I was pleasantly surprised by Extant, the “event series” starring Halle Berry that CBS is hoping will do just as well for them this summer as Under the Dome did last year at this time. The show, as I write at The Daily Beast, is a substantial upgrade over Dome, thanks in large part to its star:
The show’s name, Extant, means “still in existence; surviving”—the opposite of extinct. The word could also refer to Berry’s career, which seemed to have flatlined in recent years, outside of the X-Men franchise. Extant can only thrive if Berry does, and so far the actress, making her first TV series appearance since the short-lived 1989 Who’s the Boss? spinoff Living Dolls, delivers in what is a difficult, enigmatic role. Berry has never deployed her talents consistently during her career, but acquits herself quite admirably here. While at first, she seems to be frustratingly underplaying Molly’s reaction to the pregnancy news, it turns out that there’s a method to her stillness. You see, Molly also knows things—some of which unfold in flashbacks—with many more revelations likely to come in future episodes. Until they do, Berry utilizes her star quality to keep us riveted and awaiting whatever twist comes next. And she makes the most of her standout scene in the premiere, in which she silently and captivatingly unpacks several years of emotional baggage.
My long-term reservations about the show aside, I applaud CBS for proving, at least for now, that quality broadcast television can indeed be extant during the summer months.
After a dormant period, the miniseries genre is having a renaissance. Just don’t call them that, as I wrote at Quartz.
But nobody calls these shows “miniseries,” anymore. Instead, the networks have embraced terms like “limited series” and “event series” to describe programs with a predetermined end or cast that changes from season to season.
So what’s the difference? Not even the people running the networks can answer that one. “I don’t know,” NBC Entertainment president Robert Greenblatt admitted to reporters at the Television Critics Association’s press tour in January.
“It’s a genre that has kind of gone out of our sort of vocabulary for a long time because we stopped doing them,” said Greenblatt. “I think we use the word miniseries when something is closed-ended and can’t continue.…I don’t know what a limited series is.”
CBS Entertainment chair Nina Tassler also spoke with me at TCA about why the m-word has become so verboten, and I help clear up the confusion between miniseries, limited series, event series and anthology series.
As upfronts wrap today, I wrote this Quartz piece about one big change to this year’s proceedings: the networks are finally serious about programming year-round, and they’re actually putting their money where their mouths are.
But as broadcast ratings continue to erode, those networks can no longer assume that their viewers will stay loyal and return in the fall. So when CBS took a chance on adapting Stephen King’s Under the Dome as a “limited series” last summer, and it became the highest-rated scripted summer series in 21 years, the network kept it in the same spot this year (it returns June 30). With the addition of Extant and other summer shows, CBS will have 90 hours of original programming this summer.
It’s a big change from the broadcasters’ traditional hands-off approach to summer, allowing the cable networks (and more recently, Netflix) to swoop in and take all the audiences for themselves.
TCA winter tour is finally winding down, but I wanted to write one last story about the various developments and announcements that I hadn’t been able to address in standalone stories. So for my final Quartz story from TCA, I noted six ways that TV is changing forever, including my observation that pilot season isn’t dead — yet:
Last week, FOX announced the death of pilot season, with Reilly explaining that “it’s highly inefficient” and “built for a different era” when CBS, ABC and NBC were the only three networks in existence. Instead, Reilly has already picked up several projects “straight to series” for next season, bypassing the usual pilot process so as not to waste resources on projects that will never make it to air.
Yet the other networks were quick to declare that while the business is indeed changing, pilot season is still very useful for them. “It’s frustrating, but also exciting,” said CBS’s Tassler, who noted that pilot season’s “compression of time”—in which pilots are cast, shot and focus-tested in a matter of weeks—gives way to “this creative adrenaline” that has delivered their biggest hits, like The Big Bang Theory. NBC’s Greenblatt noted that his network’s new hit The Blacklist “probably would never have seen the air had we not made a pilot, because it came from a relatively young, inexperienced writer. We weren’t exactly sure immediately from that script that we should order a series.”