Fall TV: Networks try to cut through the clutter
We’ve reached the point where there are almost as many people making TV shows as there are watching them.
FX Networks CEO John Landgraf ignited a flurry of headlines last month when he revealed the results of his annual study: In 2014, there were 371 original scripted series on the air and in the cloud.
And that’s just the dramas and comedies that acknowledge they’re scripted. So that number doesn’t include the Kardashians and the Housewives, the home cooks and the home renovators, the tiny house owners and the naked daters.
So how do the broadcast networks cut through all that clutter?
With a thriller about a tattooed amnesiac in a duffel bag. With a black comedy about a maniac slaughtering sorority girls. With a musical comedy touting the benefits of West Covina, Calif. With a sweeping soap opera set during a North Dakota oil boom. And with Muppets — lots and lots of Muppets.
None of these shows — NBC’s “Blindspot,” Fox’s “Scream Queens,” the CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and ABC’s “Blood & Oil” and “The Muppets” — is great television. But they’re all entertaining, and they’re different enough from the competition to stand out.
This fall, the networks also are betting on proven concepts. In addition to “The Muppets,” there are TV versions of movies (CBS’ “Limitless,” Fox’s “Minority Report”), a spinoff (NBC’s “Chicago Med”), a revival (NBC’s “Heroes Reborn”), a superhero (CBS’ “Supergirl”) and a remake (“Best Time Ever With Neil Patrick Harris.”) It isn’t a terribly creative strategy, but with so many shows competing for so little free time, just getting noticed has become more than half the battle.
And, speaking of betting, there’s an action series based in Las Vegas in which billionaires wager on crime. Because, why not?
Here’s a look at the 22 new series the networks are trotting out this fall. And, as always, dates and times are subject to change.
These shows don’t require a ton of explanation, allowing the networks to focus their energies on some of the high-concept ones that do.
8 p.m. Tuesday, ABC
Who’s in it: Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, et al.
What it is: Kermit and the gang work behind the scenes to produce the talk show “Up Late With Miss Piggy” in this mockumentary that’s described as an adult take on the Muppets.
Why you should watch: 1) You know the Muppets are always entertaining. 2) You’re prepared, in the off chance they aren’t entertaining, with your best Statler and Waldorf impressions. 3) You’re a weirdo and refuse to be convinced that an adult take on the Muppets doesn’t involve Scooter turning tricks, the Swedish Chef wearing bondage gear and Sam the Eagle shooting smack.
9 p.m. Monday, Fox
Who’s in it: Meagan Good (“Think Like a Man”), Stark Sands (Broadway’s “Kinky Boots”), Wilmer Valderrama (“That ‘70s Show”)
What it is: In 2065, a decade after the demise of the Precrime program, Dash (Sands), one of the three precognitives who predicted future felonies, teams with a police detective (Good) to try to stop murders before they happen in this sequel to the Tom Cruise-Steven Spielberg movie.
Why you should watch: 1) You’re a sucker for the sort of solid but ultimately marginally rated genre fare Fox introduces every year around this time. 2) You miss “Almost Human” with its similar futuristic pairing of a no-nonsense cop and a socially awkward outlier. 3) You can’t get enough glimpses of the future, whether it’s the rampant virtual reality and holograms, the selfie drones or the NFL’s Washington Red Clouds.
10 p.m. Tuesday, CBS
Who’s in it: Jake McDorman, Jennifer Carpenter (“Dexter”), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Hill Harper (“CSI: NY”) and occasionally Bradley Cooper
What it is: Underachiever Brian Finch (McDorman) gets his hands on an experimental drug that allows him to access 100 percent of his brain’s potential, then is coerced into solving crimes for the FBI like a pharmaceutically enhanced Sherlock Holmes, in this drama based on the 2011 movie.
Why you should watch: 1) You, like most of America, never saw McDorman in last fall’s first cancellation, the dreadful “Manhattan Love Story,” and don’t experience a violent reaction to the sight of him. 2) You also never saw “Chuck,” “Intelligence,” “Jake 2.0” or other similar regular-guy-gets-crazy-smart-and-works-for-the-government series. 3) You’re just waiting for Cooper, who starred in the movie and guest stars in the pilot, to make good on his promise to return to the series.
10 p.m. Nov. 10, NBC
Who’s in it: Yaya DaCosta (Lifetime’s Whitney Houston biopic), Oliver Platt, S. Epatha Merkerson (“Law & Order”)
What it is: The next logical expansion of Dick Wolf’s “Chicago Fire” and “Chicago P.D.” empire.
Why you should watch: 1) You need to know whether this group of disproportionately attractive doctors can save as many lives as the city’s disproportionately attractive cops and firefighters. 2) You don’t want to be confused during the crossover episodes. 3) You want to support the franchise long enough to get to the inevitable “Chicago Water,” “Chicago Building Inspectors” and “Chicago Office of Budget and Management.”
8 p.m. Thursday, NBC
Who’s in it: Jack Coleman (“Heroes”), Zachary Levi (“Chuck”)
What it is: A year after an explosion destroyed Odessa, Texas, during a peace summit between humans and those with special powers, Noah Bennet (Coleman) investigates what really happened in this continuation of the 2006-10 drama.
Why you should watch: 1) You never saw the original series so you have no idea just how quickly it went from obsession to trainwreck. 2) You’ve had your memory erased by The Haitian, so you can’t remember just how quickly it went from obsession to trainwreck. 3) You don’t care how quickly it went from obsession to trainwreck, or how soon into the “Heroes Reborn” pilot you stop caring about the new cast members, you’re just hoping against hope that NBC can steal Hayden Panettiere away from ABC’s “Nashville” long enough to shove her back into Claire’s cheerleading uniform.
8:30 p.m. Oct. 26, CBS
Who’s in it: Melissa Benoist (“Glee”), Calista Flockhart (“Ally McBeal”), Chyler Leigh (“Grey’s Anatomy”), Mehcad Brooks (“Necessary Roughness”)
What it is: As the assistant to National City media mogul Cat Grant (Flockhart), Kara Danvers (Benoist) works alongside photographer James Olsen (Brooks) while her adoptive sister Alex (Leigh) helps her come to terms with her new secret identity: Supergirl.
Why you should watch: 1) You’re looking for a series that would feel equally at home on the old tween-friendly WB and its superhero-centric successor, the CW. 2) You want to see how long “Supergirl” can go without calling Kara’s famous relative Superman. (In the pilot, in addition to the traditional “Man of Steel,” he’s referred to as “he,” ‘him,” “my cousin,” “your cousin,” “the big guy,” “my friend in blue,” “this superlative man” and, most awkwardly, “a person who wears a cape and flies around performing heroic acts.”) 3) You aren’t a racist, so you don’t care that “Supergirl’s” Jimmy Olsen is black. (Of course, if you were a racist, you’d surely be too busy ranting about that illegal alien Kara taking another one of “our” jobs, and how we need to build a wall around the Phantom Zone to keep her kind out of our country, to notice.)
BEST TIME EVER WITH NEIL PATRICK HARRIS
10 p.m. Tuesdays (already airing), NBC
Who’s in it: Neil Patrick Harris
What it is: Harris hosts this live variety show, featuring games, skits, pranks and performances, that’s based on the British series “Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway.”
Why you should watch: 1) You remember a time when most of TV consisted of live variety shows. 2) You’re intrigued by the idea of live TV, despite the fact that sporting events, local news, award shows, several competition series and a little thing called “Saturday Night Live” already are broadcast live. 3) You have a rather interesting idea of what constitutes the “best time ever.”
Intentionally or not, these three are pretty similar to existing series.
LIFE IN PIECES
8:30 p.m. Monday, CBS
Who’s in it: Dianne Wiest, James Brolin, Colin Hanks, Thomas Sadoski (“The Newsroom”), Betsy Brandt (“Breaking Bad”), Dan Bakkedahl (“Veep”)
What it is: Three siblings (Hanks, Sadoski, Brandt) and their parents (Wiest, Brolin) have four wacky adventures each week.
Why you should watch: 1) You enjoy “Modern Family,” but wish it were cruder, more predictable and much, much less funny. 2) You’re a sucker for horrifying post-pregnancy vagina humor. 3) You need the obvious explained to you. (Each of the four stories each week is labeled with an onscreen graphic: Story One, Story Two, etc.)
10 p.m. Sept. 27, ABC
Who’s in it: Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra
What it is: When Grand Central Station is leveled in an explosion, the incredibly diverse members of the latest FBI Academy class come under suspicion in this drama.
Why you should watch: 1) You wonder what a Shonda Rhimes show would be like without any involvement from Shonda Rhimes. (“Quantico” features the same basic structure and beats as the “How to Get Away With Murder” pilot, the awkward one-night stand of the “Grey’s Anatomy” pilot and the confusing conspiracies of “Scandal.”) 2) You’re one of the billion or so people already familiar with Chopra’s work. 3) You’re absurdly good at suspending disbelief.
8 p.m. Tuesday, Fox
Who’s in it: Emma Roberts (“American Horror Story”), Jamie Lee Curtis, Skyler Samuels (“The Nine Lives of Chloe King”), Lea Michele (“Glee”), Abigail Breslin
What it is: Someone in a latex devil costume is killing the girls of Kappa House in this sorority-based horror/comedy from Ryan Murphy (“Glee,” “American Horror Story”).
Why you should watch: 1) You’ve been waiting patiently for a “Glee”-”American Horror Story” mashup. 2) You’ve grown tired of how long it usually takes Murphy’s shows to become completely wackadoo; this one starts out that way. 3) You’ve made and listen to a playlist called Male Power Ballads of 1995. (That’ll make more sense once you see the premiere.)
CONSCIOUSLY UNCOUPLED subhead
The co-stars of “Strike Back” and “Gossip Girl” may have split up, but they’re sharing real estate as the leads of dramas on their new networks.
10 p.m. Thursday, NBC
Who’s in it: Philip Winchester (“Strike Back”), Wesley Snipes, Charity Wakefield (“Wolf Hall”)
What it is: A former military operative (Winchester) is recruited to try to stop a series of high-profile crimes, the success or failure of which are being wagered on by some of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful people, in this Las Vegas-based thriller.
Why you should watch: 1) You crave car chases, shootouts and fisticuffs and don’t care to think too much about why they’re taking place. 2) You’re willing to forgive a series that, at least in an advance copy sent to critics, has Las Vegas locals referring to Fremont Street as the Strip. 3) You’re just waiting for Snipes, who plays the pit boss in charge of the wagers, to advise someone to “always bet on black.”
10 p.m. Monday, NBC
Who’s in it: Sullivan Stapleton (“Strike Back”), Jaimie Alexander (“Thor”), Marianne Jean-Baptiste (“Without a Trace”), Rob Brown (“Treme”)
What it is: A young woman (Alexander) is found in a duffel bag in Times Square, naked and covered from neck to toe in fresh tattoos, including the name of FBI Agent Kurt Weller (Stapleton), with zero memory of who she is or how she got there.
Why you should watch: 1) You love “Bad Ink” and “Tattoo Nightmares.” 2) You never saw “Prison Break” with its similar ugly-tattoos-as-a-series-of-clues storytelling device. 3) You like your high-concept action thrillers entertaining but full-blown, bat-excrement crazy.
BLOOD & OIL
9 p.m. Sept. 27, ABC
Who’s in it: Chace Crawford (“Gossip Girl”), Don Johnson, Rebecca Rittenhouse (“Red Band Society”), Amber Valletta (“Revenge”)
What it is: Newlyweds (Crawford, Rittenhouse) head for Rock Springs, N.D., looking to strike it rich amid the nation’s largest crude strike, most of which is controlled by a conniving oil baron (Johnson), in this soapy drama.
Why you should watch: 1) You’re drawn to tales of dreamers, schemers and vagabonds looking to make a quick million bucks in a modern boomtown. 2) You simply can’t get enough of hearing people talk about roughneckin’ and roustaboutin’, wildcattin’ and pushin’ mud. 3) You miss “Dallas.” (The original “Dallas,” not that TNT reboot.)
10 p.m. Oct. 27, ABC
Who’s in it: Ed Westwick (“Gossip Girl”), Erika Christensen (“Parenthood”), Jeremy Sisto (“Suburgatory”), Taissa Farmiga (“American Horror Story”)
What it is: A detective (Sisto) and a young journalist (Farmiga) who hopes to write for Rolling Stone hunt a serial killer (Westwick) preying on women on the Sunset Strip in 1982.
Why you should watch: 1) You’ve never given up on hair metal. 2) You liked “Almost Famous” but wish it were more murdery. 3) You want to explain to your kids that, yes, people used to dedicate songs to each other on radio stations, and then explain to them what radio stations were. (That’s pretty much all I got from the four and a half minutes ABC released from the pilot.)
Two of the most beautiful men on television return in series that are likable but have plenty of room to improve.
8 p.m. Sept. 29, Fox
Who’s in it: John Stamos, Josh Peck (“Drake & Josh”), Paget Brewster (“Criminal Minds”), Christina Milian
What it is: A self-absorbed bachelor restaurateur (Stamos) learns he fathered a son (Peck) 26 years ago with his ex-girlfriend (Brewster), and that son has an infant daughter, in this comedy.
Why you should watch: 1) You like a comedy with a little edge and even more heart. 2) You haven’t forgotten, despite all her years on the bleak “Criminal Minds,” just how funny Brewster is. 3) You miss Stamos, and you want to support him, but like most of America, the thought of watching Netflix’s upcoming “Fuller House” makes your skin crawl.
8:30 p.m. Sept. 29, Fox
Who’s in it: Rob Lowe, Fred Savage (“The Wonder Years”), William Devane
What it is: A self-absorbed actor (Lowe), who starred in the popular legal drama “The Grinder,” infuriates his attorney brother (Savage) when he moves home to Idaho to work at the family law firm in this comedy.
Why you should watch: 1) You’ve always appreciated the fact that underneath Rob Lowe’s shiny veneer lies a gifted comic actor. 2) You realize that the show-within-the-show is exactly the sort of thing you would have spent eight or nine years watching, most likely on TNT. 3) You’re horribly confused and think it’s a show about Rob Lowe using the gay hookup app Grindr.
A LITTLE GOES A LONG WAY
Unfortunate things can happen when character actors are elevated to leads.
ANGEL FROM HELL
9:30 p.m. Nov. 5, CBS
Who’s in it: Jane Lynch (“Glee”), Maggie Lawson (“Psych”), Kevin Pollak, Kyle Bornheimer
What it is: A young doctor (Lawson) is stalked by a brash, creme de menthe-loving street performer (Lynch) claiming to be her guardian angel in this comedy.
Why you should watch: 1) You’re willing to take a chance on a comedy that has plenty of rough edges because it shows a few creative sparks. 2) You’re a Jane Lynch completist. 3) You secretly fear that if you don’t watch every new CBS comedy, the network will bring back “Two and a Half Men.”
8:30 p.m. Oct. 2, ABC
Who’s in it: Ken Jeong (“Community”), Tisha Campbell-Martin (“My Wife and Kids”), Dave Foley (“Kids in the Hall”)
What it is: Dr. Kendrick Park (Jeong) divides his time between being an obnoxious general practitioner at an HMO and a horrible father in this comedy.
Why you should watch: 1) You have houseguests you wish would leave. 2) You’re the sworn enemy of subtlety. 3) You’re Ken Jeong’s mom.
I liked “Scream Queens” a lot, and “The Muppets” has lots of promise. But this is the only new series that made me excited to see more. Full disclosure, though: I only saw an unfinished version of the pilot.
8 p.m. Oct. 12, CW
Who’s in it: Rachel Bloom
What it is: A chance encounter with the guy she dated at summer camp a decade ago convinces New York attorney Rebecca Bunch (Bloom) to drop everything and move across the country, “Felicity”-style, to be near him in this musical comedy.
Why you should watch: 1) You’ve been waiting for something charming and clever, weird and wonderful. 2) You, like Rebecca, allow your life to be influenced by butter advertisements and burst into song about the wonders of West Covina, Calif. 3) You can get past a show’s off-putting name, just like you did with “Cougar Town.”
“Dr. Ken” and “Life in Pieces” would be here if they weren’t already used elsewhere.
10 p.m. Sept. 30, CBS
Who’s in it: Marcia Gay Harden, Luis Guzman
What it is: A renegade doctor (Harden) and a world-weary nurse (Guzman) look after four new first-year residents at L.A.’s Angels Memorial, which experiences a Code Black, an event when an influx of patients is greater than the resources needed to treat them, 300 times a year.
Why you should watch: 1) You don’t want to be challenged by anything you haven’t seen before in dozens of other medical dramas. 2) You want to improve your party banter with little tidbits like, if Norwegian kids are unable to breathe, it’s because they’re genetically predisposed to suffer a collapsed lung. 3) You can excuse the scenes in which the characters on a show called “Code Black” wonder if they’ll encounter a Code Black.
8 p.m. Wednesday, Fox
Who’s in it: Morris Chestnut (“The Perfect Guy”), Jaina Lee Ortiz, Lorraine Toussaint (“Orange Is the New Black”), Domenick Lombardozzi (“The Wire”)
What it is: Private pathologist Dr. Beaumont Rosewood Jr. (Chestnut) teams with a Miami police detective (Ortiz) to solve crimes.
Why you should watch: 1) You’ve never seen a series where work colleagues share a love-hate, Sam-and-Diane, will-they-or-won’t-they relationship while bickering like school children. 2) You’re a fan of awkward exposition and information dumps. 3) You have an hour to kill before “Empire.”
TRUTH BE TOLD
8:30 p.m. Oct. 16, NBC
Who’s in it: Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Tone Bell, Vanessa Lachey, Bresha Webb (“Grey’s Anatomy”)
What it is: An ethics professor (Gosselaar), a comic (Bell) and their wives (Lachey, Bell) can’t get through a day without confronting something controversial in this comedy.
Why you should watch: 1) You love it when people say things like, “I don’t think we’re allowed to talk about this” and then seem smugly proud of themselves for doing just that. 2) You think it’s hilarious when white guys wonder why they aren’t permitted to sing or rap the N-word. 3) You’ve never seen a sitcom in which a precocious little girl asks about her “bagina,” in which case, where have you been hiding and how do I get there? (Seriously, I won’t tell anyone. And not like the way everyone in “The Beach” promised they wouldn’t tell anyone else where the beach was but they did anyway and they ruined it for everybody. My lips are sealed. Trust me, I need this.)