Two-and-one-half months into the new television season and the broadcast networks, unfortunately, have not been able to stop the audience bleeding. Season to-date (through Nov. 27), CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox and The CW are averaging 36.11 million viewers in total, according to Nielsen. That's a 5 percent drop from last year. Ratings among adults 18 to 49, at a 9.5 rating/32 share, slipped by 10 percent. Fox is the only one of the five nets that is experiencing positive gains, with a 10 percent increase in total viewers, more of a result of that kickass seven-game Major League Baseball World Series than its roster of regularly-scheduled programming.
Naturally, part of the audience erosion stems from the added competition, particularly from the digital outlets. A record 500 scripted series are expected for broadcast in 2017, about 70 on Netflix alone. So, finding an audience has become more difficult than ever. Then, of course, the networks generally aren't offering audiences quality programming. The only bona fide hit, both creatively and by the numbers, is the family drama "This is Us" on NBC.
Now the network programmers are putting their faith in midseason, a four-month window beginning after the first of the year. Less cluttered than the fall, when most new entries are rolled out, midseason gives the next set of hopefuls, like Fox's "Empire" just two years ago, more breathing room.
While finding a new hit (or two) the caliber of "Empire" or "This Is Us" could be considered a long shot, I do actually think a number of upcoming newbies have solid potential. Perhaps, it's a strategy of saving the best for last.
Here are the five midseason debuts that look most promising:
From "Empire" creator Lee Daniels, "Star" is the Atlanta-based tale of three young singers (Jude Demorest, Ryan Destiny and Brittany O'Grady) who navigate the music business on their road to success. Headlined by Queen Latifah and Benjamin Bratt, the show previews out of the fall season premiere of "Empire" on Dec. 14. The same ingredients that have helped make "Empire" such a hit are highly visible here: greed, lust, sex, music and over-the-top dramatics. In January, the soapy drama will move into "Empire's" time slot. So if "Star" does indeed click, Fox could have two strong dramas to build its anemic primetime line-up with next fall. I think it will.
Given this is The CW, where superheroes and vampires thrive, "Riverdale" from Greg Berlanti ("Arrow," "Supergirl"), based on the "Archie" comic book franchise, will not be the innocent fun and frolic you might expect. The show has a much darker and more complex storyline. Archie (KJ Apa) and the gang will be entering their sophomore year at Riverdale High while dealing with a murder-mystery. Described as "Archie" meets "Twin Peaks," the show is slated to make its debut on Jan. 26 in the Thursday 9 p.m. slot, a good fit, following the relocated "Supernatural." Older demos, myself included, who may have been fans of the comic book or "Twin Peaks," will at least be curious enough to tune in, at least once.
"Emerald City" (NBC)
Based on the "Land of Oz" book series by L. Frank Baum, "Emerald City" is a 180-degree twist on the well-worn tale of Dorothy and her dog. In this dark fantasy, Dorothy, played by Adria Arjona, is transported to Oz by tornado with a police dog at her side. Unlike the colorful innocence of the Land of Oz in the classic 1939 theatrical, this version, complete with Vincent D'Onofrio as the great and powerful wizard, is filled with lethal warriors fighting a bloody battle for supremacy. NBC programmed the show for Friday 9 p.m. ET (effective Jan. 6), out of the final season of "Grimm." The network is wisely betting on the audience that gave "Grimm" a cult following. With this twisty take on a classic, it just might succeed.
"24: Legacy" (Fox)
Chronicling the race to stop a terrorist attack on the United States, the first trailer for the "24" reboot, introducing Corey Hawkins as military hero Eric Carter, registered over 7 million views on Facebook. What once seemed inconceivable, a "24" without Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer, has piqued lots of early interest. The return of Carlos Bernard as hero turned villain Tony Bernard, a recurring character, adds to the intrigue and gives "24" fans yet another reason to sample the show. The "24" Legacy" premiere follows "Super Bowl LI" on Sunday, Feb. 5, before moving to Monday night at 8 p.m.
"Great News" (NBC)
Tina Fey produces a modern take on the mother-daughter sitcom, as overbearing Mom (Andrea Martin) re-enters the workforce as an intern, in the same station where her up-and-coming news producer daughter Katie (Briga Heelan) works. Like "30 Rock" before it, which was never a hit via traditional Nielsen ratings, "Great News" may not necessarily resonate with the masses. But with Fey at the helm, the show could be another great venue for the kind of wry and sophisticated humor carrying Fey's "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" on Netflix.