(This is an updated version of a story from the previous week.)
We finally have an answer to TV’s peskiest question: When will the season start?
It started (sort of) on Sept. 21, with Fox’s “L.A.’s Finest” (shown here) and “Filthy Rich” and CBS’ “Manhunt.” It will be smaller than past years, but there will be lots of new shows on the five commercial broadcast networks.
Fox is the most thorough. With one exception – it has to wait a couple weeks for Thursday-night football – it will be rerun-free.
Others are at least adding several shows now, with more in the next few weeks.
That still leaves many of the biggest shows on the shelf, due to COVID shutdowns. But a few big ones will be ready early – “The Simpsons” (Sept. 27), “Supernatural” (Oct. 8) and lots of reality.
“Dancing With the Stars” and “American Ninja Warrior” have already started. Coming soon are “The Masked Singer” (Sept. 23), “The Bachelorette” (Oct. 13), “The Amazing Race” (Oct. 14), “Shark Tank” (Oct. 16) and “The Voice” (Oct. 19.
Other key shows will wait – ABC’s comedies (including “The Conners”) until Oct. 21 … NBC’s dramas (including “This Is Us”) until Nov. 10-13 … One ABC (“The Good Doctor”) on Nov. 2, with the others Nov. 12-19 … and many more delayed until January.
In the mean time, networks managed to fill their schedules, through several steps: They delayed shows that had been scheduled for late spring or summer … And bought shows that had already aired on cable or streaming channels (Spectrum, CBS All Access, DC Universe, National Geographic, Pop) … And bought shows from other countries … And concocted a few low-budget ones
Here’s a breakdown – chronological, by genre – plus a few review-type comments. This focuses on the five broadcast, commercial networks, because cable and streaming have year-round schedules.
— “L.A.’s Finest” (bega 8 p.m., Sept. 21, Fox) starts the season slickly. Descended from the “Bad Boys” films, the show (previously on Spectrum) has big-deal stars (Jessica Alba and Gabrielle Union), plus the action and shoot-em-ups we expect in movie theaters. The good news is that it has snappy dialog, delivered by skilled actresses. The bad is that it lacks credibility – as many action movies do. We’re not sure how many of these chases and gun battles Los Angeles can stand.
– “Filthy Rich” (began 9 p.m., Sept. 21, reruns 9 p.m. Sept. 24) has a media mogul (Kim Cattrall) suddenly learn that she may be a widow … and that her husband left three illegitimate children. The battle for power and money begins … but don’t expect something as classy as HBO’s “Succession.” Just when the show (originally planned for spring and summer) starts to be a solid drama, it sinks into soap-opera excess.
– “Manhunt” (began 10 p.m., Sept. 21, CBS) is a 10-part drama that starts with a bomb near the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Like “L.A.’s Finest,” this is from Spectrum, with a movie-quality feel; the difference is that it also has subtlety. The opener is a moving portrait of Richard Jewell, who went from scoffed-at security guard to accidental hero and then to FBI suspect. Cameron Britton is terrific in the role … as is Judith Light as his mom.
– “Devils” (8 p.m., Oct. 7, CW). Don’t let the name scare you away. This is actually a financial thriller; it’s a French/Italian production, but includes Patrick Dempsey.
DRAMAS (already here)
– “Transplant” (10 p.m. Tuesdays, NBC) and “Coroner” (9 p.m. Wednesdays, CW) are reminders that Canadians sometimes make terrific television. “Transplant” is about a Syrian doctor, trying to start over in a Canadian hospital, while raising his little sister, shielding his friend … and even doing some telemedicine for a battlefield medic back home. “Coroner” has a widow solving crimes as Toronto’s coroner, while helping her teen son. Both have intelligent stories and likable characters.
– “Tell Me a Story” (9 p.m. Tuesdays, CW) had a two-season run on CBS All Access. The first story – three sometimes-brutal tales, including brilliant work from James Wolk as a vengeance-seeker – ends Sept. 29; a second starts Oct. 13.
– “Van der Volk” (9 p.m. Sundays, PBS) has three movie-length mysteries, each richly crafted, about a Dutch police detective. That’s under the “Masterpiece” banner, with the final episode Sept. 27; a week later, “Masterpiece” starts the four-part drama, “Flesh and Blood”; both shows are preceded at 8 p.m. by “Last Tango in Paris.”
RETURNING DRAMAS (and more)
– “Supernatural” (8 p.m., Oct. 8) is finally back. This started its 15th and final season, then suspended production because of COVID. Now it returns for its last seven episodes.
– NBC is next, with plans to launch six dramas Nov. 10-13. They are “This Is Us,” the three “Chicago” shows, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “The Blacklist.”
– After bringing back “Good Doctor” on Nov. 2, ABC has an all-night crossover Nov. 12, with Station 19 and “Grey’s Anatomy.” A week later, it has the new “Blue Sky” on Nov. 17, “For Life” on Nov. 18 and “A Million Little Things” on Nov. 19.
– And drama is what the cable networks do best. The same night (Sept. 27) will see the start of two shows that could be the year’s best dramas: Showtime’s two-night “Comey Rules” starts at 9 p.m.; FX’s neatly offbeat “Fargo” starts at 10.
– “Star Trek: Discovery” (10 p.m., Sept. 24, CBS) is epic TV, almost movie-plus in its visuals. This is the show that launched CBS All Access, seemingly with no expense spared. Sonequa Martin-Green stars as the science officer, a human raised in Vulcan culture. The opening hour feels a tad cold and militaristic, but it’s awesome to watch.
– “NeXt” (9 p.m., Oct. 6, Fox) poses key questions. What happens when the computers teach themselves to be smarter? What do we do when Alexa schemes, when driverless cars plan their own route, when …? All of that is hinted at in the first hour of this show, which was planned for spring/summer and then delayed. John Slattery plays the genius who planned the ultimate computer program … then realized it was too good. It’s a strong start.
– Also: CW will start lots next month: “Swamp Thing,” previously on DC Universe, is 8 p.m., Oct. 4. Two others has so-so runs in the summer of 2019, then were delayed until this fall: “Pandora” will be 8 p.m., Oct. 4, “The Outpost,” 9 p.m., Oct. 8.
– Beyond that: Sci-fi fans really need to grab at least one of the screening services. In recent weeks, Netflix has launched “Away,” “Julie & The Phantoms” and the second season of “Umbrella Academy”; HBO Max has started Ridley Scott’s “Raised By Wolves.” Amazon Prime started the second season of “The Boys”; on Sept. 25, it has the fascinating “Utopia” opener.
– “Connecting” (8:30 p.m., Oct. 1, NBC) is a social-distancing show, made in a distanced way. Using the Internet, friends try to stay connected.
– “One Day at a Time” (9 and 9:30 p.m., Oct. 12, CBS) is a fairly likable reboot that had three seasons on Netflix. It moved to the Pop network … then was halted by COVID after only six episodes. Those six get a quick rerun on CBS.
– Returning animation: Cartoons have become almost COVID-proof; “Archer” (10 p.m. Wednesdays on FXX cable) has already started; Fox’s Sunday line-up returns Sept. 27, starting with “The Simpson” at 8 p.m. And the “South Park” hourlong “Pandemic Special” is 8 p.m. Sept. 30 on Comedy Central.
– Topical stuff: There will be lots of this during the election season. Robert Smigel (creator of Triumph the Insult Dog) has a special at 9 p.m. Oct. 1 on Fox; “Black-ish” has election-themed episodes (partly using animation) at 10 p.m. Oct. 4. Also, the Peacock streamer is launching two latenight-style shows on Fridays, with Larry Wilmore starting on Sept. 18 and Amber Ruffin on Sept. 25.
– Returning shows: ABC starts most of its Wednesday comedies – “The Goldbergs,” “The Conners” and “Black-ish” – on Oct. 21, with “American Housewife” arriving a week later. Also, NBC’s “Superstore” arrives Oct. 22.
– “Greatest #AtHome Videos” (8 p.m., Sept. 25, CBS) is a collection of video stunts, gags and more – often done by people who have extra time during the pandemic. Its hosted by Cedric the Entertainer; five episodes aired this summer, and tended to be low-key fun.
– “World’s Funniest Animals” (9 and 9:30 p.m., CW) is a poor variation. The animal videos are often quite funny, but the contributions by the human host and commentators are lame.
GAMES AND SUCH
– “I Can See Your Voice” (9 p.m., Sept. 23, Fox) was designed to follow “The Masked Singer” on Wednesdays. It even has one of that show’s judges, Ken Jeong, as host. Contestants will try to pick out one singer, who then does a duet – for good or bad – with a music star.
– “The Weakest Link” (8 p.m., Sept. 29, NBC) revives a British show that arrived in 2001, Americans were fascinated by its acerbic host (Anne Robinson) and concept. Now it’s back, with Jane Lynch – who does acerbic well – hosting. It will start on Mondays, but move to 10 p.m. Tuesdays, on Oct. 19.
– And returning: On Sept. 24, ABC moves its games to Thursdays, with “Celebrity Family Feud,” “Press Your Luck” and “Match Game.” Also, NBC returns “Ellen’s Game of Games” at 8 p.m. Oct. 16.
– “Cosmos: Possible Worlds” (8 p.m., Sept. 22, Fox) revives the Carl Sagan series, now with Neil deGrasse Tyson hosting, taking us on interplanetary tours. Originally on National Geographic, this offers stunning visuals and lush writing, but does get a tad monotone.
– “Emergency Call” (10 p.m.,, Sept. 28, ABC) views crises through the 9-1-1 operators. The opener ranges from New Orleans to Alaska; it includes teen hikers facing a bear and a 9-year-old trying to revive his grandfather.
– “FBI Declassified” (10 p.m. Oct. 13, CBS), views real cases. It’s hosted by Alana De La Garza, a co-star of CBS’ “FBI.”
– Also: “48 Hours: Suspicion” (10 p.m,. Wednesdays, CBS) has already started, with true-crime tales. And for much more non-fiction, go to PBS. One example: Its “Frontline: The Choice” (9-11 p.m., Sept. 22, PBS) offers richly detailed profiles of Donald Trump and Joe Biden.