TV Networks Hope Familiar Faces Bring Viewers To New Fall Shows

May 20, 2012
Originally published on May 20, 2012 10:31 am

TV networks have never been accused of doing what's difficult when they can do what's easy. And all other things being equal, it's easier to convince viewers to watch someone they already know they like than it is to interest them in an unknown quantity. So it's no surprise that every roll-out of new fall shows brings back a few people we've seen before. For Sunday's Weekend Edition, I got to talk to NPR's Rachel Martin about some of those faces and where they're popping up again.

Connie Britton is warmly regarded — to say the least — by many who loved her on Friday Night Lights, and now she's back in ABC's Nashville, playing a smart-alecky country singer prepared to drop-kick the ingenue who's keen to take her place as her label's favorite. If you think you hear a little of Tami Taylor in this character, you're probably not wrong. Friday Night Lights may never have been an enormous commercial success, but a deep and abiding love of Tami Taylor runs through many a viewer's pilot-weary heart.

If you want to reach a little deeper, all the way back into your memories of the 1990s (this is a long time in television to remember anyone), Matthew Perry is back, too, on an NBC comedy called Go On. It's about a sports radio guy coming to terms with the death of his wife.

This is, of course, not the first time Perry has been brought back to TV since Friends; he tried drama on Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip (as well as a recent, surprisingly creepy guest arc on The Good Wife) and comedy on Mr. Sunshine — neither lasted. Of course, networks are reluctant to give up the dream of reminding viewers of someone they once liked and are ready to like again (as a matter of fact, that's a big part of how Julianna Margulies ended up on The Good Wife). And when you've ever been as popular as Matthew Perry was during Friends, and when anybody thinks that the goodwill audiences once had toward you still exists, they're likely to keep trying until they find something that hits.

Mindy Kaling is familiar to NBC viewers as Kelly Kapoor on The Office, and as the writer of the recent book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? But her new show, currently titled The Mindy Project, will be on Fox. It casts her as kind of a goofy doctor with a loose grip on reality, and her show will be paired with New Girl, which, as you may know, is about a girl for whom "goofy" is a very modest descriptor.

666 Park Avenue is the quintessential ABC show, particularly given the network's recent successes with Once Upon A Time (dark fantasy) and Revenge (wealth-encrusted soap opera). If you were to put those two shows in a blender, you might wind up with something sort of like this show in which Terry O'Quinn (Lost's John Locke) and Vanessa Williams (of past ABC soapy shows Desperate Housewives and Ugly Betty) play an evil landlord and his wife. In fact, possibly the most evil landlord. In fact, possibly the devil himself.

In the end, though, it's best not to get overly attached to any of the new stuff. Remember, the broadcast networks have cancelled more than 25 shows that were first put on the air since last year at this time. Statistically speaking and as cold-hearted as it sounds, most of this stuff is toast. In fact, that's part of why you see familiar faces again and again. Making a new fall television show is like opening a new restaurant — the odds are not on your side. Every little bit helps, and sometimes that little bit might be a little bit of Tami Taylor.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I know, I know, its spring. The weather is warming and sitting in front of the TV may not sound as appealing as it did when it was cold and miserable outside. But for television networks, fall - the season of new TV offerings - is always just around the corner. And in that spirit, last week was Television Upfront Week. This is when networks unveil their fall schedules, and we have got a little preview for you of what will be on offer when the breezes cool a bit.

Sure, there's a lot that's new but you're going to see a lot of familiar faces too, come fall. NPR's Linda Holmes is with me. She writes NPR's pop culture blog called Monkey See. Welcome to the program, Linda.

LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: Thank you so much.

MARTIN: OK. So, we're going to start with Connie Britton, the beloved Tami Taylor from NBC's "Friday Night Lights." She is back in a big way, right?

HOLMES: She is. She is. Connie Britton, who spent last season on the FX sort of gothic horror "American Horror Story" is back this season on an ABC show called "Nashville," where she plays a sort of legendary country singer who is being challenged by an upstart blonde, crossover pop sensation. And her label is being disloyal to her.

(SOUNDBITE OF "NASHVILLE")

CONNIE BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) You're telling me after 21 years at this label, if I don't open for your little ingenue who wouldn't make it as one of my backup singers, that you're not going to support me?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Still, I need to know your decision.

BRITTON: (as Tami Taylor) Oh, you can kiss my decision as it's walking out the door.

MARTIN: All right, I hear a little sassy Tami Taylor in there.

HOLMES: That is Tami Taylor. You can definitely hear it. People are ready to see her drop-kick anybody that gets in her way.

I think that's always very popular. I'm waiting for a little hey, y'all.

MARTIN: OK, speaking of familiar faces, another one, Matthew Perry back on the small screen - this time playing a sports radiocaster. He loses his wife in a car accident. The show is called "Go On."

(SOUNDBITE OF SERIES, "GO ON")

MATTHEW PERRY: (as Ryan King) Listen, Terrell, thanks a lot for joining us, man.

TERRELL OWENS: (as Terrell Owens) Sure, just don't ask me which one of my teammates are ugly.

PERRY: (Ryan King) When we return, Terrell Owens will discuss which of one of his teammates he finds to be the most attractive.

MARTIN: This isn't the first time Matthew Perry has tried to reinvent himself on TV since "Friends," right?

HOLMES: Right. He's one of those people who has sort of been bouncing around. He's done a few different things. He did "Studio 60," which was a drama - an Aaron Sorkin drama. And then he had a show on ABC called "Mr. Sunshine" which did not last very long, which I kind of liked.

You know, when somebody has had a success as big as "Friends," and they feel like the person is as personally likable - and I - there's all kinds of testing that goes into seeing whether people like you and whether people want to see you on TV. They will bring you back and back and try over and over again. And sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

MARTIN: Moving on, a lot of buzz around Mindy Kaling's new show, right?

HOLMES: Yes, Mindy Kaling's new show is on Fox. She - you may know her from "The Office," where she plays Kelly Kapoor.

MARTIN: Of course.

HOLMES: And she had a book that was out this year. She's doing a lot of stuff and she's got a show currently called "The Mindy Project," where she plays a gynecologist and who's, you know, in dating situations and kind of young, goofy doctor. And that's going to be paired on Fox with "New Girl," which is the Zooey Deschanel kind of goofy girl show.

MARTIN: OK. Next, I want to talk to you about a new show called "666 Park Avenue"?

HOLMES: Yeah.

MARTIN: This sounds bizarre, I mean this mash-up of all these different genres?

HOLMES: Yes. Yes. Yeah. You know, on ABC their two successes of last season were "Once Upon a Time," which is very much a sort of fantasy mythology show, and "Revenge," their big soapy soap. So "666 Park Avenue" is kind of a combination of those two things. It is basically a show that implies that these people are living in this fancy apartment building in New York, and it is possible that the landlord is the Devil.

(SOUNDBITE OF SERIES, "666 PARK AVENUE")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Home to 80 residents...

MERCEDES MASOHN: (as Louise Leonard) Hi, I'm Louise.

RACHAEL TAYLOR: (as Jane Van Veen) Jane, nice to meet you. Just stop by for drinks some time.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: It's a friendly building.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: ...but don't let the amenities fool you.

MARTIN: So that's this kind of really like soap opera-esque show that's popular with ABC. Is it common that networks kind of associate themselves with a type of show?

HOLMES: Yes, "666 Park Avenue" is very ABC. I don't think you'd see that show probably on any other network. It's the network that's got "Grey's Anatomy" and it had "Desperate Housewives" and things like that. Over at CBS, it's a more meat and potatoes traditional. A lot of it is crime procedurals. They've got a lot of sort of cop and lawyer shows...

MARTIN: Kind of working-class vibe.

HOLMES: Yup. And then, NBC has less of an angle. I don't think that anybody knows exactly what their angle is right now.

MARTIN: Still trying to figure it out - NBC.

HOLMES: They're still looking for one.

MARTIN: And we shouldn't get too attached, right?

HOLMES: Mercy, no.

MARTIN: I mean, how many new shows got cancelled last year?

HOLMES: A remarkably long list of shows. You know, out of everything that you're seeing right now at Upfronts, you know, more than half of it will be cancelled, either by the end of the season...

MARTIN: More than half?

HOLMES: Oh, sure. Yes.

MARTIN: Wow.

HOLMES: You know, there is a constant churn in television. And it's a lot easier to keep a show like "Grey's Anatomy" going for another season than it is to find a new show that's going to hit. And a lot of the things we're talking about now, everybody will hardly remember.

MARTIN: It is May, fall is still a long time from now. Any new summer stuff in the works that you can give us a sense of?

HOLMES: The networks will have a couple of kind of limited-run scripted shows. It's also a very big season for reality. You know, NBC has got their send-people-off-for-a-dating-show-in-the-jungle thing coming back, which is called "Love in the Wild."

MARTIN: Heard that once or twice. Seen that...

HOLMES: Yeah, it's called "Love in the Wild." So yes, summer is a slow season but there will be some stuff.

MARTIN: OK, plenty to watch. NPR's Linda Holmes, she writes the pop culture blog Monkey See. You can find it at npr.org.

Linda, thanks so much.

HOLMES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.