Autumn is when everything outside just seems to … well, die. Crops are harvested. Leaves fall from the trees. Grass turns a bit brown. Cold sets in. It’s a depressing time of year for many (obviously not football fans). Hey, even the sun doesn’t seem to want to stick around as long anymore.
So there’s a certain irony that, in the bizarre world of television, fall is traditionally a time of new life and growth—when a host of fresh, green programs sprout for the first time.
No wonder so many of ’em keel over and die so quickly.
The five broadcast television networks—ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and The CW—are tending a crop of 20 new shows this fall. If history’s any guide, many won’t live to see the spring, and only about a third of them will still be kicking by this time next year. The New York Times served up a fascinating look yesterday at the fate of new shows over the last five years: From 2010 to 2014, the five big broadcast networks planted 121 pilots for the public to nurture. Of those, 74 were cancelled after just one season. Just 34 of them are still on the air.
It’s pretty funny, looking back on these lists. In 2010, $#*! My Dad Says and Law & Order: LA were considered surefire hits. They were gone by 2011, when critics were eagerly awaiting the Charlie’s Angels reboot, the retro show Pan Am and the ambitious sci-fi serial Terra Nova. Remember any of those? I barely do … and I reviewed most of them.
When you plant stuff in the real world, you have a pretty good idea of whether it’s going to come up or not. Try to grow some columbines in Colorado, there’s a good chance they’ll take. Heat-loving, moisture-loving magnolia bushes? Well, that’s a different story.
But all the leading experts in the television world have, really, no idea what’s actually going to grow. So what do they do? They plant a lot of variations of what’s worked in the past—amping up whatever someone thinks made it successful in the first place.
But for families concerned about the amount of content that flows through their TV screens, each new crop of shows seems to get a little bit worse every year.
I’ve barely begun to comb through this year’s television field. But even so, the results aren’t so promising yet.
Fox’s Scream Queens is one of the few shows that offers a truly different premise: Sorority sisters are killed off one by one for laughs. But, as you might be able to tell from that little descriptor, it’s pretty gross. In fact, it may have the most problematic content I’ve ever seen on any network show. Even a few seasons back, it seems advertisers would’ve been wary of a show that kills people by running over their heads with a lawn mower. But in 2015—and coming as it does from the makers of critical darlings Glee and American Horror Story—that equates to one of the year’s most anticipated new offerings.
Elsewhere, the new shows seem to stick closely to what’s worked well before. NBC’s Blindspot and Fox’s Minority Report again give us a twist on a familiar subgenre: episodic crime-fighting show with a flawed-yet-gifted “advisor”. Minority Report has its psychic but socially-stunted adjunct, Blindspot has a tattooed, amnesic lethal weapon.
There’s Blood & Oil, on ABC, which The Atlantic characterizes as a Dallas ripoff. Code Black, which aired last night on CBS, is ER in Los Angeles. NBC is trying to re-ignite an old fave with Heroes Reborn, while ABC wanted to merge the intrinsic charm of the old Muppet Show with the sly humor of The Office in The Muppets. (It didn’t work all that well.)
Same old stuff, really, only slightly worse—at least as far as families are concerned. Blindspot featured perhaps a network television first when it showed a full-frontal breast shot of its star, Jaimie Alexander (though her chest was largely obscured with tattoos). The Muppets, while not as horrific as some have suggested, is a bit more crude than the original.
There’ll surely be some gems in the mix, though. The Parents Television Council has some nice things to say about Supergirl, which doesn’t air on CBS until Oct. 26. And we’ll keep checking in with this season’s crop of new shows and let you know our take on all of them.
Or at least, all of them we can get to. Some may wither and die before we have a chance to review them. Such is the way of the fall television growing season.