Weekend Movie Takeaway: Lack of Content Affecting What Gets 'Platformed'
May 18, 2020
Last week we discussed the decision ongoing narratives that take place in the “real world” have to make about factoring the quarantine period into their storyline, but that was based on the presumption that production will be up and running sometime soon. Which may be getting a little ahead of ourselves…
While the advance nature of most TV shows and movies means that there has been a lot of filmed narrative “in the bank”, as it were, the reserves are starting to run a little low. This lack of content is beginning to affect what kinds of screen narratives are being platformed.
The lockdown kicked in before most TV network pilots for this year were scheduled to film, which has entirely upended the new fall season, the time when the vast majority of new programs debut. Now that it's starting to look like the most content-starved new fall season since “the new fall season” became a thing, the networks are starting to adapt in interesting ways that will impact the collective nature of filmed narrative going forward.
On the less dramatic side of things, the Fox network is taking two in-the-can series they had planned to roll out mid-season (or even off-season) and designating them “new” fall shows. You can expect Filthy Rich (a primetime soap based on a New Zealand format) and Next (a technology-centric thriller) to hit the airwaves later this year.
The decision-making process within networks about which shows get the chance to shine is famously and brutally inscrutable, and could definitely stand to be loosened up a little, which is what’s happening here—albeit forced by specific and unprecedented circumstances. Shows that premiere during summer or mid-season tend to be the ones that don't test as well as the shows that get fall debuts. So these two programs are receiving attention they might not have otherwise (very possibly sinking without a trace during their planned summer run) and could now come out as Fox hits in the fall, which can be construed as a positive during a time where we could all use a win.
Other networks are looking to underseen streaming shows as a way to fill their increasingly empty schedules. The CW has acquired all ten episodes of Swamp Thing, a live action comic book adaptation that originally played out on the DC Universe streaming platform (and was unceremoniously canceled days after its first episode aired), to play in primetime.
The CW has also purchased Tell Me A Story, the fairy tale-inspired anthology (of sorts) series that recently ended a two-season run on CBS All Access. While it's difficult to imagine either show breaking through to the extent that they'll be “uncanceled”, it at least gives both narratives a chance to find a wider audience.
Back to Fox, the network has also acquired the first season of L.A.'s Finest, a Spectrum Original series that was previously only available to Spectrum cable customers. The second season of the show, which is ongoing, is set to debut (on Spectrum only) in June, and considering the nebulous nature of what exactly a Spectrum Original is, or even how one watches it, it's not hard to see why Fox thought their schedule could benefit from the show’s presence.
It's also worth noting that the Jessica Alba and Gabrielle Union-starring cop series is a spin-off from Bad Boys II (Union plays the same character in both), and the Bad Boys intellectual property brand received a considerable boost with the massive success of Bad Boys For Life earlier this year. This is a big-budget, glossy (i.e., network-friendly) series that most Fox viewers won't have seen. And now they'll get the chance to.
Beyond streaming and cable exclusives, the main networks are also looking offshore for programming options, with Canadian shows in particular proving popular targets for acquisitions.
There’s usually one or two Canadian shows on American networks (Rookie Blue is a recent example), but expect a massive uptick in so-called “Can-Con” (Canadian Content) this fall. NBC has purchased medical drama Transplant, while The CW has acquired The Coroner, along with a British series called Dead Pixels.
Although these measures are being taken because of the unprecedented nature of the current situation, it can't help but feel healthy from a narrative perspective, as the American networks have arguably been a little too narrow-minded in their thinking about what shows American audiences may accept.
In being forced to broaden their thinking a bit, the networks could open up a wider range of narratives to a wider audience, who may prove more accepting of stories that don't exclusively scream red, white and blue than the networks give them credit for.
Which can only be a good thing for narrative overall.
Written by: Dominic CorryDominic Corry is a Los Angeles-based film critic, writer, journalist and broadcaster. Raised in New Zealand, he is also the West Coast editor of Letterboxd, the social network for movie lovers. For more of his film writing, see his website www.TheGoodInMovies.com