LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - TV is generally concerned with winning the eyes of an audience, but ears can be just as important these days. Network and cable shows continue to put a premium on the music behind the stories, with indie and even unsigned artists as likely to get heard as any giants of the back catalog.
The Writers Guild of America strike, approaching its third month, still has production schedules up in the air, but here are some TV newcomers that might be worth a listen in 2008.
Scheduled to make its prime time debut February 18 on NBC, "Quarterlife" was initially developed by producers Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick as a series of webisodes appearing on Quarterlife.com, a social networking site geared toward artists, writers and musicians. In a meta-digital twist, the show's narrative follows a cast of young creative types who are all using the site to begin or advance their careers. A wide range of indie music has been brought to the show, including Asher, Early Day Miners and Helen Stellar. Bands heard in the webisodes or the forthcoming hour-long drama can be tracked down through their own Quarterlife pages, which offer footage of band rehearsals, club shows and interviews. "We're trying to show where these bands are coming from and give them a personality outside the show other than just being a music cue," says Billy Kostka, music channel director for the site.
Producer Alan Ball made music a powerful part of the mix in "Six Feet Under," and he will likely do the same with his new HBO drama "True Blood." Based on the "Southern Vampire" book series, the show, set around a Louisiana roadhouse, follows the adventures of vampires who, thanks to advances in the manufacture of synthetic blood, no longer have to bite necks to survive. "The soundtrack will be swampy, bluesy and spooky," music supervisor Gary Calamar says. Jim White, Joseph Arthur and Slim Harpo will be heard, but Ball and Calamar are open to new sounds as well. "We definitely want to dig into the regional sound of Louisiana because there are so many great musicians there," says Calamar. "There are so many musicians still trying to restart or rebuild their careers down there -- we want to offer some kind of opportunity to them."
This NBC drama only made it to the pilot stage before the strike kicked in on Nov, 3, but if it gets back into production for '08, it will likely offer up the kind of mix of heartland Americana, classic rock and indie sounds that has worked well for "Friday Night Lights." The show centers on the criminal intrigues that lie just below the manicured surface of suburban Ridgeview, Wis. "A lot of the music reminds you where you are," music supervisor Linda Cohen says, "but because things are not as picture perfect as they seem, there are a lot of darker sounds too." The pilot worked the classic-to-indie range by including Lynyrd Skynyrd in the soundtrack and featuring an on-camera party scene performance by indie Chicago act Ezra Furman & the Harpoons.
Bad behavior on shag carpeting will be explored in "Swingtown," which is set in the 1970s and features a cast of key-partying suburbanites. Created by Mike Kelley ("Jericho"), the show will make use of tracks by Gary Wright, Rita Coolidge and Captain & Tennille. In between the licensed tracks will be an original musical score by Liz Phair.
"Eli Stone," a one-hour comedic drama debuting January 31 on ABC, follows the exploits of what might turn out to be the most disturbing creature of the new year -- a lawyer with a heart. When the title character, played by Jonny Lee Miller, begins to feel he might be a prophet, he receives his celestial communications in an unusual form: via pop stars crooning past hits. The pilot has Stone interrupting an act of coitus to answer the call of "Faith" being sung by a very real George Michael. The pop singer has reportedly signed on to appear in several more episodes.