Prime Time's New Slate of Supernatural, Sci-Fi and Geeks

Rash Report Does the Upfront Presentations

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The media mantra coming consistently from this week's upfront presentations was all about live vs. live plus. No, not the negotiations over Nielsen ratings -- but rather the various vampires and others in supernatural states that will attempt to bring prime time back to life next fall.
Alex O'Loughlin (left) stars in CBS's 'Moonlight' and Nicolaj Coster Waldau (right) from Fox's 'New Amsterdam'
Alex O'Loughlin (left) stars in CBS's 'Moonlight' and Nicolaj Coster Waldau (right) from Fox's 'New Amsterdam' Credit: CBS/Fox

That's just one of the transcendent trends that emerged in the prime-time previews, as the undead (CBS's "Moonlight" and Fox's "New Amsterdam"), the life-giving (ABC's "Pushing Daisies"), the soul-stealing (CW's "The Reaper") and time-traveling (NBC's "Journeyman," and "Bionic Woman," last seen as a '70's superhero) all are antecedents of NBC's "Heroes," the one series sensation from last upfront.

"Bionic Woman" and "Cavemen"
The rebuild of the "Bionic Woman" (both the show and the character) as a symbol of female empowerment is also a theme of several series, as the networks' female focus is not just Nielsen demographic destiny, but is part of the writers' TV tonality as well. This trend seemed to play out in two ways: Women bonding together to jointly conquer their worlds (NBC's "Lipstick Jungle" and ABC's "Cashmere Mafia" and "Women's Murder Club") or alone to save our world, as Fox's "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" moves beyond the movie machismo of "The Terminator" as she is both loving mother and kick-butt action hero.

Indeed, demography was destiny not only in the nation's media capital, but the governmental one as well, as new numbers just released reflect the seminal shift from melting pot to mosaic: On Wednesday the Census Bureau estimated that for the first time, more than 100 million -- or a third of the nation's population -- is nonwhite. The White House, not coincidentally, reached bipartisan consensus with the senate on an immigration bill Thursday. In California, where programs and programming decisions are made, the dynamic diversity can be seen just looking out the window, as the 57% minority majority population is having an increasing influence on casting.

The biggest jumps -- 3.4% and 3.2% growth in Hispanics and Asians -- is reflected in the new shows, particularly with nearly all Latin leads on CBS's "Cane." And Asian-Americans already had a breakthrough year, with "Heroes" Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka) and Mohinder Suresh (Sendhil Mamamurthy). Of course, Fox's "American Idol" created the surprise star of the season in Sanjaya Malakar, and next year will further the subcontinent's emergence as the ancestral home of actors in several series, including CW's "Aliens in America" and CBS's "Big Bang Theory." And tonight ABC's new "National Bingo Night" will hope to make referee Sunil Narkar's "No Bingo!" a new national catchphrase.

Despite the demographic refinement on the Census forms starting in 2000, however, there is still no category for "Cavemen," which ABC apparently will use to not only get people to laugh, but to get them to think about how society perceives the very minority groups changing the face of network TV -- and the country.

New money and new media
Another socioeconomic issue worrying Washington is income inequality. And while the new season also reflects today's gilded age, it's from an opposite perspective: Instead of prime-time characters like "Roseanne" contending with the subprime-mortgage meltdown or taking out a new mortgage to fill her gas tank, it's the troubles of "the haves" that are explored in shows like ABC's "Dirty Sexy Money," "Big Shots" and "Cashmere Mafia," and NBC's "Lipstick Jungle." Even the CW's younger-targeted shows aren't immune from a case of "affluenza," as "Life is Wild" and "Gossip Girl" provide a cautionary tale of the good life and its discontents.

But perhaps the one unifying trend bonding both the prime-time programmers and negotiators this week was the media world itself, as media forms old and new were part of several series and every show has a multimedia way to watch it. The dramatic device of The CW's "Gossip Girl" is a blog and "Online Nation" and "CW Now" are new shows about the new-media generation. Fox's "Back to You" and "The Return of Jezebel James" are set on a TV news set and at a publisher and NBC's "Lipstick Jungle" goes one step further, bringing to online life the magazine one of the characters works for.

Geeks
Finally, if the programmers or negotiators have a hard time figuring out each new show's online social network they can call the socially-awkward geniuses on CBS's "The Big Bang Theory" or have NBC's "Chuck" download the content on the i-Pods, e-mail, TiVo or other gee-whiz wizardry: Because geek-chic is yet another of the prominent prime-time trends in the new season, which is fitting in a year when media measurement is as much a story as the stories themselves.

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John Rash is senior VP-director of broadcast negotiations for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For daily rating updates, see rashreport.com.
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