The Biggest Questions of the Fall 2019 TV Season, Answered

From TGIF’s fate to the future of live musicals on NBC

Characters from the fall 2019 TV season
Some of the new TV season's biggest questions revolve around Black-ish, Mixed-ish, Arrow, Bob ♥ Abishola, Young Sheldon and Grey's Anatomy. Illustration: Trent Joaquin; Sources: ABC, CBS, The CW
Headshot of Jason Lynch

The new TV season is under way, with 64 broadcast prime-time programs premiering in the first week alone. Adweek has highlighted the seven most promising new shows, and the buyers had their say as well.

Now it’s time to answer some of the biggest questions as we head into the new season, from scheduling to branding to programming.

Why is Mixed-ish airing before Black-ish, and not after it?

Usually, a spinoff airs directly after the show that spawned it. (Young Sheldon followed The Big Bang Theory and both NCIS: Los Angeles and NCIS: New Orleans debuted after NCIS.) But ABC changed things up with the scheduling of Black-ish prequel Mixed-ish, which airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. EDT, leading into Black-ish at 9:30.

“The pilot is just so good; it came out so strong. It is a really broad, family comedy, and, when we looked at the opportunity on the schedule, it felt like 9 was the right place,” said ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke. “There’s really smart flow throughout the night, from [The Conners] to Bless This Mess to Mixed-ish to Black-ish. It just felt right, and, also, we like the ‘big swing’ nature of it. Conventionally, we would have gone the other way. And this felt like a calculated risk.”

Can CBS weather the absence of The Big Bang Theory?

For the first time since 2006, CBS is entering a TV season without The Big Bang Theory on its schedule. The longest-running multicamera series in TV history (with 279 episodes over 12 seasons), it was routinely the most watched comedy in prime time. Now CBS is looking to Big Bang prequel Young Sheldon to take over the Thursday 8 p.m. EDT time slot, and the network said it’s confident that the series is up to the task.

“We’ve always been lucky. We’ve lost big shows in the past, and when [Everybody Loves] Raymond went away [in 2005], we were lucky to have Two and a Half Men. When Two and a Half Men went away [in 2015], we were really fortunate to have The Big Bang Theory. Now Big Bang Theory is going away, and we really feel lucky to have Young Sheldon,” said CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl. “The real question is can it step up and take that mantle of that dominant, No. 1 show? Obviously, we hope so. I think all the lights are green in terms of what we’ve seen in the past in terms of the numbers and the creative side of the show. We’ll be treating it like a new show in the fall to try to get it to that dominant, No. 1 spot.”

How will The CW keep its “Arrowverse” going without Arrow?

The CW will air six superhero-themed series this season, but the original show, Arrow, will be signing off after an abbreviated Season 8. The network will be tasked with maintaining its “Arrowverse” of connected TV shows, without the series that spawned them.

The challenge is “less trickier than when I came to the company” in 2011, said The CW president Mark Pedowitz, who is developing a another Arrow spinoff—which would star cast members Katherine McNamara, Katie Cassidy and Juliana Harkavy—for the 2020-21 season. “When we had Gossip Girl and Vampire Diaries, and Smallville had ended and Supernatural was parked at 9 o’clock on Fridays. So to me, we have an embarrassment of great shows. It’s a transition because you’re losing things that help rebrand and reidentify The CW, but I think we have the goods and the people. I’m not concerned by it. I actually find transitions to be a good thing, because you either embrace them or you’re going to get run over by them. So I’ve elected to embrace them on behalf of the company.”

Why isn’t Bob  Abishola called Bob Loves Abishola or Bob & Abishola?

The new CBS sitcom is technically called Bob ♥ Abishola but is referred to as Bob Hearts Abishola. So why use the emoji at all?

“I don’t know,” said co-creator and executive producer Chuck Lorre. “It was just a thing that popped into my head. I personally don’t like emojis. I prefer the English language to communicate with. I just thought there was something charming about it in a way.” However, he noted, “It crashes a lot of writing programs that not only can’t see it, but absolutely just blow up when you put it in the script. I didn’t really think it through.”

Lorre said the heart allowed him to get away from making yet another show that has an ampersand in the title.

“I thought, I’ve done Dharma & Greg and I’ve done Mike & Molly; I did not want to do that again,” he said. “Also, the show isn’t going in that direction anyway. In a way, the title’s almost a misnomer. Because the show is so much about the brilliance of immigrants. The focus and determination and ambition and willingness to go above and beyond, in order to make it here. That was a heroic story to tell, and we’re going into it through this romantic pathway, but the series is not, ‘Will they or won’t they?’ To me, it’s so much more about who they are.”

Will TGIT and TGIF return to ABC?

Not this fall. ABC revived its TGIF brand to much fanfare last season, betting that nostalgia would woo families back to Fridays. That didn’t quite happen, and, as a result, “we’re looking at all that branding, really trying to discern whether we’re going to bring it back at all,” Burke said in August. With Shannon Ryan arriving in April as the new president of marketing for ABC Entertainment and Disney TV Studios,  “I’m letting her and her team evaluate all the marketing strategies.”

The verdict: With only an hour of family-focused programming on Friday (American Housewife and Fresh Off the Boat), the network is putting TGIF back in mothballs for the time being.

Meanwhile, TGIT—ABC’s branding for its Shonda Rhimes-produced Thursday night dramas, which began in 2014—also won’t be seen on air this fall, as the Thursday lineup includes a non-Rhimes show (A Milllion Little Things). The network hasn’t yet decided if the branding could return in the event that Rhimes’ three remaining ABC series (Grey’s Anatomy, Ladder 19 and How to Get Away With Murder) end up back on the same night.

How will WWE’s SmackDown Live fare on broadcast TV?

Fox has high hopes for the addition of WWE’s SmackDown Live to its lineup next Friday—moving over to broadcast from USA—giving it a sports programming block with Thursday Night Football, SmackDown on Friday, college football on Saturday and NFL on Sunday afternoons.

“Think of what Thursday can do to build Friday to build Saturday,” said Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier. “And then we’ve got Sunday football to promote Animation Domination [Fox’s Sunday night animation block]. It really is powerful sports promoting more sports and then using the sports to elevate the entertainment.”

At least one broadcast rival isn’t too focused on the new Friday competition.

“I think five to 10 years ago it might have been more concerning,” said CBS’ Kahl. “I can’t speak for the other networks, but more and more, our scheduling strategy is take care of yourself. It’s not a zero-sum game anymore with the other networks, and, if you have internal logic and flow with your schedule, you’re doing right by all your shows.”

Is NBC out of the live musical business?

After pulling the plug on Hair Live, which was supposed to air in May, NBC has yet to set another live musical on its schedule this season. Its last live musical event, Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, aired a year and a half ago.

Despite the year-ago exit of former NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt, who revived the NBC live musicals back in 2013 with The Sound of Music Live, the network said it remains open to broadcasting live musicals.

“We’re just being a bit more cautious about what we would do and why, if it’s only leveraged by a piece of intellectual property. If we were to do one of the lesser-known musical titles, it would be because the talent came to us and said, ‘I always wanted to do this, and I’ve got this very specific take on it,’” said NBC Entertainment co-chairman Paul Telegdy.

The network is also thinking beyond musicals, and is open to “conceiving of and creating great live events that bring people together” and deliver “cultural immediacy,” said Telegdy. “It might not be a live musical or a live play, but there are a couple other things we’re exploring. They’re a way into the same sort of experience and set of feelings.”

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.