Fall 2011: 27 New Shows, But is There Anything Worth Watching?

Comedy makes a comeback with 11 new tries

By the numbers, there are 27 new series on the five broadcast networks overall – four more than last year.  And two of those shows – dramas A Gifted Man on CBS and Grimm on NBC – happen to be positioned on Friday, so the networks are still trying to program the troubled evening.  New dramas continue to outnumber new comedies (14 to 11), but 11 upcoming chucklers is the most we have seen in the category on a fall line-up in five years. So what was once considered “dead” is attempting a comeback, with ABC and NBC, in particular, are expanding to a second night of comedies. 

CBS has the best prime-time line-up, which stems from years of smart planning.  And it's home to two of the more promising new entries: sitcom 2 Broke Girls (out of How I Met Your Mother) on Monday, and J.J. Abrams thriller Person of Interest (opposite Grey’s Anatomy on ABC) on Thursday.  The network was wise to move CSI out of the plum Thursday 9 p.m. hour for riveting looking Person of Interest.  But new sitcom lead-in How to Be a Gentleman looks painfully unfunny, and keeping three hours of the fading CSI franchise on the line-up is reminiscent of NBC overusing the Law & Order trio (and eventually shooting themselves in the foot, so to speak, for doing so).  It’s too much already. 

CBS should get credit for positioning aforementioned new drama A Gifted Man in the Friday 8 p.m. anchor position, but this story of a man communicating with his dead ex-wife isn't going to work. Also, positioning original episodes of Rules of Engagement in the Saturday 8 p.m. half-hour isn't exactly a bold maneuver. Sony Pictures Television must have made quite an attractive deal financially to keep it in production for additional episodes in off-network. 

New CBS crime solver Unforgettable, meanwhile, is positioned well in the Tuesday 10 p.m. slot out of NCIS: Los Angeles, but moving current occupant The Good Wife to Sundays at 9 p.m. means the night will skew considerably older. Still, there is every reason to believe CBS will dominate the season once again in total viewers, while Fox should have no trouble winning the season.

Fox, which has never been one to compete in fourth quarter because of the preemptions for baseball and the absence of American Idol (until midseason), is poised for its most successful fall season to-date thanks to the arrival of The X Factor.  Nothing is a given, of course, and many insiders are wondering if a singing competition in the fall will have the same draw as Idol in midseason.  But reuniting Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul in the format seems a pretty safe bet.  Two nights (and two and-one-half hours) of The X Factor will likely lift Fox to victory among adults 18-49, while offering solid lead-in support to promising looking new sitcom I Hate My Teenage Daughter on Wednesday.

Also on Fox, upcoming Zooey Dechanel sitcom New Girl out of returning Glee on Tuesday (and into relocated Raising Hope) could generate some buzz, and the network is keeping its Sunday night animation fresh with new arrival Allen Gregory out of The Simpsons this fall, and Napoleon Dynamite, based on the theatrical of the same name, in midseason.  But long-awaited Steven Spielberg dinosaur drama Terra Nova didn't look as promising as expected based on the clips shown at the presentation, and anchoring Monday minus any proven lead-in support is a tough assignment.

ABC is the most aggressive of the five networks with seven new series.  But the ongoing problem remains long-running hits like Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy, which continue to lose audience. What looks the best of the crop of freshman entries is over-the-top drama Good Christian Belles, but that was held back to midseason.  And Christina Ricci vehicle  Pan Am looks promising as does the revival of Charlie’s Angels on Thursday (which will certainly outdeliver failed fall 2010 occupant My Generation) and NBC’s upcoming The Playboy Club. The nostalgia play is interesting, but if the networks want to skew younger, this might not be the path to follow.

As predicted, ABC shifted long-running Extreme Makeover: Home Edition into the Friday 8 p.m. hour in favor of a scripted drama called Once Upon a Time, the goofy looking tale of a young bail bonds collector and the 10-year-old child she gave up years ago who find themselves in a town where fairy tales are real.  Although I doubt this drama would work anywhere, it has no chance in a time period known for housing energetic Ty Pennington and his teary-eyed helpers.  Like upcoming NBC drama Grimm on Friday, which is likely to be replaced by an additional hour of Dateline,odds are that bench-warmer Secret Millionaire will be back in the time period by midseason.

New ABC comedy Suburgatory (which is in need of a new title) is positioned well out of The Middle and into Modern Family on Wednesday, but patience will have to be a virtue for new half-hours Last Man Standing and Man Up in the Tuesday 8 p.m. hour.  The competition, NCIS on CBS and Glee on Fox, is fierce.  New ABC Wednesday 10 p.m. drama Revenge, meanwhile, is unlikely to benefit out of returning Happy Endings, which did not resonate in midseason. 

NBC, which would like you to believe all is well, is only making changes on four nights of the week with six new series.  But the place is a shambles, the schedule is too passive, and a potential football strike could be a major stumbling block.  Returning Community is not strong enough to be anchoring Thursday, while 13 final episodes of perennially on-the-fence Chuck as the new Friday anchor means the network cannot compete.  The Biggest Loser, meanwhile, has lost steam and should no longer be two hours, lead-out Parenthood barely made it to season three, and the inherent problem remains the lack of a breakout hit sitcom.  New Wednesday 8-9 p.m. chucklers Up All Night and Free Agents are a nice try, but the competition (Survivor on CBS, The X Factor on Fox) is likely to do them both in by midseason. 

While it was wise for NBC to hold back current hit The Voice until midseason (into upcoming musical drama Smash, which has potential), opening the week with two-hours of holiday competition The Sing-Off on Monday is risky because The Sing-Off has worked relatively well at a time when the competition is mainly repeats.  Aforementioned The Playboy Club is certainly an option at 10 p.m., but it could face an uphill battle opposite returning Castle on ABC and Hawaii Five-O on CBS simply for daring to be different. 

The smartest move on NBC’s fall line-up was trimming back the three-hour Thursday sitcom block to two hours in place of crime solver Prime Suspect. And new comedy Whitney at 9:30 p.m. Thursday could benefit from the lead-in support out of The Office. While there are indeed some positive signs out of NBC, don’t expect much next season.

The CW has aggressively booked four new series (dramas Hart of Dixie, Ringer and The Secret Circle; and non-scripted H8R) the most it has ever presented on a fall schedule.  Relocated Monday, Tuesday and Friday anchors Gossip Girl, 90210 and Nikita are not strong enough to open the evening.  And even an all-star edition is unlikely to jumpstart tired America’s Next Top Model.  But former Buffy star Sarah Michelle Gellar could be a draw in Ringer in the Tuesday at 9 p.m. hour, vampires into witches on Thursday (returning The Vampire Diaries into The Secret Circle) sounds promising, and H8R, hosted by Mario Lopez, received the loudest response at the upfront presentations.

While The CW is unlikely to gain tremendous momentum, the fall line-up is a finally a step in the right direction.  Better late than never I say.

Nothing, of course, is a given until the actual ratings come in.  But it is safe to assume CBS will remain top dog in total viewers, and Fox will immediately gain control of adults 18-49 (instead of patiently waiting until midseason).  While the networks, overall, deserve points for introducing more new product this fall, most new series fail. Next season will be no exception.