Here’s a network-by-network look at some of what’s coming this fall. The shows aren’t available for review yet, but I can give you this advice: Don’t pay much attention to the promos that will be airing through the summer. They’ll all be misleading.
As we get closer to the fall, we’ll keep you posted on what’s good, bad or a complete waste of time. Until then, let’s just make fun of network executives.
It’s been the totally cold, or totally hot, network over recent seasons with some of the biggest hits and biggest flops. The hits tended to appeal to more female viewers, so this fall, ABC went all the way.
That means female-skewing shows like “Dancing With the Stars,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Ugly Betty,” “Men in Trees” and “Brothers & Sisters” will be getting company in the form of “Private Practice,” the “Grey’s” spinoff; “Women’s Murder Club,” which is about four crime-solving women, and the upscale soap “Dirty Sexy Money,” among others.
Best move: “Private Practice” seems like a no-brainer, particularly if can keep the lighter tone it showed when it aired as part of a “Grey’s Anatomy” in May.
Worst move: Loading up the appeal to one audience niche is risky. Even if that niche is as large as all women, it can limit the potential for growth.
Biggest question: Will ABC ever find a comedy that connects, and does anyone think that “Cavemen” will be it?
If ABC is hot or cold, CBS is steady—sort of the Green Bay Packers of networks that moves forward with reliable, solid gains. (And if you remember those Packers of earlier days, you’re probably part of CBS’ slightly older audience.)
Only one fall show, “Shark,” got renewed, but CBS didn’t have much room in its generally successful, Packer-like lineup for new shows anyway. Next fall, however, CBS will be taking a few wild shots down the field.
It has the overall weirdest collection of new shows, including “Swingtown,” a midseason drama about a suburb with “open marriages” and loose lifestyle; “Kid Nation,” a “Lord of the Flies”-sounding reality series with kids setting up their own society, and “Viva Laughlin,” a show remade from a quirky British series. It’s set in a Nevada casino and—hold on here—it’s a musical.
Best move: Big points for breaking out of its comfort zone and taking some risks.
Worst move: Canceling “Jericho” without giving viewers some clue about how things would turn out. (For the record, CBS, and all of the nets, bristled when critics asked last summer about situations just like this.)
Biggest question: A musical?
This year, as almost every year, NBC is the most complicated story.
NBC had the hands-down best group of new shows last fall, yet fell even farther into fourth place. It’s got an absolutely stellar Thursday comedy lineup, but it’s getting sincerely weak ratings on a night it once dominated.
And this week, entertainment president Kevin Reilly, who’s smart, respected and has developed a ton of great TV shows—including the one true hit in the fall, “Heroes”—got dumped.
The reasons for that are even more complicated, though it was partly because NBC wanted to hire one of TV’s hottest producers, Ben Silverman, to take over Reilly’s responsibilities—and more—as co-chairman of NBC entertainment and of NBC Universal’s television studio.
Meanwhile, NBC still has the problem it had last season: A network in fourth place has a hard time launching new shows because it has a small audience, which means fewer people see the show promos.
Best move: Kept a steady hand and renewed some high-quality but low-rated shows like “Friday Night Lights” (moving to Fridays in the fall) and “30 Rock.” (To be fair about the cancellation of “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” NBC deserves some slack, since it’s taking a lot of other chances on low-rated shows, and there is a limit. Still.)
Worst move: Dedicating the 8 p.m. EDT hour—except on Thursdays—to cheaper-to-make reality shows like “Deal or No Deal” and “The Biggest Loser.” It just reeks of budget-cutting, and viewers don’t tune in for budgets.
Biggest question: When will NBC stop the bleeding?
Fox had a miserable fall (with the exception of the brilliant “House”), then became the ratings leader starting in January, largely on the popularity—and multiple hours—of “American Idol.”
It also has a bit of a problem with “24,” which lost some of its magic, though producers promise a re-imagined version next January.
Fox may—repeat: may—also have a bit of a problem with “Idol,” which seemed to lose a little of its cultural dominance down the stretch, though that could change if the next cast is more charismatic.
Meanwhile, though Fox needs to strengthen its September-December lineup as it waits for “Idol’s” return, it seems to be saving its two highest-profile dramas for January—“The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” which continues “The “Terminator” story, and “Canterbury’s Law,” a legal drama from producers Denis Leary and Jim Serpico starring Julianna Margulies.
Best move: Pairing Kelsey Grammer with Patricia Heaton in a can’t-miss-sounding comedy called “Back to You,” and Fox dearly needs a legitimate comedy.
Worst move: This one isn’t really a move, it’s a dilemma. The baseball playoffs in October and November often interrupt whatever flow some new Fox shows have built up, and Fox is locked in with Major League Baseball for a few more years. (However, this season it only has 14 nights of baseball, 12 fewer than last season.)
Biggest question: How long will “American Idol” stay a phenomenon and keeping saving Fox?
When the hybrid network formed last fall out of the ghosts of WB and UPN, it introduced one new drama and one new comedy. Way to make a splash.
Next fall, it’s going bigger and seems to be heading even more toward the old WB’s tone, which aimed for female teens and young women. The strength in that approach is it can lead to lucrative marketing for the network. The downside is that it can make CW feel more like a cable network than a broadcaster.
Best move: Opening up the lineup with six new shows.
Worst move: Keeps “Friday Night Smackdown” yet another season. It gets OK ratings for a Friday night, but it’s still the meanest, most misogynistic, most socially irresponsible show on the broadcast networks.
Biggest question: Can CW succeed staying small, or will one of its shows ever break out into a legitimate hit?
This is, basically, a charity mention. Last season, this “network,” which is more like a programming service owned by Fox Television, ran telenovelas and supplied them mostly to local stations that lost their network affiliations when UPN and WB merged.
The ratings were awful, well under 1 million nationally, which would be weak for an under-performing cable network.
For the coming fall, MyNetworkTV is offering reality series, a mixed-martial-arts league and two nights of movies. If there’s anything worth noting at some point, we’ll let you know.