Launch or Failure to Launch: Which Series Thrived, Survived and Nose-Dived in Fall
Running into the midseason, Tim Goodman looks back at what's worked — and what definitely has not.
Every season the freshman crop of network shows face an enormous battle to survive. First, the vast majority of them are dumped onto the schedule together like something out of The Hunger Games. They’re also battling cable shows and, most important of all, the fact that people can only watch so many shows in their daily lives, so adding something new — and there’s never been more to choose from across all platforms — is a very picky and tricky business.
So how have these freshman shows done so far as the nebulously titled “midseason” falls upon us? Let’s take a look — at both the quality and the ratings. But first, a caveat: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and CW shows are not on this list. There’s just no metric or logic in the comings and goings of those shows.
OK, let’s do this.
NBC: Two shows had terrible starts and were canceled in swift order – the drama Ironside and the comedy Welcome to the Family. The network was able to hush up that bad news with The Sound of Music Live and having one of the fall’s best new dramas, The Blacklist. Reinforcement came with Chicago P.D., which holds its own.
NBC has an interesting batch of midseason shows, so we’ll see what happens with those. The network also failed badly with two other freshman comedies, the high-profile Michael J. Fox Show and Sean Saves the World. Another short-order drama, Dracula, didn’t really move the needle but it has a big star (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and international funding, so who knows what will happen there. But it wasn’t very good, qualitatively. Verdict: Give Blacklist star James Spader whatever he wants. And pray the Winter Olympics can help launch midseason.
Fox: A very good development slate creatively led to good news numerically as well. Fox has hits in the crazy-but-fun drama Sleepy Hollow and the best new network sitcom, Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Sci-fi drama Almost Human is also doing well enough to merit a second season and the genre show is a nice variation on Fox’s schedule (also an entertaining hour of TV). Fox spent a ton of money, time and effort promoting the sitcom Dads, which was critically reviled but has found enough audience to probably earn renewal, sadly. Enlisted, an excellent and underrated new sitcom that was shunted to Fridays, might not have the audience to last but is a show Fox should nurture because it’s funny with tons of potential. Networks live in a difficult world where throwing series against the wall every September is inefficient. Ratings expectations are also slowly being lowered so it’s critical to be patient with a quality show that hasn’t yet found its audience — like Enlisted. On the other hand, new drama Rake is one of those shows nobody seems to care about critically or in the general population. Verdict: A surprisingly strong group of shows overall. Impressive.
CBS: This well-oiled machine is normally critic-proof but apparently enough word got out that We Are Men was terrible — that show is dead. Also, the high-profile, big-star drama Hostages (which had a great pilot) completely fizzled and never made an impact (no doubt affirming CBS’s belief in procedurals rather than series with open-ended, season-long story arcs). But if viewers turned away from We Are Men, they stayed around for three other CBS comedies in Mom, The Millers and The Crazy Ones — three out of four is something to boast about. I might not have liked them, creatively, but as always I’m impressed by CBS’s keen understanding of its audience and the ability to launch shows. That said, the drama Intelligence may be doing well enough for another network, but it’s a buzz-less and confusing mess, so I’d be surprised if it came back. Verdict: It’s CBS — of course it does well. (And, oh, by the way, landing the rights to Thursday Night Football was a huge coup.)
ABC: Hmmmm. There’s a lot of carnage here. The drama Lucky 7 was DOA. So too were Betrayal and Killer Women, each undone by overwhelming blandness and/or stupidity. The sitcom Back in the Game also didn’t launch, while Super Fun Night, despite the network trying everything to get people to watch, has been anything but super. ABC is also putting a good face on the palatable numbers for Agents of SHIELD, which should be a slam-dunk renewal but wasn’t the powerhouse game-changer the network imagined. ABC could have really used SHIELD being a blockbuster, but given everything else this fall, it’ll take solid over failure. But perhaps the biggest disappointment was that Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, which ABC had high expectations for, was butchered. ABC already admitted that the scheduling — kicking off Thursday night — was a bad idea, and it should have been a midseason replacement for or paired somehow on Sundays with Once Upon a Time. The good news for ABC is that it owns one of the fall’s best sitcoms in The Goldbergs, which is likely to see another season. Trophy Wife is also a comedy worth nurturing, but the fan base isn’t there yet. OK, so that’s not a lot of good news, is it? Verdict: ABC entertainment head Paul Lee told critics and reporters in January — out of nowhere — that ABC was in “rebuilding” mode. It’ll need a lot of new bricks for midseason and beyond.