The network upfronts — where each of the networks try and entice advertisers to plunk down large amounts of cash for space on new series, most of which will be cancelled before a second season — were presented this week. It was once the most exciting week on the annual television calendar, but splintered audiences, the rise of cable and streaming programming, lower ratings, and a rolling release schedule have diminished the impact of the event.
It is nevertheless an important time because — though ratings are significantly lower across the board — the networks can still command hefty ad prices because ABC, CBS, NBC, The CW, and Fox are still the only networks that can consistently deliver ad space to millions of viewers. HBO, Showtime, and most of the streaming services are not ad supported, so the networks have been able to remain profitable despite far fewer viewers.
As of 2012, over 65 percent of all new shows were cancelled in their first season. That number may be higher now. Nevertheless, some of the networks — Fox, in particular — have put forward some strong offerings for next year, while other networks like ABC may surpass that 65 percent mark. CBS, meanwhile, continues to appeal to its demo, while NBC has mostly stayed pat.
Here’s the lowdown on the new series coming in the 2016-17 season.
CBS comes in content to continue appealing to the older demographic. The average age of a CBS viewer is 59.9, and after shedding Supergirl to The CW, the number may skew even higher. The big news for the network is the return of Kevin James, who slides back into the Monday slot he left a decade ago with King of Queens. Kevin Can Wait appears to be similar in tone and concept: James plays a schlubby guy married to a rail-thin wife, only now he’s retired and taking care of the kids. Man with a Plan is similar in concept: Matt LeBlanc plays stay-at-home dad to working mom (Jenna Fischer), as CBS finally catches up to the stay-at-home premise that failed for NBC three years ago (Guys with Kids). Kevin Can Wait will be paired with Man with a Plan on Mondays, where LeBlanc will join his Friends colleague Matthew Perry (currently on The Odd Couple) and 2 Broke Girls.
The network will also continue to churn out procedurals, some with familiar names. Bill Paxton and Justin Cornwall star in a glossy, procedural take on Training Day (scheduled for midseason), and Lucas Till plays the son of MacGyver on a reboot of that show. It looks as bland as the other two series it joins on Fridays, Blue Bloods and Hawaii Five-O. The network also has Bull, based on Dr. Phil McGraw’s work as a jury consultant as a young man, and Pure Genius, a medical drama set in a high-tech hospital. Neither look remotely interesting.
Major Storyline — In continuing to appeal to older viewers, CBS is also slow to diversify. All of its new fall shows feature male leads, and only one midseason procedural, Doubt features a female lead in Katherine Heigl. CBS, however, is dismissing criticism based on the fact that it hired Laverne Cox to be the first transgender series regular on broadcast television played by a transgender actor.
Surefire Hit — Kevin James’ Kevin Can Wait will not only get the Big Bang Theory lead-out until November, but it’s bread-and-butter for the CBS demographic.
Most Promising Show — Great Indoors will get the prime post-Big Bang Theory slot on Thursdays. It’s a multi-camera, laugh-track sitcom and while the jokes in the trailer are staid, wiseacre Joel McHale’s perfect delivery cuts through the weary laugh track. It’s the only series on CBS I might even consider watching (aside from the reliably sweet and funny Parenthood-like sitcom, Life in Pieces, entering its second season). Great Indoors, however, may be too edgy for the CBS demo.
Least Promising New Show — All the procedurals look dreadfully bland, but Bill Paxton’s take on Denzel Washington’s character in Training Day is straight-up embarrassing.
ABC is the network currently hurting the most, as it doesn’t have reliable NFL games to boost its overall ratings, it’s coming off a slew of cancellations, and the already waning Scandal has been pushed to midseason to accommodate Kerry Washington’s pregnancy. After canceling Nashville and Castle, ABC is pinning much of its hopes on its sitcom blocks on Tuesday and Wednesday. The reliable The Middle moves to Tuesday in its eighth season to anchor that block in the 8 p.m. hour with Fresh Off the Boat pushed to 9 ET. American Housewife, formerly The Second Fattest Housewife in Westport is sandwiched in between, and it looks like a show previously called The Second Fattest Housewife in Westport. Meanwhile, Agents of SHIELD has been shuffled off to the 10 p.m. hour on Tuesdays, where ABC dramas go to die.
The Goldbergs, meanwhile, moves to Wednesdays at 8 ET, and the network is pinning a lot of its hopes on Minnie Driver’s Speechless — about a single mother taking care of a family that includes a teenager with cerebral palsy — to fill the gap between The Goldbergs and Modern Family. After Black-ish at 9:30, ABC has slated its most promising new show of the fall, Kiefer Sutherland’s Designated Survivor.
Meanwhile, Hayley Atwell’s bland-looking-but-for-Atwell legal drama Conviction takes over Castle‘s slot on Monday nights at 10, while freshman series Notorious will fill in for Scandal until midseason.
Major Storyline — ABC played it conservatively, sticking with what works (even if it works only modestly) and filling in the gaps with what ABC does best: Family sitcoms. Its midseason releases are the more risky. Imaginary Mary stars Jenna Elfman as a new stepmom with an imaginary friend who advises her (it does not look good) and Downward Dog is about the life of a struggling millennial (played by Fargo‘s Allison Tolman) as told from the perspective of her dog. It does not look promising, either.
Surefire Hit — Designated Survivor. Not only does it land Nashville‘s former slot (and gets the Modern Family/Black-ish lead-in), the trailer for the series is the only drama from the big four networks that looks competitive with cable dramas. I don’t know if the premise will be able to sustain itself for an entire season (or more), but the trailer looks phenomenal.
Most Promising Show — Designated Survivor, above.
Least Promising New Show — Notorious looks like something from the USA Network’s rejection pile. It’s a placeholder until Scandal returns, but don’t expect it to land a second season.
Most Disappointing New Series — Conviction, starring Hayley Atwell as a former First Daughter turned cocaine addict turned prosecutor in a generic-looking legal drama far beneath the charm and talent of Atwell.
Fox has a lot of holes to fill with American Idol leaving after 15 years on the network, but it’s holding back most of its big guns until midseason. The fall schedule will only see three new series. Lethal Weapon will take over before Empire on Wednesdays, The Exorcist premieres on Fridays, and the live-action/animated hybrid Son of Zorn with Jason Sudeikis joins the Sunday night animated block, as Fox continues to better utilize SNL alums than NBC. Midseason, however, will see several new additions, most notably the return of Prison Break on Thursdays, and The Mick will be paired with New Girl and Brooklyn Nine-Nine on Tuesdays.
Major Storyline — A lot of edgy fare, more diversity, and Fox has positioned itself better than the other networks to compete with cable and streaming services. It’s basically become a content provider for Hulu.
Surefire Hit — No show on the new Fox schedule is likely to become another Empire-sized hit, but brand recognition, a good cast (Damon Wayans and Rectify‘s Clayne Crawford) and a compelling trailer make Lethal Weapon worth a look. Crawford is fantastic in the trailer, and if the show can inject some interesting serial storylines around the staid procedural formula, it could work.
Most Promising Show — The Mick, starring Kaitlin Olson, who is basically playing her It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia character if she had to move onto a wealthy estate and take care of her late sister’s high-maintenance children. It looks hysterical.
Also, Making History from Phil Lord and Chris Miller, is a Bill and Ted-like time traveling sitcom with Adam Pally that looks promising.
I liked Pitch, too, about the first female baseball player, although I’m not sure there’s enough to sustain it beyond a great pilot episode.
Least Promising New Show — The Exorcist looks downright boring.