We all know how fickle the TV business is — one year you’re up, next year you’re down. After launching the No.2 highest-rated new series of the 2012-13 season among adults 18-49 (Revolution) and the No.1 (The Blacklist) last season, NBC’s freshmen stumbled this season. Only one first-year series, comedic crime drama The Mysteries Of Laura, made it to a second season after an 11th hour reprieve on Friday night. (NBC is yet to make final decisions on late drama entries American Odyssey and AD: The Bible Continues, but neither looks promising.)
Not a single freshman comedy is coming back next season. It’s worth noting that two shows, drama The Night Shift and comedy Undateable, intended for midseason run but pushed to summer with zero expectations last year, did well enough to get second seasons and were both just renewed for a third. Undateable even landed on the fall 2015 NBC schedule (along with Laura), so summer has had a far greater success ratio as a launch pad than the regular season for the network in the past year.
On the comedy side, the network’s retreat continues, with only two half-hour series on the fall schedule. NBC continues to carry the flag for multi-camera comedy. After opting for an all-multi-camera block in midseason with Undateable and One Big Happy, the network is doing the same for fall with Undateable and People Are Talking. For fall, NBC is betting on event programming like Heroes Reborn and variety series Best Time Ever With Neil Patrick Harris.
This is not your mother’s CBS. Long known for its reliable, often older-skewing procedurals, the network is going younger for next season. A lot younger. On the heels of the success of its action drama Scorpion, the network has picked up three more series targeting the younger set, Supergirl, Limitless and Rush Hour, all toplined by actors in their 20s or early 30s. Yes, the network also ordered a new Criminal Minds spinoff starring 60-year old Gary Sinise and medical drama Code Black starring 55-year-old Marcia Gay Harden, but the generational shift is clear and it also spreads to the comedy side where CBS has ordered two comedies in the younger-skewing single-camera format, Angel From Hell and Life In Pieces. This is believed to be the first time CBS, long-associated with multi-camera sitcoms, has ordered only single-camera series heading into the upfronts. (CBS still has multi-camera The Half It in contention for midseason.).
Aside from blockbuster hip-hop soap Empire, which is hard to replicate, Fox has gotten most traction on the drama side the last two seasons with comic book adaptation Batman and supernatural thriller Sleepy Hollow. It is not surprising then that three of the four new Fox drama series orders this year went to shows with genre elements, sci-fi thriller Minority Report, based on the Steven Spielberg movie, Lucifer, based on the DC/Vertigo comic, and The Frankenstein Code, inspired by the Mary Shelley mythology.
Comedy-wise, the network is going all single-camera for the first time in three seasons, ordering three filmed sitcoms, The Grinder starring Rob Lowe, Grandfathered toplined by John Stamos and The Guide To Surviving Life.
This has got to be one of the easiest to promote lineups ever, with three dramas whose titles speak for themselves, Minority Report, Lucifer and The Frankenstein Code, and two comedies toplined by two of the best known TV stars, Rob Lowe and John Stamos. That should make it easier to launch the shows but of course, they will have to deliver to earn their stay.
After a pretty disappointing 2013-14 season with a number of flops, ABC rebounded in a big way this season with a string of successful launches, including How To Get Away With Murder, Black-ish and Fresh Off The Boat. The network logged a remarkable batting average, renewing eight of its 10 freshman shows for next season. And while one of the two casualties was comedy Cristela, the first Latino family comedy in years and first created by and starring a Latina, Cristela Alonzo, ABC is staying the course of introducing comedies with families we don’t see much on TV. Joining Black-ish and Fresh Off The Boat next season are Uncle Buck, a new take on the hit movie featuring a black family, and Dr. Ken, created by and starring Ken Jeong. For a second year, ABC has probably the most diverse new comedy slate, which also includes The Real O’Neals, about a family with a gay son (and of course, the return of The Muppets).
On the drama side, it’s a little bit of everything that has worked this season, a new drama produced by Shonda Rhimes (The Catch), a big sprawling soap (untitled Pate/Fishburne aka Boom) and crime anthology in the vein of Secrets & Lies (Wicked City). There are a couple of big swings too, including the biblical saga Of Kings And Prophets.
It is an exciting time, with high hopes for all new shows. but going back to the fickleness of the TV business, let’s not forget that the two top new series of the 2012-13 season in 18-49, The Following and Revolution, are both gone now. Just a little perspective.