If you're a TV network executive, there's one surefire way to figure out whether you're doing something right: see if any other networks copy you the following season.
From pumping out Modern Family clones to phasing out in-season repeats to forcing casts to live-tweet their shows to piling on the singing competitions, imitation is always the sincerest form of flattery on TV—and, the networks hope, their best chance at future success.
As the networks plan their strategies for the 2015-2016 season, here are the biggest trends from the past 12 months they'll likely try and make their own:
Empire's massive success (but not the part you think): Fox hit the jackpot with this season's biggest freshman hit and the first new show in decades to rise in the ratings every single week (its season finale pulled in a mind-boggling 6.9 among adults age 18-49). But because Empire took off so late in the development cycle, it's going to be another year before knockoffs arrive on-air, and, if history is any indication, start disappointing viewers.
But two major aspects of Empire's triumphant debut can be used immediately by rival networks: replicating its hugely successful marketing campaign, which saw Fox strategically—and successfully—target multiple demographics and—even more importantly—directing audiences each week to catch up with the series via VOD and streaming (where Fox locked up stacking rights for the entire season instead of just five episodes). That additional influx of viewers allowed audiences to dive in at any point in the season and resulted in those weekly ratings surges.
Branded network nights: ABC landed the first big victory of 2014-2015 months before the fall season even began, when it rolled out its brilliant #TGIT branding campaign for its all-Shonda Rhimes Thursday night lineup—Grey's Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder. NBC followed suit with #WomanCrushWednesdays, featuring the female stars of The Mysteries of Laura, Law & Order: SVU and Chicago P.D.
Branding an entire night of TV is "very difficult," ABC Entertainment president Paul Lee recently told Adweek, but that won't stop everyone else from trying to do the same thing this fall.
Shows with non-white stars can be hits, too: Who would ever have imagined that diverse audiences want to watch actors who actually look like them and reflect their stories? OK, everyone but TV executives, at least until this year, when many of this season's biggest new hits—Empire, How to Get Away with Murder, Black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat, Jane the Virgin—starred minority actors, as opposed to relegating them to token best friends or wacky neighbors.
We'll see even more of that next season, as NBC has already picked up shows starring Eva Longoria (sitcom Telenovela), Jennifer Lopez (cop drama Shades of Blue) and comedian Jerrod Carmichael (an untitled sitcom). Several other pilots in contention for series orders also boast minority leads, including ABC comedy Delories & Jermaine (Whoopi Goldberg and Jermaine Fowler), ABC comedy Dr. Ken (Ken Jeong) and CBS sitcom Taxi-22 (John Leguizamo)
(Re)make what you know: After a season peppered with new spins on familiar brands like Gotham and The Flash, the networks are channeling their inner VH1s for a nostalgic trip down pop culture memory lane. Fox is bringing back The X-Files as a limited series (yes, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are on board), while NBC gave a straight-to-series pickup to Coach, starring Craig T. Nelson. Meanwhile, this year's pilots feature reboots of seemingly every film released in the last two decades: Uncle Buck (ABC), Rush Hour (CBS), Minority Report (Fox), Problem Child (NBC) and Supergirl (which, admittedly, is known more as a comic-book superhero than a 1984 flop film but already has a series commitment from CBS). And while ABC's Chevy starring Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo isn't a National Lampoon's Vacation reboot (that one arrives in movie theaters on July 31), it's certainly hoping to rekindle that Clark and Ellen Griswold magic.
When I say "Spin," you say, "Off": Your favorite TV shows are multiplying, thanks to a dizzying number of spin-offs. This season's spin-off hits included NCIS: New Orleans and The Flash (which sprung from Arrow), while CSI: Cyber and Marvel's Agent Carter are also contenders for Season 2 renewals. In the mix for series pickups next season: a Criminal Minds spin-off starring Gary Sinise and Anna Gunn (which aired as a backdoor pilot on April 8, the same strategy that paid off last year for NCIS: New Orleans) and Chicago Med (which would be NBC's third Chicago series), while on the comic-book side, spin-offs to Flash/Arrow and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are also in the works.