NEW YORK, N.Y. – As broadcast networks rolled out their plans for next season this past week, those watching could be forgiven for pulling out phones and checking the calendar.
There’s the cast of NBC’s “Will & Grace,” ready to return. The folks at “Roseanne” are back on the couch. “Dynasty” and “S.W.A.T.” are coming back with new actors, the latter settling in to a CBS lineup that already boasts “Hawaii Five-0” and “Macgyver.” Just a year after its farewell season, “American Idol” will live again.
With cable and streaming services enticing viewers with bold work like “Game of Thrones,” ”Stranger Things” and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” broadcasters entered a time machine in a quest to find something appealing.
The reboot of “Roseanne,” ABC’s hit 1988-97 comedy about a working-class family led by Roseanne Barr, was that network’s big surprise.
“The Conners’ joys and struggles are as relevant and hilarious today as they were then, and there’s really no one better to comment on our modern America than Roseanne,” ABC Entertainment President Channing Dungey said.
CW President Mark Pedowitz said it was a “no-brainer” to order a remake of the prime-time soap “Dynasty.” Much of the network’s target audience hadn’t been born when onscreen divas Linda Evans and Joan Collins engaged in catfights, as they were charmingly called back then.
Networks hope the reheated comfort food will appeal to those who remember the original shows as well as newcomers unaware they’re not seeing an original concept.
CBS Corp. Chairman Leslie Moonves, who called the “Roseanne” comeback a “stunt” in admiring fashion, suggested too much was being made of the trend. “When you look at the totality of what’s out there, it’s really a small part,” he said.
ABC’s decision to revive “American Idol,” likely in the mid-season, had other networks rolling out the kind of rationalizations you’d expect to hear from rejected suitors. Producers offered it around widely before ABC bit.
Too expensive and too soon, rival executives said. The discussions were personal at Fox, where “Idol” made its original home. Fox executives said they spent millions of dollars promoting the show’s supposed last season just a year ago and that it would feel fraudulent to bring it back so quickly.
“We did not see the fan excitement and enthusiasm for the show to come back that (producers) Fremantle did,” said Dana Walden, chairman and CEO of the Fox Television Group. “We just had a different set of facts.”
THE FINAL FRONTIER
Networks are wading more deeply into sci-fi and fantasy genres, aping the movie model that finds more reliable success with space and superhero sagas than untested themes. “Marvel’s Inhumans” will air on ABC. CW is adding “Black Lightning” to a comic book-heavy schedule that already includes “The Flash” and “Supergirl.” Fox will air “The Gifted,” a drama about children with mutant powers, and comedy “Ghosted,” about pals exploring unexplained phenomena in Los Angeles.
THIS IS WAR
There’s a military drama trend next season, and it’s strictly elite. CBS is enlisting “Seal Team,” which explores the personal and professional lives of members of an “elite Navy SEAL team” deployed on missions worldwide. David Boreanaz (“Bones”) stars. NBC’s “The Brave,” with Anne Heche, is billed as a heart-pounding journey into the world of the “elite undercover” U.S. military. “Valor” from CW tracks an “elite unit” of U.S. Army helicopter pilots, the Shadow Raiders, whose secret mission goes awry.
President who? The prime-time broadcast schedules suggest that if you’re looking to be reminded of the nation’s political drama, you might want to go elsewhere. “I think what the mood of the country has told us is that television is a little bit of an escape,” ABC’s Dungey said.
Executives probably didn’t appreciate Seth MacFarlane’s routine as he took the stage at New York’s Beacon Theater to talk about his new Fox comedy “The Orville.” His target was corporate cousin Fox News Channel. “Now at Fox, our reputation it could use a little bump, ’cause although we’ve brought you ratings we elected Donald Trump,” he sang, backed by an orchestra. Then he introduced a pair of Fox Television Group executives as “the only two people at Fox not being sued” — a reference to harassment and other claims filed against the news channel.
Stephen Colbert came prepared to show why his late-night show has risen to the top of the ratings with a little help from the Trump administration. At CBS’ Carnegie Hall gathering, Colbert noted the rush of late-breaking political news happening this week at the time his show tapes. “In the hour I’m on the air I can sound as out of touch about what’s going on in the White House as Sean Spicer,” he said.
There is originality out there. CBS, formulaic in its dramas, has two comedy newcomers that stand out. “Me, Myself & I” looks at the pivotal moments in a man’s life at different times, including age 14 in 1991, 40 in present day and 65 in 2042. The sitcom “By the Book,” is about a man who challenges himself to live strictly in accordance with the Bible. It’s based on A.J. Jacobs’ bestselling book, “The Year of Living Biblically.”
NBC’s “Rise” stars Josh Radnor as a teacher who turns a high school’s theatre program into a boost for students and a working-class town. Producer Jason Katims has shown he has the tender touch in “Parenthood” and “Friday Night Lights.”
THAT WAS A JOKE. WE THINK
Television isn’t so superficial that relationships are built strictly on numbers, is it?
“If you think that I love Stephen Colbert more now that he is No. 1,” Moonves said, “you’re right.”