Fall TV Trends Emerge at TCA Press Tour

As the annual summer TV Critics Association press tour rolls on this week, some interesting themes are emerging.  For instance, both NBC and ABC have dramas coming up involving dark fairy tales — ABC’s “Once Upon a Time,” and NBC’s “Grimm.” 

The latter boasts producers including David Greenwalt (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) and Sean Hayes (as in Jack from “Will & Grace,” who also produces “Hot in Cleveland”).  It’s a crime procedural crossed with grim takes on some of those scary folklore tales penned by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm back in the early 1800s.  How about a big bad wolf who looks human, and does human things like Pilates classes, who is fattening up a child he abducted in order to eat her up?  Go ahead and take a moment to digest that one.

 Anyway, what accounts for this wave of disturbing fantasy on the small screen?  Greenwalt told press, maybe it’s that people are attracted to “dark themes in a dark time.”

Well, maybe.  They’re attracted to other times as well, evidently, as several series this year are either set in bygone days, or they’re revamps of shows from bygone days:  NBC’s “Playboy Club,” ABC’s “Pan Am” and “Charlie’s Angels” and NBC’s “Prime Suspect” to name four.    

Maria Bello NBC photo Patrick Harbron

The new “Prime Suspect,” as you may have heard, has the prodigiously  talented Maria Bello as Jane Timoney, picking up the hard-charging ways of police detective Jane Tennison, formerly played on British telly by the great Helen Mirren.  Things have changed a lot since Mirren began playing the role in 1991.  So today’s Jane — in New York City — will still deal with sexism, but it will be different.  “Sexism isn’t gone.  It’s more subtle and insidious in the modern world,” noted creator-exec producer Alexandra Cunningham.  She also noted that, visiting New York detective squads, she found many are male-only.  Jane will still smoke and drink, too.  But rather than the extreme chain smoking of Mirren’s incarnation, Bello’s will be constantly trying to quit.  (Bello, a smoker herself, said she can empathize.)  As for the drinking, Cunningham pointed out that it’s no longer ground-breaking to show a woman alcoholic on TV like it was 20 years ago when Mirren did it.  So this Jane will drink, but it won’t become the storyline-driving issue it became in the old “Prime Suspect.”