With less than three weeks to go before the official start of the new television season, part one of this two-part column offers the odds of survival (based on 1-1, the best, to 10-1, the worst) for the upcoming array of freshman network series about to debut.
In this current era of "Peak TV," where the "when you want where you want" programming philosophy prevails (particularly among the millennial generation), the challenge for any show on any outlet is to simply find an audience. But foremost is the ability to tap into current tastes. Recent network entries "The Good Doctor" on ABC and "This is Us" on NBC, for example, managed to thrive despite the growing competitive challenges. But those are two rare exceptions. As always, more new series fail than succeed.
I base my predictions on a) the show’s premise, b) the network it airs on (and what the traditional demographic skew for that platform is), c) the network competition, d) the lead-in (if not an 8 p.m. ET show), e) the recent time period history, f) the potential interest in social media, and g) the critical acclaim (or lack of). It never hurts to have the critics on your side.
With that in mind, I begin with ABC.
"The Kids Are Alright" (Tuesday 8:30 p.m.) – Debut date: Oct. 16
Premise: Set in the 1970s, this ensemble comedy follows a traditional Irish-Catholic family, the Clearys, as they navigate big and small changes during one of America’s most turbulent decades. In a working-class neighborhood outside Los Angeles, Mike (Michael Cudlitz) and Peggy (Mary McCormack) raise eight boisterous boys who live out their days with little supervision. The household is turned upside down when oldest son Lawrence (Sam Straley) returns home and announces he is quitting the seminary to go off and "save the world." Times are changing and this family will never be the same. There are 10 people, three bedrooms, one bathroom and everyone in it for themselves.
-Lead-in: "The Conners"
-Network Competition: "NCIS" (CBS), "The Voice" (NBC), "The Gifted" (Fox), "The Flash" (CW)
Odds of Survival for "The Kids Are Alright" (based on 1-1 to 10-1): 4-1
In one of the most competitive hours in primetime, keeping the audience intact from retooled "The Conners" will be no easy feat. But the mammoth expected sampling for the Roseanne-less comedy (my estimation is in the vicinity of 25-million viewers) guarantees sampling. Lead-in definitely still matters. The premise sounds particularly compatible with "The Conners." And, aren’t we all getting just a wee bit tired of "NCIS" and "The Voice" at this point?
"The Rookie" (Tuesday 10 p.m.) – Debut Date: Oct. 16
Premise: Starting over isn’t easy, especially for small-town guy John Nolan (Nathan Fillion) who, after a life-altering incident, is pursuing his dream of being an LAPD officer. As the force’s oldest rookie, he’s met with skepticism from some higher-ups who see him as just a walking midlife crisis. If he can’t keep up with the young cops and the criminals, he’ll be risking lives including his own. But if he can use his life experience, determination and sense of humor to give him an edge, he may just become a success in this new chapter of his life.
-Lead-in: "Splitting Up Together"
-Network Competition: "NCIS: New Orleans" (CBS), "New Amsterdam" (NBC)
Odds of Survival for "The Rookie" (based on 1-1 to 10-1): 3-1
As sleuth Richard Castle on "Castle" from 2009-2016, Nathan Fillion became a magnet of attraction for older females on the ABC detective drama. While sophomore sitcom lead-in "Splitting Up Together" is unlikely to generate much interest (lead-in, I repeat, still matters), competing "NCIS: New Orleans" is not unstoppable, upcoming drama "New Amsterdam" on NBC is not proven, and these same women in search of the genre they are known watching for are likely to give "The Rookie" a shot. Compared to former failed time period occupant "Kevin (Probably) Saves the World," there is every reason to anticipate notable improvement in the traditional Nielsen ratings for "The Rookie."
"Single Parents" (Wednesday 9:30 p.m. ET): Debut date: Sept. 26
Premise: This ensemble comedy follows a group of single parents as they lean on each other to help raise their 7-year-old kids and maintain some kind of personal lives outside of parenthood. The series begins when the group meets Will (Taran Killam), a 30-something guy who’s been so focused on raising his daughter that he’s lost sight of who he is as a man. When the other single parents see just how far down the rabbit hole of PTA, parenting and princesses Will has gone, they band together to get him out in the dating world and make him realize that being a great parent doesn’t mean sacrificing everything about your own identity.
-Lead-in: "Modern Family"
-Network Competition: "SEAL Team" (CBS), "Chicago Fire" (NBC), "Star" (Fox), "All American" (CW)
Odds of Survival for "Single Parents" (based on 1-1 to 10-1): 5-1
Known for its family-themed comedy brand, ABC is traveling the single parents route this time, which out of veteran "Modern Family" could be compatible. But "Modern Family" is fading; the sitcom is heading into its 10th season. And the likelihood of viewers sticking around from what looks like a barrage of generic chuckles is questionable at best given the quartet of competing network dramas.
"A Million Little Things" (Wednesday 10 p.m. ET): Debut date: Sept. 26
Premise: They say friendship isn’t one big thing, it’s a million little things; and that’s true for a group of friends from Boston who bonded under unexpected circumstances. Some have achieved success, others are struggling in their careers and relationships, but all of them feel stuck in life. After one of them dies unexpectedly, it’s just the wake-up call the others need to finally start living. The cast includes David Giuntoli, Ron Livingston, Romany Malco, Allison Miller, Christina Moses, Christina Ochoa, James Roday and Stephanie Szostak.
-Lead-in: "Single Parents"
-Network Competition: "Criminal Minds" (CBS), "Chicago PD" (NBC)
Odds of Survival for "A Million Little Things" (based on 1-1 to 10-1): 8-1
From a counter-programming standpoint, "A Million Little Things" stands on its own, particularly opposite aging "Criminal Minds" on CBS. Naturally, it owes its existence to that saccharine monster hit on NBC, "This Is Us," and it is reminiscent of 1983 theatrical "The Big Chill." So, these same fans of both, myself included, are likely to at least sample "A Million Little Things." And I could see some discussion via social media. But curiosity is no guarantee of success, and the easier competing options are still the familiar "Chicago PD" and "Criminal Minds."
Minus the proven lead-in support, "A Million Little Things" faces an uphill battle.
Interesting footnote: CBS debuted a drama called "Hometown," which was loosely based on "The Big Chill," in the summer of 1985. It aired for only nine episodes.
"Dancing With the Stars: Juniors" (Sunday 8 p.m. ET): Debut date: Oct. 7
Premise: If you are familiar with the parent series, "Dancing With the Stars," the focus this time is on these junior professional dancers.
-Lead-in: "America’s Funniest Home Videos"
-Network Competition: "God Friended Me" (CBS), "Sunday Night Football" (NBC), "The Simpsons" and "Bob’s Burgers" (Fox), "Supergirl" (CW)
Odds of Survival for "Dancing With the Stars Juniors" (based on 1-1 to 10-1): 7-1
As a leftover from this current season, which ABC chose not to air, "Dancing With the Stars Juniors" is nothing more than just temporary time period filler during football season on NBC. Given the noticeable slippage for its parent series, now was certainly not the time to introduce a spin-off series.
"The Alec Baldwin Show" (Sunday 8 p.m. ET): Debut date: Oct. 14
Premise: Previewed last March, this one-hour show will showcase Baldwin’s in-depth conversations with different personalities
-Lead-in: "Shark Tank"
-Network Competition: "Madam Secretary" (CBS), "Sunday Night Football" (NBC)
Odds of Survival for "The Alec Baldwin Show" (based on 1-1 to 10-1): 7-1
From a comfort perspective, Alec Baldwin is perfectly suited to host his own talker. He did it once before for MSNBC in 2013, and his preview show with guests Jerry Seinfeld and Kate McKinnon was a solid fit. But, opposite "Sunday Night Football" on NBC and out of "Shark Tank" (which sprung a leak after moving to Sunday), ABC will have to wait until football-less first quarter 2019 to see if Baldwin has the goods to attract audience. But will the network be patient?
"Manifest" (Monday 10 p.m. ET): Debut date: Sept. 24
Premise: When Montego Air Flight 828 landed safely after a turbulent but routine flight, the crew and passengers were relieved. Yet in the span of those few hours, the world had aged five years and their friends, families and colleagues, after mourning their loss, had given up hope and moved on. Now, faced with the impossible, they’re all given a second chance. But as their new realities become clear, a deeper mystery unfolds and some of the returned passengers soon realize they may be meant for something greater than they ever thought possible. The cast includes Melissa Roxburgh, Josh Dallas, Athena Karkanis, J.R. Ramirez, Luna Blaise, Jack Messina and Parveen Kaur.
-Lead-in: "The Voice"
-Network Competition: "The Good Doctor" (ABC), "Bull" (CBS)
Odds of Survival for "Manifest" (based on 1-1 to 10-1): 7-1
While logic would suggest positive potential out of still potent "The Voice," "Manifest" looks like nothing more than a "C" level wannabe version of former ABC sensation "Lost." And facing two established hit dramas, "The Good Doctor" on the alphabet net, in particular, will only shorten the future of "Manifest."
"New Amsterdam" (Tuesday 10 p.m. ET): Debut date: Sept. 24
Premise: Inspired by Bellevue, the oldest public hospital in America, this medical drama follows Dr. Max Goodwin (Ryan Eggold), the institution’s newest medical director who sets out to tear up the bureaucracy and provide exceptional care. How can he help? Well, the doctors and staff have heard this before. Not taking "no" for an answer, Dr. Goodwin must disrupt the status quo and prove he will stop at nothing to breathe new life into this struggling hospital — the only one in the world capable of treating Ebola patients, prisoners from Rikers and the President of the United States under one roof — and return it to the glory that put it on the map.
-Lead-in: "This Is Us"
-Network Competition: "The Rookie" (ABC), "NCIS: New Orleans" (CBS)
Odds of Survival for "New Amsterdam" (based on 1-1 to 10-1): 8-1
Out of "This Is Us," NBC is wasting this promising hour of primetime real estate with the type of a medical drama we have seen countless times before. With viewers – females, in particular -- more likely to cozy up to Nathan Fillion in competing "The Rookie" on ABC and CBS’ established "NCIS: New Orleans," there will not leave much left for "New Amsterdam."
Interesting footnote: "New Amsterdam" was previously the title for a short-lived drama on Fox in 2008 with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as an immortal Dutch man born in 1607 who is employed as a homicide detective in present day. Despite his immorality, the series lasted only eight episodes.
"I Feel Bad" (Thursday 9:30 p.m. ET): Debut date: Oct. 4
Premise: Emet (Sarayu Blue) is the perfect mom, boss, wife, friend and daughter. Okay, she’s not perfect. In fact, she’s just figuring it out like the rest of us. Sure, she feels bad when she has a sexy dream about someone other than her husband, or when she pretends not to know her kids when they misbehave in public, or when she uses her staff to help solve personal problems. But that’s OK, right? Nobody can have it all and do it perfectly. From executive producer Amy Poehler comes a modern comedy about being perfectly okay with being imperfect.
-Lead-in: "Will & Grace"
-Network Competition: "Station 19" (ABC), "Murphy Brown" (CBS), Thursday Night Football (Fox), "Legacies" (CW)
Odds of Survival for "I Feel Bad" (based on 1-1 to 10-1): 9-1
As always, NBC’s largest obstacle is building a comedy brand on a scripted schedule riddled with generic Dick Wolf crime and action dramas. While the return of "Will & Grace" last fall showed early promise, the traditional ratings quickly dwindled and NBC is left without a spot to protect any new sitcom. While the network loves Amy Poehler, her long running "Parks and Recreation" never had much of an audience on Thursday. Nor perhaps will Poehler’s "I Feel Bad," which will not benefit opposite the return of "Murphy Brown" on CBS. Viewers often seek the familiar, and "I Feel Bad" will live up to its title when the first set of ratings arrives.