough of that in our own lives, or from the lives of our friends?
Thursday: The X Factor results show. Don’t people tape results shows and watch ’em later?
Friday: Nothing to pay attention to until Fringe returns.
Saturday: The usual Cops-a-palooza.
Sunday: Animation domination continues, and squeezed between The Simpsons and Family Guy will be Allen Gregory, a cartoon created and voiced by Jonah Hill. I know that I should be enthused about any show whose central character is a well-spoken, mostly-polite young man — there are so few of them on TV, live or animated — but the clip shown at Fox’s upfront presentation made Allen Gregory look dismayingly prim. I wouldn’t pass final judgment on it at this point, and in its favor, the animation style is clean, crisp, and as bright as Allen himself. At the very least, Allen Gregory will be a visual tonic when compared to the sub-Hanna-Barbera animation of the Seth MacFarlane empire.