Fall TV on Full Display

The linear schedule might seem archaic in the age of on-demand viewing, yet broadcast networks can still amass a ginormous audience with the right show
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In an age where more and more of the viewing public watches what they want when they want, one can’t help but wonder about the concept of the broadcast premiere season, when the networks offer up a bunch of shows you’ve never heard of at specific times, on specific nights.

Andy Kubitz, ABC’s executive VP of programming planning and scheduling, likens a network schedule to the Netflix screen suggesting shows you might like, based on what you’ve watched. Viewers come to ABC because they dig various series, so here are some other ones network brass has curated that watchers might also find to their liking. “Our schedule is that tool for us,” he said.

While linear viewing remains the ultimate goal, many network executives would be happy just to land a new show on a viewer’s DVR in this too-much-TV era. “The goal of the schedule these days is, get people to sit up and notice a show,” CBS entertainment president Kelly Kahl said. “Get them to sample it.”

Fall may in fact be the worst time of the year to launch a bunch of new shows. It’s hard for the rookies to stand out when the other broadcast networks are doing the same. And all are up against the NFL, which commands live viewing like no other TV property.

But that’s how it’s done on broadcast TV, and executives there still relish the autumnal scuffle. “They’re bets you made in late April and early May, and now you get to see how the strategy plays out,” Kubitz said. “It’s exciting.”

Our network-by-network fall forecast for the most promising shows follows.

ABC: The ‘Doctor' Is In
BIG SWINGS:
The Good Doctor, The Mayor
STRATEGY: Shift established series, including Black-ish and Once Upon a Time, to anchor new nights.

While season six of Scandal didn’t start until January, its new season kicks off Oct. 5. Airing Thursdays at 9 p.m., Olivia Pope will go head to head with NBC’s Will & Grace, among others, in Scandal’s final season.

It makes for a juicy battle, Andy Kubitz said. “It seems like there are a lot of big players on Thursdays,” he said. “It will be interesting to see how it plays out.”

ABC is big-time bullish on The Good Doctor, from David Shore and Daniel Dae Kim and starring Freddie Highmore as an autistic young doctor. It kicks off Sept. 25. Kubitz said it is very much “on brand”— female-skewing, procedural, smart. “It’s the medical show we’ve been looking for for a long time,” he said.

The network is laying down heavy promos for The Good Doctor, and its Dancing with the Stars lead-in gives the show a decent chance to pop. Kubitz likened picking the new series with the best chance to shine as “choosing between my children,” but he’s keen on Good Doctor.

Tuesdays feature comedy, with newcomer The Mayor, about an aspiring rapper who ends up as mayor of his town, leading out of Blackish, shifted to Tuesdays to anchor the block.

Wednesdays also feature a comedy block, with American Housewife on a new day, getting Modern Family as a lead-in.

Thursdays are for Shonda Rhimes shows, including Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, which hits episode No. 300 in November. On Fridays, Once Upon a Time will lead into Marvel’s Inhumans, the latter debuting Sept. 29, following a run on IMAX screens starting Sept. 1.

Besides its new night, Once Upon a Time has a fresh formula, new characters and a new setting in Seattle. “They’ve come up with an entirely new way to tell the stories, which I think is fantastic,” Channing Dungey, ABC Entertainment president, said during the TCA Summer Press Tour.

CBS: New Shows, New Entertainment Chief
BIG SWINGS: Young Sheldon, SEAL Team
STRATEGY: Capitalize on the rabid popularity of Big Bang Theory with a spinoff, land a military drama.

Kelly Kahl spent many a fall as CBS’ scheduling wiz. This will be his first as the network’s entertainment president, a title the former senior executive VP of primetime inherited when Glenn Geller stepped down in late May.

Kahl said he’s “paying a little more attention to the creative of each show” in his new role. “It’s fun,” he added. “It’s a new challenge.”

60 Minutes starts off its 50th season on Sept. 24, and Young Sheldon, showing The Big Bang Theory’s breakout character as a boy, starts up season one a day later, with Big Bang leading in. Comedy Me, Myself and I, starring SNL alumnus Bobby Moynihan, kicks off Sept. 25, too.

SEAL Team, about an elite unit of Navy SEALs, stars David Boreanaz and debuts Sept. 27.

When Thursday Night Football is on the schedule, Mondays will have Big Bang Theory and new comedy 9JKL, which starts Oct. 2. Kahl likens the latter, about a divorced man who finds an apartment between those of his doting parents and his brother, sister-in-law and their baby, to Everybody Loves Raymond.

CBS has the first half of the Thursday football package, and NBC the second. When its football run ends, CBS will have comedies Big Bang Theory, Young Sheldon, Mom and Life in Pieces, then police drama S.W.A.T., on Thursdays. S.W.A.T. debuts Nov. 2.

With timely content and a strong lead-in, Kahl said several rookie shows have a chance to thrive. “It’s one of our strongest development seasons in a long time,” he said.

The CW: Hoping Soaps Draw Female Viewers
BIG SWINGS:
Dynasty, Valor
STRATEGY: Lure female viewers with Dynasty and Riverdale on Wednesdays.

The CW’s schedule starts up Oct. 9. Mondays feature Supergirl and new drama Valor, about an elite corps of helicopter pilots. Mark Pedowitz, president of The CW, has had the armed forces on the brain for years. “I’ve wanted to do a military drama since I came to the CW,” Pedowitz, who came on board in 2011, said.

At The CW’s TCA session in early August, Pedowitz said Valor will be “extending The CW brand.” While military shows are hot among broadcast networks this fall, including CBS’ SEAL Team and NBC’s The Brave, Valor is not a response to the country shifting to a more conservative mindset, according to Pedowitz. “It doesn’t matter what the attitude of the country is,” he said. “If it’s right, people will watch.”

Tuesdays feature The Flash and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. Wednesdays have Riverdale and Dynasty, the primetime soap from executive producers Josh Schwartz, Stephanie Savage and Sallie Patrick, and starring Elizabeth Gillies and Grant Show. Pedowitz said Dynasty, a rethinking of the filthy-rich-Carringtons drama that ran in the ’80s, is “about the 1% of the 1%. It’s fun. It’s escapism.”

The CW is keen to draw women to the network on Wednesdays. “Both shows are very big soap operas,” Pedowitz said.

Supernatural and Arrow air on Thursdays, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Jane the Virgin on Fridays.

With 10 hours of prime a week, Pedowitz said every night is key. “They are all meaningful nights for us,” he said.

The CW will have two crossover events in late November. Supergirl and Arrow cross paths Nov. 27, and Flash and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow do so Nov. 28. “It will feel like a miniseries or a movie,” Pedowitz said.

Fox: Seth MacFarlane Pivots To Live Action
BIG SWINGS: The Gifted, The Orville
STRATEGY: Put a fresh spin on tried-and-true TV show formulas.

David Madden, Fox entertainment president, describes a couple of rookie series as “old-fashioned.” There’s Seth MacFarlane’s live-action space dramedy The Orville, which debuts Sept. 10, and Ghosted, a “buddy comedy,” in Madden’s words, that stars Craig Robinson and Adam Scott as diametrically different agents recruited to investigate unexplained phenomena. That debuts Sunday, Oct. 1, after The Simpsons and before Family Guy.

The Orville is one of the most ambitious new shows on the dial this fall. Set 400 years in the future, it follows a spaceship, helmed by MacFarlane, as it hurtles across the galaxy. Madden called The Orville MacFarlane’s “love letter” to sci fi shows that feature an allegorical message about mankind, such as Star Trek. “In a world of dark, serialized dramas, it’s old-fashioned fun,” he said.

MacFarlane said he’s gotten nothing but love from Fox on the project. “I gotta say, I’ve never had such support creatively as I’ve had from [Fox Television Group chairmen/CEOs] Gary [Newman] and Dana [Walden] and 20th.”

Sticking with the old-fashioned theme, Fox offers a live musical based on A Christmas Story, a 1983 film that’s set in the ’40s. The best loved lines from the movie — “You’ll shoot your eye out,” “Red Ryder carbine action BB gun” and “It’s a major award,” among others — will become musical numbers. That airs live Dec. 17.

A key night for Fox is Monday. The Gifted, produced in association with Marvel Television, premieres Oct. 2, after Lucifer. The Gifted is about a couple whose lives are rocked by the discovery that their children possess mutant powers. “We feel like it’s a really big shot for us,” Madden said.

Another is Wednesday, with Empire and Star sharing the stage. “They match tonally, thematically and musically,” he said.

He noted how Fox’s 17 returning series are its most in a decade. “Stability is a really satisfying thing,” Madden said.

NBC: Where There's A ‘Will,' There's a Way
BIG SWINGS: Will & Grace, The Brave
STRATEGY: Use Will & Grace to anchor a return to Must See TV on Thursdays.

The rebooting of once-beloved series is a major theme in the TV world these days, but viewers will ultimately decide if the shows remain relevant. Jeff Bader, NBC Entertainment president, program planning, strategy and research, said Will & Grace was relevant when it was on a dozen years ago, and again when the cast appeared in a video about the 2016 election.

“It’s relevant whenever it’s on,” Bader said. “It’s always been topical.”

Will & Grace’s return is major news at NBC, but an even bigger story is how rookie smash This Is Us will do in season two. Bader noted how people are still seeking out the pilot, and picking up on the series almost a year after it debuted. “I never thought about a sophomore slump,” he replied when asked about the tendency of rookies of the year to shrink in season two. “It’s more like, sophomore bump.”

Bader credits creator Dan Fogelman for the show’s “unique vision.” All at NBC hope that continues in season two. “What’s most fascinating is how people continue to discover it,” he added.

NBC will of course use its cornerstone shows to launch new series. The Voice, with new coach Jennifer Hudson, will lead into new military drama The Brave starting Sept. 25. While NBC initially planned to have This Is Us as the centerpiece of a renewed Must See TV strategy on Thursdays, the show remains on Tuesdays at 9 p.m., leading into rookie Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders.

“Both [new shows] have a fantastic opportunity to take off,” Bader said.

Thursdays belong to comedy, with Superstore and The Good Place leading in to Will & Grace and Great News. “There’s huge opportunity Thursdays at 9,” Bader said. “We’ll see if Will & Grace can make its mark again 10 years later.”

In an age where more and more of the viewing public watches what they want when they want, one can’t help but wonder about the concept of the broadcast premiere season, when the networks offer up a bunch of shows you’ve never heard of at specific times, on specific nights.

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