Coming soon to a television near you... the new US blockbusters

With Lost and 24 about to end, Guy Adams reveals what is set to take their place

On Sunday, we will lose Lost. A day later, time will finally run out on Jack Bauer's 24. They will join the once-modish Heroes on a scrapheap of recently axed television shows which has grown so rapidly in recent months, that Hollywood's trade press has begun wondering if hatchet-wielding TV executives are falling victim to a highly contagious disease known as "prime-time panic".

It only feels like yesterday, after all, that ER, which had run for 15 years and inflicted George Clooney on the unsuspecting world, was finally canned. And last week, Law & Order, America's longest-running TV drama, was dropped, ending two decades and more than 450 episodes of faithful service. Not since 2004, when Sex and the City, Frasier and Friends simultaneously ended, have so many era-defining programmes disappeared in one big swoop.

A billion-dollar question is therefore now floating over future viewing habits of not just America, but the roughly 130 countries where its television is syndicated. What new shows, in the endless array now being commissioned to fill newly vacant airspace, will become the game-changing hits of tomorrow? Or to put it another way, will any franchise, in an increasingly fractured creative landscape, turn into this decade's 24, or Friends, or Lost?

The TV industry's biggest cheeses are currently meeting in New York to find out. All week, major networks have been taking turns to host networking events, cocktail parties, and star-studded presentations at which they brief agents, journalists, and advertising industry "buyers" about the collection of new programmes launching this autumn. In keeping with its forward-thinking remit, the annual event is called The Upfronts.

This year, an unusually high total of roughly 30 new shows have been showcased by the "big four" networks, NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox. In large, expensively decorated theatres they have screened endless trailers and highlight reels, hiring major talent to help pitch their new wares. Fox's Upfront, on Monday, featured a song and dance performance from the cast of Glee. NBC's was presented, like the Oscars, by Alec Baldwin.

Financially, the stakes are huge. Scripted drama costs upwards of $2m per hour to produce, so each new series sets its broadcaster back tens of millions. Yet the vast majority end up as costly flops: only about one in ten will survive beyond a second series. Even fewer reach 100 episodes, the point at which they become major cash cows, making household names of their cast and creators, and earning billions for the lucky network in DVD box sets, and worldwide syndication rights.

Predicting what will end up in the hallowed circle of winners is never an exact science. But if there was an award for the new show enjoying the most hype, it would go to Steven Spielberg's Terra Nova. This project, due to launch in early 2011, comes from the Jurassic Park school of film-making: it centres on a modern-era family who travel several million years back in time to the era of the dinosaurs in order to save the Earth from environmental catastrophe.

Fox has appointed two of the newly unemployed producers of 24 to run Terra Nova. It has not yet been cast, meaning that audiences at this week's Upfront were unable to see preview clips (and instead were simply shown conceptual art). But with its state-of-the art special effects, an enormous budget, and tree-hugging themes, it ticks similar creative boxes to Avatar, the most lucrative film of all time.

Alongside Spielberg, another big-name producer returning to the fold is JJ Abrams, the creator of Lost, who in recent years has been responsible for a string of intelligent science-fiction shows like Alias and Fringe, which achieved cult status on both sides of the Atlantic. His new show will be called Undercovers, and is about married ex-CIA agents who are running a restaurant, but decide to come out of retirement when a close friend suddenly disappears.

Abrams has cast the British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who played Jenny in Spooks and was recently Ophelia to Jude Law's West End Hamlet, in one of his two lead roles. Her co-star is Boris Kodjo. Their appointments represent a gamble: series with mixed-race protagonists are often successful in the US and UK, but (for entirely regrettable reasons) can be a tough sell in some foreign markets.

The final household name getting in on the action is Jerry Bruckheimer. He has a new legal drama called The Whole Truth, which uses a split narrative to show how both sides in a court battle construct their case. Its pilot was excellent. But that episode's success may be hard to replicate: the show's British star Joely Richardson, has suddenly quit the cast for so-far-unexplained "personal reasons".

Bruckheimer, who is never afraid to explore well-worn genres that involve lots of car crashes and special effects, is also behind a second new show: a cop drama for NBC called Chase. It's described by the network as "a fast-paced drama that drops viewers smack into the middle of a game of cat-and-mouse as a team of US marshals hunts down America's most dangerous fugitives".

Neither he, nor Spielberg, nor Abrams is exactly renowned for budgetary restraint: Fringe had the most costly pilot in history, while Spielberg's recent HBO series The Pacific, which cost $200m for ten episodes, is the most expensive TV series ever made. Their success in getting the green light for major shows suggests the industry may at last be emerging from its recession-era financial torpor.

"The advertising market has finally started to pick up, along with the rest of the economy, so there's an air of optimism here. As revenue grows, so does confidence," says Nellie Andreeva, who is covering The Upfronts for the influential Deadline Hollywood Daily blog. "Advertisers will pay more for slots in quality scripted drama shows than in other, cheaper kinds of programmes, so that is one reason why so many are being launched."

Among the other new programmes she's seen showcased this week, Andreeva also rates two ABC projects: No Ordinary Family – a "family version of Heroes," in which a mysterious plane crash leaves a family with superpowers – and My Generation, a light-hearted programme about former schoolmates shot in a "mocumentary" format.

CBS is touting a Criminal Minds spin-off starring Forrest Whitaker, along with a show called Blue Bloods featuring Tom Selleck, and a rebooted Hawaii-Five-O. A new soap opera from Fox called Lonestar, starring Jon Voight as a Texan oil baron, will pitch for the market once owned by Dallas.

Other new launches generating buzz are the comedy Outsourced – think The Office, but in a Mumbai call centre – and Mr Sunshine, in which former Friends star Matthew Perry plays a forty-something man coping with a midlife crisis. British viewers will get to see the best of them next spring, when they get picked up by UK broadcasters.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
video
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Amis: Taken to task over rash decisions and ill-judged statements
booksThe Zone of Interest just doesn't work, says James Runcie
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Travel
travelFrom Notting Hill Carnival to Zombeavers at FrightFest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel you sales role is li...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

Legal Recruitment Consultant

Highly Competitive Salary + Commission: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL BASED - DEALING ...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home