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NPR Arts & Life

Press Tour 2012: The View So Far

Crystal the Monkey shows up to promote NBC's new comedy <em>Animal Practice</em>.
Crystal the Monkey shows up to promote NBC's new comedy <em>Animal Practice</em>.

We're about a week into the Television Critics Association press tour for this summer, and so far we've heard from PBS, NBC and Fox. Still to come: ABC (today and tomorrow), CBS/Showtime/The CW (Sunday and Monday), and the rest of cable, including HBO, Discovery, BBC America, ESPN, and so on (Wednesday through Friday of next week).

So how is it looking?

The Fox network's day was highlighted, for me, by the panel discussion about Ben & Kate, a new comedy created by Dana Fox (no relation to ... the network), who worked last year on the very successful New Girl, but has also written for the much less mainstream Childrens Hospital.

Fox (Dana Fox, not the Fox network) answered questions with an impressive self-assurance about where she wants the show to go. Ben & Kate has a fairly simple concept: adult brother and sister's wacky adventures; sister has a very cute little daughter. But the execution in the pilot is solid, and I can easily see it becoming a warmly, weirdly likable show.

Fox also presented Mindy Kaling's new comedy The Mindy Project, the bluntly titled drama The Mob Doctor (she's a doctor for the mob!) and — believe it or not — yet another hospitality/anger-themed show from Gordon Ramsay, this time known as Hotel Hell.

(Promoting the latter, Fox gave the assembled press portable blacklights you can use to check your hotel room for bodily fluids, which I'm sure was a real thrill for the hotel where we're all staying.)

NBC's network day featured a big pile of new shows from which they're hoping viewers will pick something. Their comedies range from the old-school multicamera Guys With Kids to the single-camera Go On (with network stalwart Matthew Perry) and Animal Practice(which is less broad than Guys With Kids despite starring a monkey in a lab coat riding an ambulance). There's also the self-consciously edgy Ryan Murphy effort The New Normal, about a gay couple having a baby via a surrogate. Guys With Kids looks pretty grim to me; with all the others, it seems to me too soon to tell. Given that "too soon to tell" is the best you can expect from a comedy pilot, that's actually not a terrible tally.

On the drama side, NBC has Revolution, a dystopian post-worldwide-blackout drama that its creators swear is not supposed to be dystopian. It's a fun adventure! About a world plunged into darkness and overrun by ivy!

It's also one of those world-building serialized dramas where everybody gets angry if you don't answer their questions at precisely the right pace, and where your scientific explanation for why not only the power goes out but batteries immediately stop working (??) is almost sure to enrage nerds everywhere. (And I mean that with a lot of love for nerds of that kind. Since I am one.)

They've also got Chicago Fire, which comes from Dick Wolf, the creator of all those Law & Order franchises. Chicago Fire is very much the old-style NBC workplace ensemble drama; Wolf openly invoked the ghosts of ER and Hill Street Blues in talking about his aspirations for it.

While the pilot didn't grab me out of the gate, I can easily see it doing well if they can get an audience to sample it in the first place. Not everybody wants to put all their eggs in the baskets of straight-up police procedurals on one hand and super-violent antiheroes on the other. I think the gap they're looking to fill with this show is quite real; whether this is the right show for it is a different question.

What else is there to report? Well, NBC's entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt made a pretty smart decision, I thought, in reading from the stage some of the barbed tweets that critics were sending out about the day's proceedings as they went on. It was both disarming and, quite honestly, a little deservedly awkward to hear him read, for instance, that "NBC's Press Tour this year feels like that year you went to the local Holiday Inn for vacation because your dad lost his job." (Not my tweet! I didn't say it.)

We'll have more as the tour continues, and lots more about individual shows as their premieres get closer. But for now, we're all just waiting to see whether any of the other networks will match NBC monkey for monkey.

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