Jon Hein knows TV. In the late 1990s, he coined the phrase "Jump the Shark" when he founded the site of the same name. Since then, he's written about television everywhere from The New York Times to TV Guide. In his column for Primetimer, he shares his thoughts on what's new and good on TV and the shows on his radar for the coming week.
When I was growing up, this week in September was annually circled on my calendar. Keep in mind that the only calendars we had back then were printed documents on walls or desks.
According to that week's copy of TV Guide, this was when new Fall shows premiered, and favorites would return. There was no staggered schedule. No summer surprises. This was THE week.
Times have changed, and I'm not just referring to scheduling. The networks are rolling out many of their new and returning programs this week, and there's hardly anything interesting about it. All the FBIs, Chicagos and Law & Orders are back. Looking for innovation? You're looking in the wrong place. And it's one of the reasons why fewer people watch network TV every year.
I've heard it all before. The mass audience needs to be fed. The vast land between New York and Los Angeles prefers these types of shows. People are looking for comfort TV. Those are all lame excuses.
Quality television can always break through. This Is Us and Modern Family are two recently departed examples of how it's done. Great writing, a good-looking and likable cast, and the willingness to take some chances. Modern Family weaved multiple storylines and spoke directly to the camera. This Is Us employed similar tactics while making time jumps as it maintained the drama.
This isn't a difficult formula to follow. You just need to be willing to take a shot and let programs find their audience. Streaming will take the audience numbers to the next level. Focus on development and spend that network money on new voices.
The latest case in point is Abbott Elementary which premieres its second season on ABC this Wednesday at 9pm ET. The comedy was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons last week following a dismal Emmy broadcast. Some were outraged by Jimmy Kimmel's bit upstaging show creator Quinta Brunson's Emmy win for Best Writing. After winning Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy, Sheryl Lee Ralph's exuberant acceptance speech was noticed for her flare for the dramatic versus the notable achievement.
What got lost is how a network comedy broke through and took home Emmys in its first season. The win for Best Writing is well deserved as the school-based comedy is sharp, witty, and poignant. Sheryl Lee Ralph is one of many talented Abbott Elementary actors who could have taken home a statue of their own last week.
The comedy takes place in an underfunded minority-filled South Philadelphia elementary school. Quinta Brunson plays a new young teacher looking to make a difference and updating the traditional ways of the school she attended as a child. Sheryl Lee Ralph is the long-time legendary teacher who does everything right. Jannelle James is the principal who doesn't deserve her job and is always looking for a good time. The other faculty and support staff are multi-dimensional characters adding to the mix. There's a Parks & Rec feel to it.
Abbott Elementary has plenty of heart, but there's also an edge to its comedy. Stereotypes are tackled and broken down in clever ways. Laughs range from sight gags to snappy comebacks. Flaws are embraced and tackled with empathy. Best of all, it doesn't dumb down the story like most network comedies. It shows its smarts.
Quinta and crew aren't afraid to take risks with what easily could have been a traditional network comedy. ABC has a rich history of out-of-the-box programming. LOST and Twin Peaks are two shows that come to mind. Many current ABC shows try to recapture this magic but feel derivative (Big Sky) of other programs within the same genre.
Abbott Elementary has proven that a network comedy can be original and successful. Network executives should stop making excuses and start making more shows like this one. Bring the joy back to Fall Premiere week that's been missing since calendars went electronic.
Speaking of dwindling network numbers, I was one of the less than 6 million people (an all-time low) to watch the Emmy Awards. The only surprises were the speeches, with five of the major category winners being exactly the same as last year. I stated my Emmy case last week. Someone let the Academy know I'm available to consult and make that broadcast what it SHOULD be: the best television show of the year.
Here's what else is worth watching this week…
Tuesday, September 20th
Modern Family creator Steve Levitan returns with a reboot of a fictitious family sitcom. A cast returns 20 years later to deal with problems from decades past and rediscover its chemistry. Recent failed reboots leave ample material to work with, and the stacked cast should chew up plenty of real-life issues trying to recapture old TV magic.
Wednesday, September 21
Star Wars has clearly learned its lesson with the success of its made for TV origin stories and prequels. The latest entrant into the galaxy far, far away builds off Diego Luna's character in Rogue One (another prequel) and how he became rebel leader Cassian Andor. The fourth live-action Star Wars series follows the mold of its predecessors much to the delight of fans of The Force. Watch trailer.
THIS WEEK'S STIHTGT!
(Shows That I Hope To Get To!)
Quantum Leap (NBC) – Reboot of a series that took plenty of chances back in its day. The story continues with Raymond Lee in Scott Bakula's role as the man traveling through time to correct historic mistakes. Monday at 10:00pm ET.
Celebrity Jeopardy! (ABC) – Mayim Bialik hosts a battle between celebs dying to show the world how smart they really are. It's all about the buzzer. Sunday at 8:00pm ET.
(Really Good Shows You May Have Missed)
This Week's Pick: The Office (UK) (Hulu) - Many youngsters don't know that The Office, featuring Steve Carrell as Michael Scott, was an American remake of a British series, also called The Office, featuring Ricky Gervais at his finest as David Brent. There's more awkward bite in the original, which is much darker than the US version.
The Prisoner (Prime Video)
The Twilight Zone (Paramount+)
Black Mirror (Netflix)
The Leftovers (HBO Max)
Deadwood (HBO Max)
House of Cards (Netflix)
Mr. Show (HBO Max, Hulu)
Downton Abbey (Peacock)
Banshee (HBO Max)
Police Squad! (Prime Video)
Party Down (Starz)
The Great (Hulu)
Magic City (Peacock)
For All Mankind (Apple TV+)
Abbott Elementary (ABC)
Luther (HBO Max)
Downton Abbey (Netflix)
The Good Wife (Paramount+)
Freaks & Geeks (Hulu)
Patriot (Prime Video Prime Video)
Battlestar Galactica (Peacock)
The Split (Prime Video)
Halt and Catch Fire (AMC+)
If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.
Get vaccinated. Get a booster (or another one). Stay healthy and safe!
Jon Hein is the creator of "Jump the Shark" and author of three books. Follow him @jonhein on Twitter.