September 17, 2014



RED BAND SOCIETY:  Wednesday 9PM on FOX – If Nothing Else Is On…

PLAYERS:  The Fault In Our Stars, which opened studio and network eyes to the commercial appeal of seriously ill teenagers.  Amblin Television, the small-screen wing of Steven Spielberg’s production empire.  The Spanish series that originated this project’s concept.  US series creator Margaret Nagle, whose only previous series, the short-lived Side Order Of Life, concerned a similar subject.  A cast headed by Octavia Spencer and Dave Annable, but mostly made up of lesser-known young performers.  Pilot director Jason Ensler.  Sony Television.

PREMISE:  The red bands are surgical bracelets accumulated by the residents of a hospital children’s ward, and Red Band Society‘s protagonists are (mostly) that ward’s long-term residents:  spoiled, arrogant Kara (Zoe Levin), a cheerleader with a bad heart–cue the irony–whose partying puts her at the bottom of the transplant list; brainy Emma (Ciara Bravo), who suffers both from eating disorders and her unacknowledged love for Leo (Charlie Rowe), who along with new roommate Jordi (Nolan Sotillo) has had cancer attack their legs; and Dash (Brian Bradley), who suffers from cystic fibrosis.  The quintet flirt, bicker, try to get their hands on weed and beer–essentially, what other teens do, but with IV tubes.  They’re watched over by no-nonsense but loving Nurse Jackson (Spencer), sympathetic Dr. McAndrew (Dave Annable)–and by Charlie, a young patient in a coma who sees and hears everything that happens on the ward, and who can communicate with his fellow patients only when they’re unconscious.

PILOT:  There are people who are absolutely going to plotz over Red Band Society.  It wears not just its heart but all its internal organs on its sleeve.  It balances sentiment with gentle humor, and it’s on the side of living well and feeling deeply.  It has, for God’s sake, Octavia Spencer as a veritable dream of a maternal, compassionate nurse.  To paragraph Jon Lovitz’s old SNL Harvey Fierstein, It Just Wants To Be Loved!!!

I was unmoved.

Even worse, I was a little bit angry at the shameless manipulation on display.  There isn’t a recognizable human anywhere in Red Band Society–it seems to be inhabited entirely by clichés from movies and other television shows.  At a time when networks like ABCFamily and MTV are making some effort to depict teenagers as complicated individuals, Red Band uses its characters’ illnesses as an excuse to turn them into heartwarming cardboard.  And when it turns whimsical, it’s actively painful–Charlie, unable to communicate from his coma, expresses his distaste for Kara by constantly farting in her presence.  As good as Spencer is, and as appealing as some of the young actors are, Red Band isn’t a society worth joining.

PROSPECTS;  Red Band Society is going to be an extremely difficult show for FOX to sell.  Fault In Our Stars was a smash, but it had the benefit of being based on a huge bestseller–and also being, you know, good.  “Watch the sick kids” isn’t a marketing lay-up, and despite the show’s exertions to make life in a hospital look like fun, those will only go so far.  Red Band is too simplistic for real teens, and too young for their parents.  The main thing it has going for it is a fairly open timeslot for its younger demo, facing very different shows like Criminal Minds, SVU and Modern Family. Only CW’s moderate success The 100 is aimed at the same demo, and in a very different genre.  Hell’s Kitchen isn’t an ideal lead-in, but there’s little on FOX that would be.  The show could find a loyal modest audience, and these days modest audiences are the new crowds.  Depending on FOX’s tolerance for a series that has limited chance of being a breakout hit, Red Band‘s patients may find their prognosis allowing for for a decent-sized hospital stay.



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."