A new TV season is ready to go.
It has a starting date (Sept. 19), a few shows and a lot of promos. What it lacks is the old blend of Hollywood hope, hype and a sense of something big.
There have been big things lately, but not on the broadcast nertworks, the ones.that send out shows for free (with commercials), over the air
A “Game of Thrones” prequel on HBO collided with a “Lord of the Rings” prequel on Amazon Prime, both spending mega-money. Disney+ launched a pile of new shows on one day (Sept. 8). Mere broadcast networks — with pleasant new shows like “So Help Me Todd” (shown here) — can only make a so-so counter-attack; consider:
— In the old days, the top four commercial networks would total about 20 new shows each fall, almost half of them situation comedies. Some shows would be awful; others would be “Friends” and “Seinfeld” and “West Wing” and “The Big Bang Theory.”
— This fall, they have only nine new shows. Only one (NBC’s “Lopez vs. Lopez”) is a sitcom, and it will wait until November. One show is a reboot (NBC’s “Quantum Leap”), one is a spin-off (ABC’s “The Rookie: Feds”), one is sort of reboot-turned-reality (CBS’ “The Real Love Boat”).
Occasionally, the broadcast people do break through. They had one sitcom hit last fall (CBS’ “Ghosts”) and another at mid-season (ABC’s award-winning “Abbott Elementary”). Even during the depth of the pandemic, CBS had a drama hit with “The Equalizer.”
And this new season offers some promise. CBS’ “So Help Me Todd” has a slick blend of comedy, mystery and drama …. ABC’s “Rookies” spin-off (with Niecy Nash) could do the same … Fox’s “Monarch” (an early-starter on Sept. 11) offers a workable blend of good music and bad soap opera. Also, PBS keeps clicking; it starts the season with another brilliant Ken Burns documentary, this one on Americans and the Holocaust.
Still, it will be tough for the broadcast networks to get noticed. A schedule is here, under “News and Quick Comments”: here are a few broadcast trends:
— SITCOMS. In some past seasons, a single network – ABC one year, NBC another – had 18 sitcoms. Virtually all were done before a studio audience, in the proven “Lucy”/”Seinfeld”/”Big Bang” style.
And now? This fall has only 12 – four each on ABC and CBS, two on Fox; in November, NBC will finally start its two – including the only new sitcom of the fall. Only half the sitcoms will have a studio audience; those “must-see” comedy days now seem in the distant past.
— ON THE OTHER HAND: Sometimes, a light drama can keep us amused. The best example is “So Help Me Todd,” which replaces two CBS comedy spots on Thursdays. Crisply written and perfectly cast, it quickly gets us rooting for a determined lawyer (Marcia Gay Harden) and her son (Skylar Astin), a detective who sort of makes it up as he goes along.
Others add some laughs. CW’s “Family Law” has its moments; ABC’s “The Rookie: Feds” has Nash.
— FANTASY: Last season, most sentient humans agreed that “La Brea” had an absurd concept. People really don’t plunge through a sinkhole in modern Los Angeles and end up in 10,000 B.C.
Some viewers, however, did find it fun. NBC is bringing the show back and adding another fantasy – a reboot of “Quantum Leap” (1989-93), a smart show that had one guy involuntarily thrust into other times and lives, of any age, gender and ethnicity.
The surprise, however, is that there’s no more. Fantasy has become the domain of streamers and cable, which do it right. Even CW is staying away, for now.
— YES, CW: Last fall, more than half of CW’s shows were fantasy. This was the land of Batgirl and The Flash, plus witches, time-travelers and bewildered abductees.
Not this time. CW does have one late-summer arrival (the excellent “Stargirl”) and some shows waiting for mid-season – “The Flash,” “Suprman & Lois” and the new “Gotham Knights.” But all four of its new fall shows are dramas.
— REALITY: Some viewers were jolted by the notion of “Dancing With the Start” jumping to Disney+. That leaves “Bachelor in Paradise” – a noisy/sexy summer kind of show, for Mondays and Tuesdays on ABC, facing NBC’s “The Voice.”
Mostly, though, Wednesday is broadcast’s reality night. At 8 p.m., Fox’s “Masked Singer” faces CBS’ “Survivor”; at 9, Fox’s “Lego Masters” faces the lone new reality show, CBS’ “The Real Love Boat.”
— AND PBS? One day before the new season starts, PBS will remind us that it sometimes is the best. Burns’ three-night documentary (Sept. 18-20) tells us about some people who scrambled to save Holocaust victims … and some who didn’t.
On the Sundays that follow, PBS regains its drama spot – first for two weeks of “Van der Valk” and then for an impressive threesome starting Oct. 16 – “Miss Scarlet and the Duke,” the new “Annika” and “Magpie Murders,” a remarkable tangle of two mysteries, one literary and one not.
In October, Tuesdays will mix Henry Louis Gates’ new “Making Black America” and strong profiles of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. On other nights, subjects range from new (Tik Tok) to ancient (Pompeii). There’s even a Sept. 16 special (“Black Lucy and the Bard”) that mixes Shakespeare’s sonnets, the music of Rhiannon Gidden and the Nashville Ballet. You won’t see that on other channels, broadcast or beyond.