Report card: The early TV season

Five positive and five negative takeaways from the shows making noise in this quarter.

With approximately one month into this current 2018-19 TV season, the assumption might be there is still plenty of time for the broadcast networks to fix what is already broken.

But in today’s world of "Peak TV," housed in this "when you want where you want" content viewing mentality, there are really no second chances. What you see now is the reality of the broadcast networks this fall. And the early results, as expected, are mixed.

Here are the key observations (beginning with the positive and ending with the negative):

Positive

1. Overall consistency
By the Nielsen numbers, the immediate positive news for the five networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and The CW -- is stability. The nets, in total, have averaged 29.33 million viewers (through October 14), which is minor one percent rise from the comparable year-ago period. In coveted adults 18-49, a 6.6 rating is just seven percent below one year earlier.

In this environment, where there is more content on more platforms than ever before, consider this a sigh of relief. But not every network -- ABC and CBS, in particular -- is jumping for joy. And, of course, there is much more to the benchmark of success, or lack of, than just the Nielsen ratings.

2. Fox’s acquisition of "last man standing"
Fox, now home to Thursday night football, is certainly well above year-ago levels (versus slippage for CBS, which without football on Thursday at present is certainly not as robust).

But also worth crowing on the network is the arrival of ABC’s prematurely canceled, "Last Man Standing," which into newbie chuckler "The Cool Kids" is the standout on Friday. Both sitcoms are a step in the direction of Fox becoming more mass appeal in nature. And "The Cool Kids" is like a male version of "The Golden Girls" (with Vicki Lawrence as a bonus). Note to the Emmy voters: keep as eye on that ball of comical fire, Leslie Jordan.

3. A solid chicago-set Wednesday for NBC
Perhaps the smartest programming move of the season on any network is NBC’s Chicago-set Wednesday night arena. All three Dick Wolf produced dramas -- "Chicago Fire," "Chicago Med" and "Chicago PD" -- fit like a glove. Each of the three is resonating. And, as a result, NBC is now the most-watched network on the evening.

4. Lead-in matters
The next time some so-called TV insider suggests that where a program airs does not matter on a broadcast network anymore, remind that person of the early sampling for new NBC dramas "Manifest" and "New Amsterdam" out of "The Voice" and "This Is Us," respectively, and "FBI" out of "NCIS" on CBS. It does not hurt to air out of a hit series for at least the initial sampling.

5. Roseanne who?
It has only been one week of ABC’s "The Conners," and we all knew the masses would be tuning in for a glimpse of the Conner clan minus its former matriarch Roseanne. But, with a focus on John Goodman as now widowed Dan Conner, viewers may still want a weekly glimpse of these beloved characters. Let’s hope, though, that the lion’s share of attention does not shift to Sara Gilbert as Darlene, who is better served in a supporting capacity.


Negative

1. Too much of a diluted thing
Given the former huge success of "Dancing With the Stars" on ABC, you might have assumed spin-off "Dancing With the Stars Juniors" would have come sooner. But, as a leftover from last season, the results on Sunday are dismal. The mothership on Monday continues to deteriorate. And, the next time some programming executive decides to introduce a non-adult competition, remind them of "American Juniors" on Fox in the summer of 2003. Competitors of a certain age, kids to be exact, just cannot get adequately critiqued.

2. Enough with the reboots
While aforementioned "Last Man Standing" looks like a keeper on its new home, Fox, viewers don’t necessarily seem to care all that much about the return of sitcom "Murphy Brown" on CBS Thursday. And Jay Hernandez in place of Tom Selleck on the new "Magnum, P.I." is one of the big missteps on any broadcast network this fall. Even NBC’s "Will & Grace," which got off to a rousing return last fall, has lost its oomph. Methinks it is time to focus on more original concepts.

3. Name definitely matters
It is bad enough that NBC sitcom "I Feel Bad" is yet another comedic tale (minus the laughs) about a frazzled working mother complete with a clueless husband, meddling parents and precocious kids, who don’t necessarily say the darndest things. But when you name a series like "I Feel Bad," it is sooo easy to quip how badly you feel after watching this dribble.

4. It may not be too late
Remember when you watched guilty reality TV pleasure "Shark Tank" at the end of the workweek on ABC? Since moving to Sunday last season, the audience has fled in droves, and what already seemed dismal is now flat out catastrophic out of "Dancing With the Stars Juniors" and into unnecessary primetime talker "The Alec Baldwin Show." Given the collapse of relocated alphabet net sitcoms "Fresh Off the Boat" and "Speechless" on Friday, "Shark Tank" should be moved back to where it belongs.

5. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…or is it?
Given the continued massive success of NBC tear-jerker "This Is Us," it is no surprise that a network like ABC would introduce obvious clone "A Million Little Things." But like every massive hit series that has spawned a rash of competitors, it is never as good the second time around. I think I will stick with the Pearson clan on "This Is Us" (and so do you it seems).

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