Here’s where the TV season gets interesting. It used to be that the networks rolled out all their new shows in the fall and then just sat back and waited for the big ratings to come in. When some new series or other didn’t do very well, the programmers would just look around and shove in one they’d rejected earlier.
Not anymore. Mid-season is now the time when the television industry — not just the networks, but PBS and cable as well — does its darnedest to liven things up, to woo back viewers disenchanted with the fall offerings; it’s the time when television takes its biggest creative chances.
The second season, with its go-for-broke risks and its shrewd fine-tuning, has thus become as important as the one in the fall, and sometimes livelier. Articulating the current approach, ABC entertainment president Robert Iger says, ”In mid-season, you can discover where your needs are, where your opportunities are, what are the best shows you really have.” The big winners of recent mid-seasons include The Wonder Years, Twin Peaks, The Simpsons — in short, some of TV’s most interesting programming.
What will be the breakthrough shows this time around? Family Dog? Davis Rules? Make your educated guess after reading Entertainment Weekly’s guide to TV’s newest hopefuls.
In the absence of a Civil War — size spectacular, PBS’ spring lineup is reaching for the stars with another ambitious documentary miniseries: The Astronomers (six consecutive Mondays, beginning April 15) will offer extraterrestrial history and galactic gossip narrated by Richard Chamberlain. On almost as grand a scale, The Shape of the World (six consecutive Mondays, beginning April 1) roves the globe to explore the history of mapmaking. Among ongoing series, Mystery!, which had a change-of-pace hit last fall with the thriller Mother Love, will feature Peter O’Toole as the villain of its 21 2-hour 19th-century Gothic melodrama The Dark Angel (March 21); and Frederic Forrest and Miranda Richardson star in its six-part tale of European terrorism, Die Kinder (The Children), beginning March 28. Great Performances wades into culture’s deepest waters with director Peter Brook’s six-hour staging of the Indian epic poem The Mahabharata (March 25-27).
After months of ”highlights” (also known as reruns), Masterpiece Theatre returns March 31 with a new miniseries, House of Cards, about a vicious campaign for prime minister. And American Playhouse opens its 10th season with Stephen Sondheim’s fabled Into the Woods (March 20) and the Steppenwolf production of The Grapes of Wrath (March 22). The season will also include Darrow, with Kevin Spacey; O Pioneers!, based on the Willa Cather novel; and An American Place, with Jane Alexander as Southwest painter Georgia O’Keeffe.
Harry and the Hendersons converts into a sitcom the 1987 film about a family that adopts Bigfoot; Bruce Davison stars, and seven-foot-two Kevin Peter Hall reprises his role as hairy Harry. And The Party Machine With Nia Peeples, airing weeknights, offers dance music, mini-interviews, and a hostess who yells, ”Woof! Woof! Woof!” Naturally, the executive producer is Arsenio Hall.