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As TV Networks Trot Out Fall Offerings For Critics, 2 NBC Shows Stand Out


Television critics from around the country are gathered in Beverly Hills for what is affectionately known as a death march with cocktails. It's the press tour when all the TV networks, cable, satellite and streaming companies unveil their fall shows in hopes of building buzz and charming those critics. NPR's own TV critic Eric Deggans is attending and joins us here in our studio at NPR West to talk about the increasing pressure on broadcast networks, the old fashioned way of getting your shows.

Good morning.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Good morning. I'm away from the death march. And I don't have a cocktail because it's way too early (laughter).

MONTAGNE: And I can vouch for that - just a glass of water, cup of coffee. So look, it is a gift to audiences that there are these big, popular, high-quality dramas on HBO, FX, Netflix that are soaking up audiences, of course, and a lot of the buzz. So what, indeed, is the current state of network television?

DEGGANS: Well, I think the networks are walking this fine line between trying to present shows that are hip and cool and might get an Emmy nomination, but they also want shows that draw big, broad audiences because that's what advertisers love. So that's what we're going to see here at the critics press tour. They've got these new shows. They're hoping that we'll like them as critics but also that big audiences will show up for them.

MONTAGNE: Well, this week, the networks are showing what they've got for the fall. And you've seen some of these shows. Are you seeing quality?

DEGGANS: Mostly not (laughter). So that said, I think the best drama pilot I've seen out of all the new shows and the best comedy pilot - they're both from NBC. And NBC is starting its leg of the press tour today. Now years ago, NBC was last in the ratings. But they've pulled themselves together. And now they're coming in second. They're right behind CBS. They want to be No. 1., so I really wanted to check out what they had.

There's a comedy called "The Good Place" with Ted Danson and Kristen Bell. Now, Kristen Bell plays this woman who dies and goes to this wonderful place for people who've lived exemplary lives. And it turns out that they got it wrong.


KRISTEN BELL: (As Eleanor) They got my name right but nothing else. I mean, somebody royally forked up. Somebody forked up. Why can't I say fork?

WILLIAM HARPER: (As Chidi) If you're trying to curse, you can't here. I guess a lot of people in this neighborhood don't like it. So it's prohibited.

BELL: (As Eleanor) That's bullshirt.

DEGGANS: (Laughter) So almost every network has at least one show that's high-quality, which you really couldn't say all the time in previous years. So I guess they're doing a little better.

MONTAGNE: All right. Well, over at ABC, there's been a big change at the top of the network. And that's actually something to talk about.

DEGGANS: Yeah. Earlier this year, a woman, Channing Dungey, became the first black person to take over as president of entertainment at a broadcast network. And so it'll be interesting to see what she does and how she takes over from a guy who was known for being a champion of diversity in network television already.

MONTAGNE: And overall, Eric, what are some of the broader themes that you expect critics will be discussing this week? Because I know there are sometimes heated question and answer sessions taking place with the press.

DEGGANS: Oh, yeah, yeah. I mean, I've already been here for several days. And we've had some controversial conversations about the use of rape and sexual violence against women used as plot points in these TV shows like "Game of Thrones" or "Law and Order: SVU." And the critics are going to the people who make these shows and saying, are you trying hard enough to find new ways to tell these stories?

And, you know, we're talking about these weird trends that come out where there are five shows on the broadcast networks that are about time travel. And they're all debuting this fall. And we're sort of, like, why did everybody jump on this trend at the same time? And does it make everything sort of feel the same when everybody's got a time travel series?

MONTAGNE: That's TV critic Eric Deggans who's here in Los Angeles for the TV Critics Association's summer press tour. Thank you.

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