Are serialized dramas dead? Are cop shows still cool? Can anyone make a traditional sitcom that will actually make us laugh? We?ll finally get some answers on Monday, when the five broadcast networks start unveiling their fall schedules to advertisers in New York. Count on plenty of good news (and not just the promise of a new ABC sitcom starring the irresistible Heather Locklear): There’ll be lots of delicious British transplants a la The Office as well as offerings from TV?s finest scribes (Melrose Place?s Darren Star, Will & Grace?s David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, Arrested Development?s Mitch Hurwitz, and 24‘s Joel Surnow). Even better: Fewer serialized dramas were developed this season in favor of more buddy shows, legal dramas, and supernatural tales. Here?s what to expect from the five networks, listed in order of their current standings among young adults:
Though it repeatedly falters in the fall, the No. 1 network always gains momentum at midseason with megahits like American Idol, House, and 24. Notice how that anemic list of hits doesn?t include any freshman series: All of Fox’s new dramas, including Vanished, Standoff, and Justice, fizzled after just a few weeks on the air — only the Brad Garrett sitcom Til Death stands a chance of hobbling to a second season. Lucky for Fox, it will have fewer baseball preemptions in the fall so its shows won’t endure as many stops and starts — good news for freshman hopefuls like the sitcom Back to You, which stars Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton as a news anchor team, and potential pickups, like the dramatic spy thriller Company Man from the 24 executive producers, and The Return of Jezebel James from Gilmore Girls’ Amy Sherman-Palladino. Now, if only Fox can give viewers a reason to watch on Thursday (it’s not the same without you, The OC!)
The No. 2 and by far the most stable network still has trouble wedging character-driven dramas into its all-procedural lineup: A second-season pickup for Jericho seems unlikely, and Close to Home could get a pink slip. Despite having a favorable launch pad on Mondays, The Class may end up in the Eye’s trash heap, too. That leaves just one freshman show, Shark, swimming into season 2. Lots of provocative dramas in the works could help fill the void next fall, like a period piece about open marriage called Swingtown, an adaptation of the BBC musical Viva Blackpool, featuring Hugh Jackman, and a drama about an exorcist, starring Ron Eldard. A lucrative new timeslot could open up on Thursdays if the Eye finally decides to move the seven-year-old Survivor to another night.
The third-ranked network may only renew three out of 14 of its new shows for fall 2008: Ugly Betty, Brothers and Sisters, and Men in Trees. None of its freshman comedies, like Knights of Prosperity or Notes from the Underbelly, are expected to return, which could begat even more bad news: According to Jim may live! That means lots of holes to fill on the fall schedule, including a very big one left by Lost, which won?t debut until January. Fortunately for ABC, its development was much stronger than its competition’s, starting with a trio of female-friendly dramedies, Dirty Sexy Money (think Dynasty updated), Footballers Wives (based on the BBC hit), and Cashmere Mafia from Star, not to mention the much-anticipated Grey?s Anatomy spinoff, starring Kate Walsh. Some of its new sitcoms seem promising too, including one with Locklear as a single mom and an adaptation of the popular British hit The Thick of It.
While it may end up being the only Big Four network to renew a freshman comedy this season (30 Rock), the No. 4 ranked Peacock is hurting when it comes to its first-year dramas: With the exception of Heroes and Friday Night Lights, none of its entries are expected to return — which means another season for Medium, Las Vegas, and even ER. One veteran that’s in trouble: Law & Order. Right now, the network is pondering whether to renew the 17-year-old original or let it go to TNT, which is prepared to pick up the series (at a much lower price). That means the network has plenty of open spots for a remake of The Bionic Woman, the spy dramedy Chuck, from the The OC‘s Josh Schwartz, a time-traveling drama called Journeyman, and another hour-long series called Life, about a wrongly-imprisoned cop fresh outta jail. Buzz is not so good for most of NBC?s sitcoms in development, other than The IT Crowd, a laugher about computer nerds.
In many ways, it seems like the CW will have to start over come September: Only America’s Next Top Model, Beauty and the Geek, Smallville, and a couple of comedies are shoo-ins for renewal. (A plan to revamp Veronica Mars by making her a fledgling recruit in the FBI academy is a long-shot.) However, the network has a stronger roster of potentials than it did a year ago. Likely new programs include a drama based on the best-selling book Gossip Girl, a dramedy called Reaper, about a 21-year-old bounty hunter for the devil, and the provocative sitcom Aliens in America, about a Pakistani exchange student who moves in with a goofy high schooler in Wisconsin.