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Criticism Of The Fall TV Season Is Off And Running


And we're still a few weeks away from when the fall television season starts. It comes in the third week of September. But we're already hearing criticism of the season. HBO is under scrutiny for a show that doesn't even have a script yet. CBS remains a target of critics. And the portrayal of gay characters is another source of condemnation for the television industry.

These are just a few of the issues that have been debated at the TV Critics Association Summer Press Tour here in Los Angeles. Our TV critic, Eric Deggans, has been there for more than two weeks now and joins us in the studio here. Hey, Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hey. Do I sound tired?

GREENE: You sound tired. Is coming into the studio a break from all the press conferences?

DEGGANS: (Laughter) Oh, it surely is.

GREENE: Is that what it is, just one press conference after another?

DEGGANS: Yeah. And parties in the evening, where we get to schmooze up the TV executives and stars.

GREENE: Oh, that's why you're tired. OK.

DEGGANS: Exactly.

GREENE: It sounds like the critics have a lot to pick over here. What - is that what this year is about? What's standing out to you?

DEGGANS: Yeah. You know, the TV providers, they make a lot of big announcements about stuff, not just about stuff in fall. So HBO took heat for a show called "Confederate" that's set in this alternate reality where the South didn't lose the Civil War.

GREENE: Oh, like rewriting history.

DEGGANS: Pretty much. And they don't even have a script for that show yet. CBS took tough questions for having a fall schedule where every new show stars a male. And the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation came and gave a presentation where they pointed out that since 2015, 50 lesbian characters have been killed on TV shows, often very violently. So this is all stuff that we're talking about.

But our big problem is that there doesn't seem to be a lot of buzz for the new shows that are coming to network TV this fall. There's about 19 of them, and they're just not that inspiring. I mean, in the last five years or so, I've noticed this pattern where the networks seem to follow a period of experimentation with one where they're kind of doing things that are much more conventional.

So last year, we got these great shows like "This Is Us" on NBC and "The Good Place" and "Pitch" on Fox. And this year, we've got a bunch of shows about the military. We've got reboots of programs like "SWAT" and "Will & Grace." And it doesn't feel very original.

GREENE: Not that there's anything wrong with a reboot of "Will & Grace" as a fan, I should say.

DEGGANS: I'm hoping it will be good.

GREENE: But you're saying this is just a transitional time and it'll go back to experimentation in the networks. I was wondering if this was a sign that the networks are becoming less relevant because you've got all the experimentation that's going on all the time like at the cable channels and streamers like Netflix.

DEGGANS: That's exactly what we're talking about out here. And the network executives are kind of pushing back. They're saying that they've changed with the times and that they've now become these multi-platform media companies that will provide TV content on any platform where viewers want to see it. So NBC came to us. And they said, you can see their shows on any one of 14 different platforms right now. And just five years ago, you really only had one, you know, your TV set.

They're encouraging critics and journalists to kind of look at this and say, well, let's look at ratings for a show after eight days after it debuts or even up to 35 days after it debuts because that's how long people take to watch this stuff. And they said that NBC has said that they've had their most profitable year in 17 years. So the networks are saying they're making money. And that's very important.

GREENE: Important for shareholders, I guess. But is it important for viewers?

DEGGANS: Let me check my portfolio (laughter).

GREENE: Yeah. Do viewers care that the networks are bringing in a lot of money?

DEGGANS: Well, the thing is, you know, there's so many TV shows. And there's a sense that they're really increasing every year. So there's also this sense that there's got to be a tipping point where you start to lose some cable channels, networks. Some providers have to go away. And the networks are saying, we're not going away as much as people want to think that we're obsolete. And they've been making some strong arguments.

GREENE: OK. So bottom line, I mean, I know it's not the most exciting year, but is there anything you like that I should be getting excited about in September?

DEGGANS: Well, how about if I tell you my least-worst new show?

GREENE: Great. That is what I've been waiting for.

DEGGANS: That's about as good as I'm going to get, so. That title goes to CBS's "Young Sheldon," which is a spinoff of "The Big Bang Theory." It features a character from the show, genius Sheldon Cooper.

GREENE: Yeah, a younger version of him?

DEGGANS: A younger version of him. He's 9 years old. And, as you know, because he was a genius, he was starting high school at that time in East Texas. So it's kind of this combination of like "Wonder Years" and "Big Bang Theory." It's genuinely funny in places. But mostly when I look at these new shows, I think people are going to be spending a lot of time on Netflix and Amazon.

GREENE: There you have it. Eric Deggans, our TV critic. He has been at the TV Critics Association Summer Press Tour just up the street in Los Angeles. Thanks, Eric.

DEGGANS: Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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