For television executives, hope often springs eternal in the dead of winter. While the 2012-13 development slate largely has been forgettable, what with its primate veterinarians, demonic Upper East Siders and mobbed-up surgical residents, at least a few midseason newcomers suggest the season may not prove to be a total wash.
As we’ve established in this week’s cover story, the upcoming FX drama The Americans is Adweek’s pick for the must-see new series of the spring semester. That said, there are a handful of other contenders that look promising. Presented in order of relative merit are five freshman series that could command a starring role in your DVR queue.
The Following (Fox)—Premieres Monday, Jan. 21 at 9 p.m.
Darker than the inky black shadow cast by the feathers of a raven’s wing, this Kevin Williamson psychodrama is as grim and gruesome as anything on cable. In his first TV role, Kevin Bacon stars as a boozy former Fed who is dragged back into the crime-and-punishment game when the serial killer he put away 10 years ago (James Purefoy) escapes from death row.
While not for the faint of heart—the Poe-obsessed killer boasts about his role in an involuntary double enucleation by purring that it’s no easy chore to sever each of the seven muscles that anchor the human eyeball in the socket—The Following marks Fox’s best shot at a Monday hit since Dr. Gregory House hung up his scrubs.
Despite the show’s Grand Guignol trappings, the marketplace appears taken with The Following. In fact, the series was afforded most-favored nation status during the spring upfront period, commanding the highest unit cost of any new series ($195,000 per 30-second spot).
The Carrie Diaries (The CW)—Premiered Monday, Jan. 14 at 8 p.m.
Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider, Bruce Wayne was orphaned by a common street thug and Doc Banner was exposed to a whole mess of cell-altering gamma rays. These are what are known in the comics game as “origin stories,” and now the CW is rolling out a similar creation myth for Manhattan’s favorite mortal superheroine, Carrie Bradshaw.
Billed as a prequel to HBO’s Sex and the City, The Carrie Diaries stars AnnaSophia Robb as the 16-year-old incarnation of Sarah Jessica Parker’s columnist-cum-fashionista. The pilot appears to have been cooked up in a lab expressly for the CW’s longstanding target demo (women 18-34), and Robb does a fine job of balancing fun (clothes! clubs! canoodling!) and pathos (Carrie’s mother only recently has passed away and her doting dad is overcompensating for her loss).
Buyers who invested in The Carrie Diaries during the 2012-13 upfront paid north of $40,000 per :30, a price that’s of a piece with much of the network’s female-friendly fare. (Having expanded its reach to include a cohort of younger male viewers, the CW was able to wrangle particularly strong pricing for its fall drama Arrow. With an average unit cost of approximately $65,000 a pop, the high-flying Arrow is currently the most valuable property on the CW.)
House of Cards (Netflix)—Premieres Friday, Feb. 1
Netflix pulled the rug out from under HBO, outbidding the premium cable giant by committing $100 million for the rights to stream 26 installments of what may well be the season’s most star-studded drama. Adapted from a 1990 BBC political thriller by director David Fincher (Fight Club, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Social Network), House of Cards marks the first original drama series to be commissioned by Netflix. Joining Kevin Spacey in this Beltway potboiler are Robin Wright, Kate Mara and Constance Zimmer.
Netflix will make all 13 episodes of the first season of House of Cards available on Feb. 1. Season 2 is set to begin shooting in the second quarter of this year.
Netflix closed out the third quarter of 2012 with 25.1 million U.S. subscribers to its streaming-video service, a gain of just 1.16 million versus the year-ago period. And while media buyers may want to cozy up to Fincher’s stew of sex, politics and intrigue, Netflix continues to resist the siren song of the ad-supported model, depending instead on its $7.99 monthly sub fee. But the cost of the service’s numerous content deals is far from cheap, and some analysts predict the company will have to raise its rates if it refuses to create a new sponsor-backed tier.
Do No Harm (NBC)—Premieres Thursday, Jan. 31 at 10 p.m.
A postmodern reboot of the Jekyll and Hyde story, Do No Harm stars Rescue Me vet Steven Pasquale as Dr. Jason Cole, a neurosurgeon who assumes an alternate personality every night at 8:25 p.m. Like a particularly self-destructive drunk, Cole’s alter ego spends all of his waking hours scheming to screw up the good doctor’s life.
While the material may be a bit musty—Robert Louis Stevenson first published his famed novella in 1886—Pasquale gives Do No Harm a fighter’s chance. The actor is particularly riveting when he embodies the surgeon’s dark side, and the shift change from the hospital setting to a seedier criminal milieu makes this split-personality series seem like an uneasy melding of the medical and procedural genres.
Moreover, familiarity doesn’t necessarily breed discontent…or at least not on broadcast TV. Another Victorian-era franchise was given the 21st Century treatment this fall when CBS bowed the Sherlock Holmes drama, Elementary. Since premiering on Sept. 27, Elementary has been the most-watched new drama of 2012-13, averaging 10.9 million live-plus-same-day viewers and a 3.3 rating in CBS’ target 25-54 demo.
Elementary will go head-to-head with Do No Harm, once the latter replaces NBC’s news program, Rock Center With Brian Williams.
Zero Hour (ABC)—Premieres Thursday, Feb. 14 at 8 p.m.
On the surface, this time-traveling ode to paranoia and conspiracy seems like something Thomas Pynchon might scribble down after a particularly heady dose of psilocybin mushrooms. Starring Anthony Edwards in his first full-blown TV gig since ER’s Dr. Mark Greene flatlined in 2002, Zero Hour is as nearly as overstuffed as Gravity’s Rainbow, featuring a shadowy religious sect, a Möbius strip of a time line, a series of antique clocks that harbor mankind’s most enduring secrets and a cadre of diabolical Nazis. (As if there were any other kind.)
Speaking last week at the Television Critics Association winter press tour, series creator Paul Scheuring (Prison Break) assured curious onlookers that he would not leave Edwards and his co-star, Jacinda Barrett, hanging as do so many other episodic series when the showrunner wants to crank up the suspense. The Nazis will be dealt with in the 13th and final episode of this season, Scheuring said, adding that if Zero Hour is renewed, he’ll re-set the clock each season, a la 24.
Zero Hour replaces the disappointing newbie Last Resort, which plummeted to a 1.0 rating in the 18-49 demo shortly after debuting to an unspectacular 2.2 rating on Sept. 27. ABC canceled the Andre Braugher drama on Nov. 16. It faces a competitive set of shows that includes the CBS comedies The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men and Fox’s American Idol results show.