When we weren’t looking, January became the second coming of September on the TV calendar.
Don’t ask how it happened — it just did. It’s like there was some meeting in a secret mountain location known as The Meadows where the Queen, the Vatican, the Gettys, the Rothschilds and Colonel Sanders all decided there shouldn’t just be one month a year for TV premieres, but two.
So now, we have January.
Make no mistake — it’s still the “midseason replacement season” for the networks. New midseason shows are plugged in to fill spots on the schedule that under-performing shows screwed up for the first four months and rarely make the fall season schedule. Networks order more TV shows than its fall season can fit so that they have other ones ready to go when 10 or 20 percent of the fall shows don’t work out.
There’s a reason midseason shows don’t go into the fall schedule, though. No one thinks they’re as good as the stuff ready for the fall, so networks wait until they need them. Kinda like a relief pitcher brought into a game their team already is losing 10-2 in the seventh. They’re only there to stop the bleeding, make sure the game ends at a reasonable hour and they’re usually cut at the end of the year.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t success stories. In fact, each of the major networks have at least one major, scripted, midseason replacement success story — ABC has Grey’s Anatomy, Fox has The Simpsons, NBC has The Office and CBS has Rules of Engagement (a reach, but a four-season reach).
Cable: First, cable decided it would take over the summer, when networks didn’t even realize existed 15 years ago. When they packed up the summer with successful series (Monk, Nip/Tuck, The Shield, The Closer) more than even cable networks realized was possible, they needed someplace else to put them and January was the perfect place. It was after the holiday down season, networks didn’t really take January programming seriously (new episode, repeat, new episode, repeat, repeat) and it gave them a month to let those shows get a following for February sweeps. Now USA breaks up its most popular shows to air half in the summer, half starting in January, FX always premieres at least one show in the month and TNT is following suit with Southland. All of that forced the hands of the broadcast networks, which try to make splashes with “winter premieres” in January after a couple weeks of hiatus.
Reality TV: Networks know they need to compete with cable stations for eyes and publicity in January — but they don’t have the money to produce high-concept shows and premiere them in the winter. Those are reserved for September. So the winter has become a time to premiere cheaper, less risky reality shows and see how they do. Like Undercover Boss or The Marriage Ref last year. More than anything, when a reality show has proven itself, networks seem to really enjoy premiering them in the winter (American Idol, The Bachelor).
So with all of that, now we have January, the start of the winter TV season. It’s probably the most tame of the last two or three Januarys, since FX doesn’t have much of an exciting roll-out and the network offerings are at best mediocre. But there are still some premieres worth checking out. Today is Part 1, through Jan. 17, we’ll finish it off this week some time:
V (ABC, Tuesday): Considering only about one-quarter of last year’s show was even remotely interesting — any parts that involved Anna and … nothing else — the fact that I’m even listing it is almost a gift. But if ABC decided to bring it back for another year, there had to be some kind of plan, right? Some kind of way to make the show more focused and streamlined? It’s got two weeks to prove to me it can be a good show before Raising Hope comes back and I drop V for good.
SOUTHLAND (TNT, Tuesday): I’m giving Southland a mulligan. When its new episodes aired on TNT last year, they were supposed to be the second season of episodes that aired on NBC until the network pulled the plug before it even aired the episodes. They weren’t that good. I was often choosing procedural episodes of Justified instead. Now Southland’s new episodes are all TNT, away from the NBC standards and practices people. The entire vibe of the show should change.
JERSEY SHORE (MTV, Jan. 6): Holy s—, did I just mention Jersey Shore? Let’s just get all the reality crap out of the way right here: Bachelor (ABC, tonight), Biggest Loser (NBC, Tuesday), American Idol (Fox, Jan. 19), Survivor (CBS, Feb. 16), Amazing Race (CBS, Feb. 20), Top Model (CW, Feb. 23), Dancing with the Stars (ABC, sometime in March). There. Happy? If I didn’t mention a reality show, there are a couple of possibilities: 1. I freakin’ hate reality shows. 2. It’s not an “important” reality show. That sounds like a paradox — important reality show — but whatever. You get the hint.
SHOWTIME SUNDAY NIGHT SCHEDULE (Jan. 9): HBO’s stranglehold over the pay-TV winter schedule has been in danger for a while — this could be the end of it. Showtime premieres two of the most anticipated shows of the winter, the partly improvised potential heir to Curb, Episodes, starring Matt LeBlanc. It premieres after the season premiere of Californication. At 10 p.m., Showtime has Shameless, starring William H. Macy, Joan Cusack, Allison Janney and Emmy Rossum. Macy is destined for an Emmy nomination as an alcoholic dad of five. Or six. I don’t know, I lost count. Not too shabby a trailer, either.
THE CAPE (NBC, Jan. 9): Because NBC has done soooooo well with its superhero/supernatural shows in the last couple years. And for the record, if I put six o’s on soooooo, does it come across with the sarcasm I’m going for? Should I do more? Less? Would 20 be too much? Just checking. Maybe if The Cape is successful, we’ll be introduced to his Justice League-like affiliation, The Clothes Wearers. The Cape is the leader, but then there is The Helmet, The Shoelace, The Leg Warmer and The Mitten. I smell spin-off!
LIGHTS OUT (FX, Jan. 11): Just like any other FX show, I’ll give it a try for three reasons: 1. FX has earned the right to have each one of its shows given a try. 2. It makes awesome trailers, and this one is no different. 3. It manages to pull me in with its irresistible tractor beam by playing the commercials 7 trillion times in a span of about four months. I don’t have a choice. I must watch. It’s either fantastic timing for FX (off the strength of The Fighter) or shoddy timing (everyone will be sick of hearing about The Fighter by then).
BIG LOVE (HBO, Jan. 16): One of the last bastion’s of HBO’s faded glory years, and the other will be gone by the end of the year when Entourage is toast. It will be interesting to see how Showtime’s new Sunday winter lineup performs against Big Love’s final season, because it really could be an official change of the pay-TV guard. Not for someone like me that values movies and wouldn’t order Showtime unless I had it in writing that it would improve its movie selection approximately 5,639 percent just to bring it up to a level close to “acceptable,” but for people with disposable income that want to choose between one or the other.
BEING HUMAN (Syfy, Jan. 17): I’m downright giddy for this show. Not because I think it will be good, far from it. In fact, I think it will be putrid. But for the first time I get to say, “It’s not as good as the British version.” I’ve never been able to say that before for a TV show, movie or anything! I don’t read, so I can’t judge movie adaptations against the books. I haven’t really liked any foreign movies that have been adapted into American movies. The new version of Being Human could be the best TV show in history -- and I may even think that -- but I’m pretty sure all I’m going to say about it is, “It’s not as good as the British version.” You know how George told the zookeeper lady he loved her just so he could say it once? That’s how I plan to be with this version of Being Human.
SKINS (MTV, Jan. 17): Wait, did they plan this? Two BBC adaptations premiering on the same night? On different networks? No way. Really? I’m not a huge fan of the British version, and actually think this has far more potential on American TV than the British version. Call it the anit-Being Human. Think Trainspotting for high school kids and somewhat suitable for TV.