In the USA, network television just isn’t cool anymore. All those buzzed-about shows you watch? The ones with zombies and dragons and lady-jails? They’re all on cable, or being beamed directly to your living room through the magic of online streaming. Yet network television still soldiers on, almost on blind faith that somehow the declining ratings and severe lack of buzz affecting practically all of their shows will eventually get turned around. But while the rest of the television landscape continues to lead the way in terms of innovation, there’s a strong stench of creative bankruptcy to many of this season’s new network shows.
Indicating all that is wrong with the current network model, few of this fall season’s new shows are driven by original ideas. Even when they’re not directly adapted from other sources, there’s a lot of cribbing of concepts from more successful shows or movies, or merely replicating existing premises with a thin twist or variant. You want cops? How about cops on computers? Or a cop who’s immortal? Or cops doing Mardi Gras? If so, check out Scorpion, Forever, or NCIS: New Orleans! Ever watch Katherine Heigl play an uptight single gal in desperate need of a man and think to yourself, “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if she starred in Homeland?”, then why not check out her new espionage drama State of Affairs? Then there’s Bad Judge. It’s just like Bad Teacher… but with a judge!
Away from the snark, all eyes seem to be on Gotham. Sure, it’s yet another comic book adaptation, but it also seems to be navigating around the problems that sunk Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. by being set in the past instead of a present day overly indebted to pre-existing franchises, exploring a pre-Batman Gotham City through the eyes of a young Jim Gordon. This could be the season’s breakout hit. The ABC network is also hedging its bets on How to Get Away with Murder, the new show from Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. It looks sort of melodramatic and hammy in the way Rhimes’ shows usually are, but at least positions the perpetually underutilized Viola Davis centre stage for a change. The Hellblazer adaptation Constantine (with its swaggering British demon-hunter protagonist) looks a trip, while sitcom A to Z (about the season-long courtship between a couple called Andrew and Zelda harharhar) could potentially rise above its gimmicky premise with help from the flood of talent it has in front of and behind the camera.
Network television isn’t a total wasteland, but it’s very much a world overpopulated by cop series, bland hits like Modern Family and shows that seem to have been on for a million years (we were all fetuses when Supernatural started, correct?) Along with a few promising new shows, there are a couple of nuggets of gold coming back over the next couple of weeks too, like The Good Wife, Elementary, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Mindy Project. Alternatively you could just reject all of the above and hang around until Hannibal comes back next year. It’ll be so worth it.