Fall TV Trends: Fairy Tales, Comedy and Women (Analysis)

Bob D’Amico/ABC
ABC's Charlie's Angels

With "Prime Suspect," "Alcatraz," "Pan Am" and "Charlie's Angels" on tap, THR looks at the themes of the upcoming TV season.

While it's far too early to know which new shows will be hits or flops -- though we can assure you many more will fall into the latter category -- we can shed light on the larger themes running through this year's development. 

Sold on the Pre-Sold: Between Charlie's Angels (ABC), Pan Am (ABC), Prime Suspect (NBC), The Firm (NBC), The Playboy Club (NBC), Are You There Vodka?, It's Me Chelsea (NBC) and Bones' back-door pilot The Finder (FOX), the networks are relying on brands that viewers are already familiar with, giving them a leg up as they prep their costly marketing campaigns designed to cut through in an increasingly crowded landscape. While fairytale drama Once Upon a Time (ABC) is a new name, its characters, including Snow White, are similarly marketable. 

Girls Rule: With few exceptions (see Fox's Awake, CBS' Person of Interest, Fox's The Finder), women tend to dominate the new crop of network shows. The bulk of these freshman offerings not only cater to female-skewing audiences, but also have women inhabiting their lead roles. There are the ensemble dramas, including Playboy, Pan Am, NBC's Smash and ABC's Good Christian Belles, as well as the female-led comedies, including Fox's The New Girl, NBC's Whitney, Up All Night and Are You There Vodka?. Still other dramas, including Prime Suspect and ABC's Scandal, revolve around female stars.

Laughing all the Way to the Bank: After several seasons where the network comedy was declared dying -- if not, dead -- the genre led by ABC hit Modern Family has come roaring back. That return is evident in this year's pick-ups, with NBC leading the charge with 5 half-hour additions, including Amanda Peet's Bent and Hank Azaria's Free Agents. CBS already has two nights of comedy, with NBC announcing Sunday it was prepared to do the same, moving Up All Night and Agents to Wednesday. ABC is expected to the same, with Tim Allen's Last Man Standing poised to launch a Tuesday comedy block. 

Living a Fairytale: In addition to new bosses in Paul Lee (ABC) and Bob Greenblatt (NBC), the two networks share a fascination with fairytales, ordering to series Once Upon a Time and Grimm, respectively. The former centers on a woman who is drawn into a town where the magic and mystery of fairy tales might be real; the latter revolves around a world in which Brothers Grimm fairy tale characters exist. 

Going Back In Time: You can thank AMC's Emmy-winning Mad Men for the networks' decision to pepper their schedules with 1960s period pieces next season. ABC will bring viewers back to the era with airline soap Pan Am; NBC will usher them to the same decade with The Playboy Club. Meantime, Fox's Alcatraz adopts a time-travel theme as its team investigates the mysterious reappearance of of the prison's 1960s inhabitants in the present; and the same network's Terra Nova transports them back to pre-historic earth.

Synergy, Synergy, Synergy: Disney brass is no doubt ecstatic about the opportunity to cross-promote the characters (think Snow White) in its new Ginnifer Goodwin-Jennifer Morrison drama, Once Upon A Time. Over at NBC, Vodka producer and recurring star Chelsea Handler, whose memoir the show is based, is already part of the Comcast-turned-NBCUniversal family. Like Ryan Seacrest, another one of the comglom's stars, Handler will be able to use her E! shows as (another) platform to pump both her NBC sitcom and its stars. 

A '70s Reunion: Though Fox's long-running comedy, That '70s Show, has been off the air for half a decade, its stars are making a return to the small screen. Laura Prepon (Donna) is set to star in the Handler comedy, Are You There, Vodka? on NBC; while Wilder Valderrama (Fez) is aboard Kyle Killen's Awake (formerly REM) on the same network. Meantime, Ashton Kutcher (Michael) will take the lead from since-fired star Charlie Sheen on CBS' rebooted Two and a Half Men.

Are there others that we're missing? Let us know in the comments section.

Email: Lacey.Rose@THR.com 
Twitter: @LaceyVRose