Midseason TV Matchups

If Kevin Reilly has his way, the time-honored practice of carving the broadcast television season into three distinct cycles (fall, midseason, sleepaway camp) will go the way of the variety show. Speaking last week at the Television Critics Association’s Winter Press Tour, Fox’s entertainment chairman effectively declared that he was sending pilot season to a nice farm where it could romp and play with other outmoded concepts.

“The broadcast, development and scheduling system was built for a different era,” Reilly said. “Honestly, it’s nothing short of a miracle that the talent is able to produce anything of quality in that environment.”

In scrapping pilot season, Fox is taking a big step toward tearing down some of network TV’s more arbitrary (and expensive) conventions—which, in turn, should lead to a more fluid and dynamic programming model. In the meantime, we remain stuck with midseason, that lukewarm limbo period in which a few sleeper shows are propped up against a bunch of half-baked costume dramas, hyperactive genre mashups and ham-fisted medical melodramas.

What follows is an advance look at the midwinter mishegas.

1

Sunday

Haley Joel Osment isn’t the only one who can see dead people. Anybody tuning into Sunday prime time will likely have his or her fill of shambolic, ravenous corpses (AMC’s The Walking Dead), miraculously reanimated decedents (ABC’s Resurrection) and that guy who was in Dead Poets Society (Josh Charles from CBS’ The Good Wife—admittedly a stretch).

Barring any unforeseen changes in the midseason schedule, 9 p.m. promises to be one of the most tumultuous time slots on the grid, as a pair of new supernatural dramas (the aforementioned Resurrection, and NBC’s latest collaboration with J.J. Abrams, Believe) square off against the criminally underwatched Good Wife and TV’s top-rated scripted series (The Walking Dead).

Short of killing off Daryl Dixon (and thereby precipitating a full-scale viewer boycott), nothing will take a bite out of Dead’s astounding demo numbers. But if you’re bored with zombie chic and there’s room on your DVR, then watch The Good Wife live and record the haunting and mesmerizing Resurrection.

The best broadcast drama pilot to come down the pipe in ages, this examination of what happens to a small town when the River Styx begins flowing upstream (e.g., the dead return to the land of the living) boasts one of the highest unit costs of any new series. And while one should never count out Abrams, Believe’s revolving-door showrunner predicament suggests this high-concept property may suffer from an identity crisis.

2

Monday

Before the fast national numbers for CBS’ sci-fi procedural Intelligence started rolling in, this 10 p.m. newcomer seemed to offer the net at least a puncher’s chance against NBC’s dominant freshman thriller, The Blacklist. But as the Nielsen data proved, Intelligence’s time slot debut was a disaster. After bowing Jan. 7 to 16.5 million viewers and a 2.4 rating in a special Tuesday premiere, Intelligence last week averaged just 6.2 million viewers and a 1.2 rating, making it an even more anemic performer than its predecessor, the serialized drama Hostages.

In its maiden voyage without the tailwind provided by The Voice (the lead-in returns for its sixth cycle on Feb. 24), The Blacklist was able to more than double Intelligence’s demo results. Far and away the season’s most consistent newcomer, this James Spader vehicle is also the best drama to land at NBC since Bob Greenblatt took the reins as entertainment chairman.

While Intelligence hasn’t stopped the bleeding in the final hour of prime, CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler last week did her best to prop up the net’s newest drama. “It’s a much tougher time period,” she said at TCA. “We … like the stories, love the stars, and we think it’s a really good show.”

3

Tuesday

Because TV executives are often more forgetful than Junior Soprano under house arrest, it would behoove network programmers to have George Santayana’s aphorism about the purgatory of selective amnesia (“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”) stitched onto a throw pillow and displayed in a conspicuous area in their offices.

Case in point: Last season, ABC, NBC and Fox created a one-hour comedy roadblock Tuesdays at 9 p.m. By the time the smoke cleared, ABC and NBC had killed off both of their respective sitcoms, while the Fox duo never recovered its equilibrium. Well, it’s a brand new year and wouldn’t you know it, the three networks are duplicating the same disastrous strategy.

This year’s sacrifice to the zero-sum gods: About a Boy/Growing Up Fisher (NBC), New Girl/Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox) and The Goldbergs/Trophy Wife (ABC). Don’t buy any green bananas, imprudent comedy roadblock!

4

Wednesday

In a sense, the 10 o’clock hour is the 52 Pick-Up time slot, a 60-minute chunk of real estate that plays host to a seemingly random assortment of genres targeting a similarly scattershot collection of demos.

Now in its 14th season, CBS’ venerable procedural CSI: Crime Scene Investigation still holds its own against fading songbird Nashville (ABC) and the unproven NBC drama Chicago P.D. (While it bowed earlier this month to a very respectable 2.0 in the dollar demo, this Dick Wolf effort dropped to a 1.5 in its sophomore outing. Then again, its sibling and precursor, Chicago Fire, did much the same in its opening rounds a year ago, only to earn itself a renewal in May.)

The thing is, the broadcast listings don’t even begin to provide a full account of the dazzling array of content on offer via the cable networks. Comedy Central brings the funny with Workaholics and the Amy Poehler-produced Broad City; Discovery Channel kicks the tires on scripted drama with the six-part miniseries Klondike; TLC wades into madness with its unscripted series My Strange Addiction (come for the grown woman who compulsively sniffs her doll’s head, stay for the frustrated guy who issues the haunting ultimatum “It’s me or the puppets!”); and Bravo serves up TV’s last great guilt-free reality show in Top Chef.

But if scripted drama is more your cup of chamomile, look no further than FX. Home to some of the most riveting series on the tube, FX comes in from the cold Feb. 26 with the Season 2 premiere of its audacious spy drama The Americans. Remember last year when nobody would shut up about Breaking Bad? The Americans is on the verge of becoming that show for which your enthusiasm alienates all your friends. (Whatever. You can always make new friends.)

5

Thursday

Rejected titles for Fox’s newest anti-hero drama, Rake, which stars Greg Kinnear as Keegan Deane, a defense attorney/degenerate gambler/inveterate ladies man/real piece of work, might well include Rapscallion, Rogue, Rascal, Scamp, Scoundrel, Knave and House II: This Time He’s a Lawyer.

Executive produced by the poet laureate of male misbehavior, Peter Tolan (The Job, Rescue Me), Rake is Fox’s latest foray into chronicling the dissolute lifestyle choices of what Kevin Reilly calls “the Great American Asshole Protagonist.” Set to bow Jan. 21, Rake is expected to benefit from a sturdy lead-in (American Idol) and the preternaturally agreeable Kinnear. An iffy competitive field couldn’t hurt, either: The new drama will go head-to-head with anemic NBC comedies Sean Saves the World and The Michael J. Fox Show and the middling CBS sitcoms The Crazy Ones and Two and a Half Men. That said, ABC’s unsinkable Grey’s Anatomy is hardly a pushover—per Nielsen C3 data, the hospital drama is the sixth highest-rated returning series.

6

Friday

Broadcast’s oldest-skewing drama (the median age is Steven Seagal), CBS’ Blue Bloods is also the night’sbiggest draw, scaring up north of 11 million viewers at 10 p.m. On the other end of the spectrum, NBC’s moody psyche job Hannibal is the very definition of a cult fave, averaging just 2.82 million viewers out of the gate. The cinematography alone makes Hannibal worthy of your time, but its new slot may spell doom for NBC’s unsettled pirate drama, Crossbones. Meanwhile, Syfy takes another stab at scripted with bio-terror nightmare Helix.