Most Likely to Succeed

Our picks for the most promising new shows on networks this fall

In the unlikely case you haven’t heard, it’s upfront week. But sometimes lost in the talk of dollars is the fact five broadcasters will unveil their fall prime-time lineups. NBC spills the goods first, followed by Fox, ABC, CBS, and The CW. Expect hyperbole to come in heaps.

Extravagant claims of “break-out shows” and “star casts” are no surprise given the money at stake. The same claims are always made. But of the 24 freshman series in fall 2010, only a handful are returning. As with creatures in the jungle, most new series don’t survive. And with a majority of midseason entries also blatant failures, and aging stalwarts like Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy on ABC, Law & Order: SVU on NBC, House on Fox, and the CSI franchise on CBS (expected to be pared down) continuing to lose steam, the networks naturally are feeling the heat.

There are an estimated 88 scripted pilots and 10 nonscripted projects vying for positions. Skulduggery still draws a crowd so there is no shortage of catch-the-bad-guy thrillers—also supernatural/occult-themed scripted hours, particularly on The CW.

Interestingly, there are 41 sitcoms in development—a higher number than usual. As sometimes happens, that could be a crappy bet. (For the pilot crowd, this is a brutal week.)

Two of the higher-profile projects—Charlie’s Angels for ABC and Prime Suspect for NBC—are revivals, and both are expected to make it to prime time. Several shows are set in the 1960s and earlier (including The Playboy Club, an NBC drama). There is also one confirmed spinoff (The Finder from Fox’s Bones), and an unusually high number of projects based on books, with Good Christian Bitches from Darren Star for ABC considered a lock.

What follows is a breakdown by network including the projected return rate for the fall 2010 entries; the estimated hours in prime time in need of repair (excluding Saturday, which no one aggressively programs); the new series most likely to land on the schedule; and the one quivering foal of a series that is most likely to succeed. 

Minus any confirmed time periods, our odds of survival for the standout new entries (based on 1-1, the best, to 10-1, the worst) are determined by the concept itself and any early buzz factor.

Return Rate for fall 2010 starters: 1|2
Hours in need of replacement: 4
New shows expected to make the cut: Hart of Dixie, Heavenly, Secret Circle
Most likely to succeed: Secret Circle

The ongoing home of serialized dramas targeted to young females, The CW is hoping to capitalize on the success of The Vampire Diaries with Secret Circle, which reunites writer-producer Kevin Williamson with The Vampire Diaries author L.J. Smith.

Secret Circle centers on a young woman (Brittany Robertson) who moves to her mother’s hometown and discovers she’s a witch. She has a cute love interest (played by Thomas Dekker), who happens to be the oldest member of the “secret circle.” Natch.

It’s expected to follow The Vampire Diaries, which makes for great flow. And the benchmark for success is low given the lackluster performance of current time period occupant Nikita and the network overall.

Indeed, while The CW doesn’t offer the most eyeballs, it does offer new series a greater chance to succeed simply because the place is a shambles. 

Odds of Success for Secret Circle: 2-1

OK, we’re being cautiously optimistic at 2-1 odds. But witches leading out of vampires seems like a safe bet for the network’s demo target.

Return rate for fall 2010 starters: 3|5
Hours in need of replacement: 4
New shows expected to make the cut: Hail Mary, How to Be a Gentleman, Person of Interest, Ringer, The 2-2, Two Broke Girls
Most likely to succeed: Person of Interest

Crime has been very good for CBS, so there was every reason to expect a bumper crop of new pilots full of bad behavior and its ajudication.

With several in contention, the front runner is a project from Lost creator J.J. Abrams called Person of Interest (his first project with CBS). It focuses on a CIA agent (Jim Caviezel) who is recruited by a deranged billionaire (Lost’s Michael Emerson) to help fight crime on the streets of New York.

With several 10 p.m. time periods to consider, the success of Person of Interest is dependent on its lead-in and time-slot competition. But by placing less of an emphasis on forensics and focusing more on a mismatched casting riff, Person of Interest might feel fresh to viewers burnt out on crime and procedural dramas.

Odds of Success for Person of Interest: 4-1

A J.J. Abrams project could draw more young viewers.

Return rate for fall 2010 starters: 0|7
Hours in need of replacement: 6 to 7
New shows expected to make the cut: Apartment 23, Bad Mom, Charlie’s Angels, Good Christian Bitches, Pan Am, The River, Scandal, Smothered, Suburgatory
Most likely to succeed: Good Christian Bitches

Considering how Desperate Housewives once turned ABC’s fortunes around, the network is obviously itching to find the next must-see dramedy with a diverse group of cat-fighting women.

This attempt, which focuses on a woman who returns to her hometown only to fall in with a poisonous group of women in its Christian community, already has religious groups up in arms. Any publicity is good publicity, so Good Christian Bitches has an immediate advantage.

As Desperate Housewives continues its downward spiral, Good Christian Bitches, which will likely air right after it, could shift into Wisteria Lane’s 9 p.m. slot when that show finally wilts for good.

Odds of Success for Good Christian Bitches: 3-1

True, Desperate Housewives is no longer the perfect springboard for the show on right after it. But as long as ABC stands firm on the title—which is raising the biggest complaints—the controversy will continue, and more viewers will take notice no matter where it’s positioned.

Return rate for fall 2010 starters: 1|3
Hours in need of replacement: 5-6
New shows expected to make the cut: Alcatraz, The Finder, I Hate My Teenage Daughter, The New Girl, Terra Nova, The X Factor
Most likely to succeed: The X Factor

Until recently, Fox in fourth quarter was a network to avoid thanks to endless pre-emptions for baseball and the absence of competition killer American Idol.

But there’s a new show in town. Singing competition The X Factor marks the return of outspoken Simon Cowell, who wisely struck a deal to reunite on the judge’s panel with Paula Abdul. It’s the sort of hoary good vs. evil trope that tends to super charge ratings in competition series, and the two have a built-in chemistry. With a seemingly endless audience appetite for this type of series, Cowell and Abdul (and co-judges Cheryl Cole and Antonio “L.A.” Reid) should have no trouble topping the ratings charts. 

Odds of Success for The X Factor: 1-1

A proven U.K. hit, Fox has built-in momentum this fall. The X Factor is perhaps the one new show that just can’t miss.

Return rate for fall 2010 starters: 0|7
Hours in need of replacement: 8-9
New shows expected to make the cut: Are You There Vodka? It’s Me Chelsea, Awake, Grimm, The Playboy Club, Prime Suspect, Smash, Up All Night, Whitney, yet-to-be-named Brian Williams newsmagazine
Most likely to succeed: Smash

Time period is the greatest benchmark for potential success. Even a generic entry can gain traction if positioned properly. But this scripted tale of a Broadway musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe (from Steven Spielberg) is anything but generic.

Patterned after Glee, Smash features comedy and music, and is seasoned with dramatic interludes in hip Manhattan settings. It also stars one of the more likable American Idol contestants: Katharine McPhee. Factor in one of NBC’s go-to stars, Debra Messing, as the head of the ensemble cast, and the early buzz for Smash seems legit. 

Odds of Success for Smash: 4-1

Had NBC been in a better competitive position, the odds would have been greater. Patience and a ton of expensive promotion will be crucial.