With each new television season, there is a great deal at stake. Expectations for new shows are high across the board (even at The CW, where execs are surely hoping something pops this fall), and they'll surely get the most attention. But it’s not just new shows or networks amid an overhaul that are under pressure to make good on promises made at Upfronts or in the press—veteran shows and even individual performers can be in those situations as well. Basically, everyone has something to prove, even if they are facing different stages of expectations—and we in the media like to translate those challenges into compact narratives and then repeat them over and over.
With that in mind, let’s explore some of the narratives you’ll probably read or hear about quite often this fall and predict what shows, people, or networks will be attached to them.
These three shows are all at different stages in their lifespans, but they all have important things to prove. Supernatural is under new management—Sera Gamble is out, Jeremy Carver is (back) in—and while the show can skate by on the charm and chemistry of its leads, the last few seasons have been messy to say the least. Carver’s a strong writer and did well running Being Human, but is there really enough of the Winchester brothers' story left to tell?
Dexter is similarly long in the tooth and has also churned out a few less-than-beloved seasons in a row. However, unlike Supernatural, the end seems actually near, which means it’s time to stop the wheel-spinning. The show has one big card to play (Deb learning the whole truth), and until that happens, the holding pattern won’t be compelling enough.
Although younger than the other two shows in this grouping, Glee is still showing signs of severe wear and tear. With the nature of the story (manic, heightened and scattered) and its creator (Ryan Murphy) in mind, I won’t be surprised if the bottom completely falls out this season. Glee has never balanced its characters well and now that they’re all over the country and a half-dozen new ones are coming in, that sort of mismanagement is only likely to intensify.
In a weird bit of chance, there are several shows with announced end dates heading into this season. Gossip Girl, The Office, Fringe, and 30 Rock are done for sure and if the cast of How I Met Your Mother has their way, HIMYM will be too. With so many long-running series shows coming to close, there will be talk of “sticking the landing” and “ending on a high note.” The good news here is that of the ones that are definitely wrapping things up, only Fringe has any big narrative threads to tie up (which the show has made more challenging by going to the future, but that’s neither here nor there). If HIMYM concludes, obviously there will be necessary “answers” and maybe you’re one of those people who desperately wants to know the identity of the Scranton Strangler, but for the most part, these shows just need to send of their characters in a satisfying way.
Nevertheless, I’m curious to see how The Office and 30 Rock (and again, maybe HIMYM) come to a close. We haven’t had a popular comedy come to a true close for a while now—not since Friends, Frasier, and Everybody Loves Raymond—and there’s definitely something different that goes into ending a show like that versus a big mythology drama.
And as long as Gossip Girl concludes with Serena miserable and alone like she deserves to be, I’m fine with whatever else happens.
Despite some big duds ('sup, Work It?!) that are now in the great TV schedule in the sky, last season brought us some really good freshman shows. Now in their second season, different questions remain for different series. For shows that received a lot of press and quality ratings last season (Once Upon a Time, Revenge, New Girl, and American Horror Story), people will be looking to see if they can keep the momentum going. Will OUaT’s premise be damaged by characters remembering their past lives, or by magic? Will Revenge be overtaken by the kind of kitchen-sink plotting that often screws up soapy dramas in their sophomore years? Will American Horror Story be able to keep the title of “Show That Is Simultaneously the Best and the Worst Thing Ever?”
Weirdly, I think AHS has the best chance to stay on track, but of course that’s made easier by its upcoming reset and it being so terrible.
Meanwhile, there are three shows (Scandal, Suburgatory, and Hart of Dixie) that weren’t as successful or as popular as that other trio that could be looking to break out. Scandal didn’t have a lot of time to get going in Season 1 but the pieces are there. Chances are good that Suburgatory takes the leap that so many comedies do in their second season. And though I don’t think the narrative or quality will change that much, I think Hart of Dixie might do better in a new timeslot in what could be an okay season for The CW.
The biggie here is obviously Community, which moves into its fourth season without original creator and showrunner Dan Harmon. Fans and critics alike are worried about the show’s ability to continue at the same level without Harmon’s very unique voice, and while I’m hopeful that the show will be fine, it’s hard not to have some concern.
For Boardwalk Empire and The Walking Dead, it’s all about the loss of major characters. A great deal of Boardwalk’s Season 2 success stemmed from the great stories centered around Michael Pitt’s Jimmy, and The Walking Dead got a lot of mileage out of Jon Bernthal’s Shane being a loose cannon. Both characters arguably made their respective show’s “true” leads much more interesting, and without them around, Boardwalk’s Nucky and Walking Dead’s Rick need to move forward—but it’s unclear whether they can.
All three of these performers have done good work elsewhere on television, but this season, they’re being asked to carry shows that their respective networks need to succeed. For Kaling and Amell, it’s about stepping into the spotlight and providing more complicated roles than they’ve handled in their past television work. For Spiro, it’s more about making the transition from comedy—where she did pretty well as the lead on My Boys—to drama.
Every season, there are supporting players who get a lot of praise for breaking out in small doses. I’ve found that it’s a little easier to do this in comedies, and both Lucy Punch and Allison Miller feel like good candidates to fill that void this season. Punch is the best part of the Ben and Kate pilot and Miller brings warmth to a character that isn’t that intriguing on the page in Go On.
I mention Giancarlo Esposito here even though he’s already turned in a near-legendary performance as an unforgettable character on Breaking Bad because his work on Revolution is really good. It’s different, and certainly broader, but it’s good. I’d love to watch a basic cable show with Esposito in the lead role.
These four individuals find themselves in hot seats of various temperatures this season. Britney (and Demi Lovato) are supposed to help The X Factor make a mark on popular culture in a way that its first season could not, which is a tough gig amid the singing competition overkill that's happening right now.
Jonny Lee Miller is tasked with carving out his own contemporary version of Sherlock Holmes even though lots of people (including Cumberbatch himself) adore Benedict Cumberbatch’s take on the character and even more people are annoyed that Elementary decided to make Watson into a woman.
On the showrunner side of things, both Ryan Murphy and Greg Daniels have big challenges ahead of them this season. Murphy now has three shows that he wants to be greatly involved in, a choice that is almost guaranteed to end in disaster. I guess the good news is that all three of those shows (Glee, American Horror Story, and The New Normal) are each disasters already. Daniels is tasked with bringing this generation’s most popular comedy to an end, even though it should have already ended two years ago and The Office has spent two or three seasons ruining any goodwill or affection we had for most of the characters. Tough gig.
Applies to: Fox, ABC
Slightly different cases here, but they both fit under this headline.
Fox will be fine. The network has American Idol to combat any of the fall’s missteps (even though it’s declining in ratings), and it should take care of business on Tuesdays with that great comedy block. But on the drama side, Fox doesn’t have much room for error. What happens in the (very likely) possibility that The Mob Doctor falls on its face? What replaces it on the schedule? Fox doesn’t really have anything. Plus, the early ratings for The X Factor haven’t been positive, despite the big new judges (and, at least in the first few hours, a better show).
Despite the strength of Modern Family, Grey’s Anatomy and Once Upon a Time, ABC finished in fourth place in the ratings last season. NBC won’t have the Super Bowl in 2013, so ABC is guaranteed to slide back up to third, but its schedule is filled with shows that are only sort of popular: Revenge, Castle, Happy Endings, The Middle, etc. Dancing with the Stars is getting old and Grey’s can’t last forever. ABC needs a nice hit, especially on the drama side. If the network doesn't get that, the ratings issue might be more pronounced.
Applies to: NBC
This one isn’t hard to figure out. I’d love to stop picking on NBC and I’d especially love if the network turned itself around. But based on what I’ve seen from the Peacock thus far this fall, it doesn’t appear that many improvements are going to be made. None of their new fall shows are particularly great (though none of them are out-and-out awful, either), and the early ratings for The Voice suggest what we all already knew: People are kind of burned out on the singing competition thing.
Though I expect many of NBC’s shows to stick around for a while—probably longer than they should—I also expect that none of them will be hits. It wouldn’t surprise me if of the fall new shows, only Go On returned next season.
What stories do you expect to dominate this season, and which ones do you think might surprise us?