Ranking Fox’s New Fall TV Shows, Which Triple Down on Sci-Fi

The Gifted and The Orville face an uphill battle to help keep Fox in second place

The network will premiere a trio of new fall shows: The Orville, Ghosted and The Gifted.
Photo Illustration: Dianna McDougall; Sources: Fox

Adweek’s week-long Fall TV Preview—spotlighting each broadcast network’s new fall shows—begins today with Fox, which was the only broadcaster to climb in the 18-49 demo season rankings during each of the last two seasons. It rose from No. 4 to No. 3 in 2015-16, and then jumped to second place last season, largely on the strength of the Super Bowl and last fall’s epic World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians.

But Fox won’t have the Super Bowl again until 2020, and this fall’s World Series is unlikely to match last year’s most-watched-in-25-years numbers. That means the network will have to rely on the strength of its new entertainment lineup to keep from slipping in the demo this season.

It will get a midseason boost when The X-Files returns with a new batch of episodes, but this fall, Fox will hope for at least one freshman breakout on the level of last year’s Lethal Weapon. While the network has grand ambitions for its two new big-budget dramas, the third, lower-profile freshman entry could end up as its strongest new contender.

I’ll be repeating this all week long: A pilot isn’t always the best way to judge a show’s potential, but it’s frequently the only episode that audiences watch before deciding whether to stick around for more or throw in the towel for good, especially in the Peak TV era. And it’s the only one that advertisers and buyers see before deciding where to direct their upfront dollars. (To Fox’s credit, the network did make three Orville episodes available to the press ahead of its premiere; that show is one of only a handful of newbies to share episodes beyond its pilot.) So with all of that in mind, here are Fox’s three new fall shows, ranked from least promising to most promising.

3. The Orville (Thursday 9 p.m., premiered Sunday, Sept. 10 and moves to its regular time slot on Sept. 21)

The plot: Seth MacFarlane created and stars in this science-fiction drama, as the new captain for a mid-level exploratory spaceship called the U.S.S. Orville. He’s reunited on the vessel with his ex-wife (Adrianne Palicki), who serves as his first officer.

The verdict: Out of all the new shows, this one has the biggest gap between the show it is being marketed as and the series it actually is. The Orville’s campaign positioned it as a Galaxy Quest-like sci-fi satire, but the first three episodes play it surprisingly straight, as though it’s hoping to attract sci-fi fans who like Star Trek, but not quite enough to shell out $6 a month to watch the new Star Trek: Discovery on CBS All Access. That approach is to the show’s detriment, as its cast seems more calibrated for comedy, not drama—especially when attempting to tackle an overly-ambitious transgender storyline in the third episode. Is it too late to morph this show into the comedy that Fox’s marketing team so desperately wants it to be?

Is it good for your brand? If you’re looking for a sci-fi audience ahead of The X-Files’ return, then yes. Its premiere numbers were big, fueled by a Sunday NFL doubleheader, but those audiences may not stick around once they realize what the show actually is—and when the series moves to its regular Thursday time slot this week.

2. The Gifted (Mondays 9 p.m., premieres Oct. 2)

The plot: Set in the X-Men universe, the drama unfolds in the mutant-phobic future and follows a family (led by True Blood’s Stephen Moyer and Amy Acker) who is on the run after discovering that both of their teenage kids have mutant powers.

The verdict: One of (way too) many new Marvel TV shows premiering this year, The Gifted isn’t breaking any new ground. Not even the pilot’s director Bryan Singer, who has overseen four X-Men films, can put a fresh spin on the mutants-figuring-out-their powers storyline. While it doesn’t measure up to FX’s Legion or some of Marvel’s Netflix entries, the pilot does feature some nifty visuals, and is far superior to the other new Marvel broadcast show this fall, Marvel’s Inhumans on ABC. Showrunner Matt Nix, who breathed new life into the tired spy genre with USA’s Burn Notice, will need to work similar magic here to keep The Gifted on track.

Is it good for your brand? If you’re dead-set on placing spots in a Marvel broadcast series this fall, pick this one over Marvel’s Inhumans. Like The Orville, this could also serve as another Fox stopgap until The X-Files returns. But with so many other superhero TV options (especially among DC’s stronger crop of superhero series), this shouldn’t be an essential part of your media plan.

1. Ghosted (Sundays 8:30 p.m, premieres Oct. 1)

The plot: A former LAPD missing persons detective (Craig Robinson) and fired Stanford astrophysics professor (Adam Scott) are recruited by a secret government agency called the Bureau Underground to examine unexplained paranormal activity in L.A.

The verdict: While the show is a comic spin on The X-Files—Scott is the true believer; Robinson is the skeptic—its DNA is actually closer to Ghostbusters, mixing laughs and a few spooky moments (and it’s 80s synth soundtrack will bring to mind other ’80s action/comedy hybrids as well). As is the case with most comedy pilots, this show is still finding its way in the early going. But Scott and Robinson have terrific chemistry together, and if Ghosted is able to tap into that, Fox should have a solid addition to its Sunday night comedy lineup.

Is it good for your brand? If you’re buying inventory in Fox’s other Sunday night comedies, you shouldn’t hesitate do the same here as well. And Ghosted’s focus on computers, cars and cell phones could lead to several organic integration opportunities.

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