The 2018-19 TV season begins Monday, which means that over the next month or so, 22 new broadcast series, including revivals of Murphy Brown and Last Man Standing, will join the 319-plus scripted shows and several hundred unscripted series that have already aired this year.
In Peak TV, it’s nearly impossible to find time for even more new shows, and given the mediocre crop of freshman broadcast series this fall, very few newbies are worth making the effort to watch.
So Adweek is dropping its usual weeklong fall TV approach of breaking down each network’s new lineup, show by show. Instead, we’re highlighting the six new series (including one revival) that are actually worth your attention this fall.
That doesn’t mean these are most likely hits—for starters, CBS’ Magnum P.I., which isn’t on the list, should appeal to the same sizable audience that watches Hawaii Five-O and S.W.A.T.—but they are the ones that have the most potential to develop into something special.
(As for the fall shows on the other end of the spectrum, there are very few out-and-out misfires, but steer clear of Fox’s The Cool Kids.)
Here are the broadcast fall shows you should keep your eye on, in order of their premiere dates:
Single Parents (9:30 p.m. Wednesdays on ABC; premieres Sept. 26)
The plot: An ensemble comedy about a group of single parents (including Saturday Night Live alum Taran Killam, Leighton Meester and Brad Garrett) whose 7-year-old kids are all in the same class.
Why it could work: This is a particularly dire fall for new comedies—at least, the ones that aren’t revivals or spun off from a revival. In fact, out of all the new comedies, this is the only pilot with the promise of creating a world that audiences might want to visit each week. If it can play to the strengths of its strong and funny cast, it could be a worthy addition to ABC’s comedy lineup. Plus, with Modern Family as a lead-in, Single Parents is guaranteed some solid audience sampling for its first couple of episodes.
Potential stumbling block: Comedy pilots are always more about what the show could be than what it currently is. And while Single Parents might evolve into something special, it could just as easily self-destruct.
A Million Little Things (10 p.m. Wednesdays on ABC; premieres Sept. 26)
The plot: A group of longtime Boston friends reexamine their lives after one of them (Ron Livingston) dies by suicide.
Why it could work: This is the first series clearly on the air because of This Is Us’ success two years ago, and A Million Little Things has a lot in common with that show, including time jumps, emotional shifts and an intriguing ensemble cast. It should be right at home at ABC, which had success with dramas like Brothers & Sisters and Thirtysomething.
Potential stumbling block: A Million Little Things is not This Is Us—or even This Was Us. Which is to say that while the pilot has promise, it isn’t in the same ballpark as Dan Fogelman’s superb first episode of the NBC drama. If audiences feel like the new show doesn’t measure up, they might not stick around.
Murphy Brown (Thursdays 9:30 p.m. on CBS; premieres Sept. 27)
The plot: Candice Bergen’s TV journalist signed off 20 years ago, and now she’s back on CBS, with most of the original cast in tow. But this time around, Bergen’s Murphy Brown toils on a morning show at a cable news network, while her grown-up son Avery is working for the competition.
Why it could work: Its fellow ’90s revivals—Will & Grace, The X-Files and Roseanne—have all been big hits, and CBS is airing the show on the same night as The Big Bang Theory, where it should reach a sizable audience. And if there was ever a show tailor-made for these crazy times in which political and TV news are intertwined like never before, it’s this one.
Potential stumbling block: It’s been two decades since Murphy Brown has been on the air, and the show hasn’t had the same continued pop culture resonance as its revival peers. Bergen is still as sharp as ever (as she proved this summer in Book Club), but it remains to be seen whether the rest of the cast, many of whom were retired or semiretired before CBS greenlit the revival in January, can still match wits with her. (Also, CBS hasn’t yet provided the press with any screeners of new episodes, as the network is keeping all footage under wraps until next week’s premiere.)
God Friended Me (Sundays 8 p.m. on CBS; premieres Sept. 30)
The plot: An atheist podcaster (Brandon Michael Hall) receives a friend request on Facebook from “God,” who helps him change the lives of the people that the mysterious account connects him with.
Why it could work: The pilot is much better than it sounds, or probably should be, and is a big improvement on last season’s two broadcast series that fumbled at tackling religious elements: Kevin (Probably) Saves the World and Living Biblically. Hall, whose great ABC comedy The Mayor deserved a better fate last season, is once again riveting. At some point, he’s going to be a star; perhaps this is the show that will make that happen. (See for yourself: CBS premiered God Friended Me a month early on social media.)
Potential stumbling block: After the quick failures last season of both Kevin (Probably) Saves the World and Living Biblically, audiences might be gun-shy about yet another religious-themed series. And even though the pilot got the tone just right, there’s a very real chance the show could quickly lose its bearings.
All American (Wednesdays 9 p.m. on The CW; premieres Oct. 10)
The plot: An inner city high school football star (Daniel Ezra) is recruited by the Beverly Hills high school coach (Taye Diggs) to switch schools and play for him. That leads to a major culture clash as he tries to fit in at the new school and make a name for himself.
Why it could work: All American is easily the best pilot of the fall and creates the most fully realized world of any new series. The CW has had a lot of success with shows about high schoolers (see Riverdale, which comes from the same producers, including Greg Berlanti). With its mix of sports and high school drama, All American could be the next Friday Night Lights …
Potential stumbling block: … or it could be the next Friday Night Lights Season 2, if it veers too far into the soapier elements and away from the heart. Once again, it’s all about striking (and sticking to) the right mix. But so far, so good.
The Conners (Tuesdays 8 p.m. on ABC; premieres Oct. 16)
The plot: It’s Roseanne without star Roseanne Barr, whose racist tweet in May lead to the quick cancellation of her hit revival. But the rest of the cast returns for this spinoff.
Why it could work: Because, aside from Barr, it’s the same show whose premiere last spring attracted 18.2 million viewers and a 5.2 rating in the 18-49 demo, making it the most-watched comedy telecast since an episode of The Big Bang Theory in September 2014. And even then, the revival had smartly shifted focus from Barr’s Roseanne Conner to her daughter Darlene (Sara Gilbert). Plus, the spinoff still employs two of the finest actors alive in John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf. As long as The Conners continues on Roseanne’s path from last season, it should continue to be one of broadcast’s best comedies, especially now that its content will no longer be overshadowed by its star’s incendiary social media feed. (No one knows for sure, as ABC hasn’t shared any footage from the new series yet.)
Potential stumbling block: It will all come down to how the show handles Roseanne Conner’s exit and whether it can navigate the character’s likely demise without altering the show’s voice and POV. And if Barr continues to blast the spinoff, as she did again earlier this week, it will be tough for The Conners to stand on its own amid the surrounding noise.