In a television climate of constant remodeling, reshaping, and reinvention, the viewer has more control than ever before. Once upon a time, the folks at home kept a show alive by “voting” for it with their eyeballs and their Nielsen diaries; today, Amazon Studios makes that voting process literal with each batch of its pilots. And thanks to other digital technologies, the tyranny of the network grid has been lifted, allowing Joe and Jane Remotecontrol to program their own lineups of freshly DVR’ed titles and binge-watched streaming repeats.
This newfound power of choice has imbued The A.V. Club with an undue sense of authority, such that we’ve decided to plant ourselves in the executive’s chair and call the shots for the new fall TV slate. Below, you’ll find our first impressions of upcoming network series (plus new offerings from cable and digital platforms), along with our “order” for each—essentially how many episodes we’d be willing to give the show before we erase the season pass, knock it out of the queue, or, in our wildest programming fantasies, pull the plug on the whole endeavor. It’s not that we’re rooting for some of these shows to fail, because we quite like many of the pilots we’ve seen. It’s just that, in today’s TV climate, there’s always another show eager for your vote.
Editor’s note: Any pilots referenced in these previews are works in progress, and subject to change prior to broadcast. All times listed are Eastern.
Madam Secretary (CBS, debuts September 21 at 8 p.m.)
Madam Secretary has the look and feel of a latter-day The West Wing—but instead of walking-and-talking and a barely disguised liberal agenda, the new series offers the trial by fire of a slightly folksy law professor who gets the call to become secretary of state while she’s knee-deep in horseshit, mucking out her stables. In true CBS fashion, the protagonist’s main hurdle is that she’s a mom—and a maverick outsider to Washington politics with her own brand of intelligence-led foreign policy. Can the most powerful woman in America [Insert dramatic pause.] have it all?!
What it’s selling: Téa Leoni as the competent, capable, charismatic secretary with a magical talent for knowing just what will make the leadership of Burkina Faso smile at dinner and exactly who to call when you need a quick-turnaround hostage extraction from Syria. Plus: Tim Daly as the eye-candy religion professor and husband who is definitely going to cheat on her and Keith Carradine as the former CIA director who’s now president of the United States.
What are we buying? Foreign policy is ripe with the potential for possible explosions, so the secretary of state’s job is interesting right from the start. And Leoni’s Beth McCord is a hero who’s easy to root for: She’s smart, funny, down to earth, and motivated to do the right thing. Is she perhaps a little too perfect? Yes. Does that matter? Not yet.
The order: This show needs a good 22 episodes to find itself. It probably won’t get more than 13—but it’s CBS, so really, who knows. [SS]
Mulaney (Fox, debuts October 5 at 9:30 p.m.)
John Mulaney is an up-and-coming stand-up who’s just booked the gig of a lifetime. He’s played by John Mulaney, one of today’s funniest comics and the Emmy-winning writer whose words used to break Bill Hader during the duo’s Stefon bits on Saturday Night Live. The fictionalized Mulaney is learning to balance his entrée into showbiz (courtesy of a game-show host played by Martin Short) with multi-camera hangouts at an apartment frequented by Nasim Pedrad, Seaton Smith, and Zack Pearlman. It’s all framed within excerpts from the real Mulaney’s stand-up repertoire, which means…
What it’s selling: Sort of an updated take on Seinfeld, circa Jerry and George’s attempts to sell Jerry to NBC.
What are we buying? A show that has a stronger sense of its identity than that. The previews Fox has shown to critics aren’t the most promising, but the cast is game and the show could turn into something if it taps into the absurd impulses that caused a young Mulaney to plug 21 plays of “What’s New Pussycat?” into a greasy-spoon jukebox.
The order: Fox is already on the hook for 16 Mulaneys—if the show hasn’t found itself by then, then this might not be the right vehicle for the comic. [EA]
The Affair (Showtime, debuts October 12 at 10 p.m.)
One of the fall’s biggest critical debates has been how much to reveal about this series. Starring Dominic West, Ruth Wilson, Maura Tierney, and Joshua Jackson, the drama—unsurprisingly—follows an affair between Noah (West) and Alison (Wilson) during a summer in the Hamptons (Tierney and Jackson play their respective partners). Noah is a novelist and a father of four (including Bunheads’ Julia Goldani Telles), while Allison is the waitress who serves Noah and his family upon their arrival. The show goes on to tell the story of their fling, although it does so by playing with temporality and perspective in innovative ways that are best discovered by watching the series.
What it’s selling: A story that seems familiar until it’s not. These characters could be reduced to their most basic archetypes of “struggling writer who strays from his marriage” or “waitress with a complicated past,” but the show discourages viewers from doing so. This is the story of lives—not just people—colliding, working to push past how infidelity is typically depicted on television.
What are we buying? Adjacent property in Montauk. The show’s pilot is confident and compelling, with strong performances and a point of view that promises to explore not only the act of infidelity, but also the ideologies that intersect with that infidelity and the characters involved. At no point does the central affair or the show’s approach to it feel generic, a sign that there’s a story (or two or three) to be told here.
The order: However many episodes creator Sarah Treem needs to tell this whole story. [MM]
Gotham (Fox, debuts September 22 at 8 p.m.)
The highest-profile of this fall’s comic-book adaptations features the highest-profile of the DC superheroes, marking the first live-action series set in the Batman universe since 2002’s short-lived Birds Of Prey. The Caped Crusader only appeared once on that show; he plays an only slightly larger role here, since Gotham takes place long before Batman (David Mazouz) is Batman or Catwoman (Camren Bicondova) is Catwoman. At a time when the Gotham P.D. boasts only a Detective Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie), the future commissioner is pulled into a heretofore unknown underworld of colorful baddies, some of whom may hold the answer to a homicide case involving two well-heeled philanthropists by the last name of Wayne.
What it’s selling: The classic Batman origin story, from a sideways perspective. Best-case scenario, Gotham takes the superhero-prequel skeleton of Smallville and builds a police procedural/conspiracy mystery on it. Worst-case scenario: It’s The Phantom Menace with Bruce Wayne and Crime Alley rather than Anakin Skywalker and midi-chlorians.
What are we buying? Nods to the future of this universe that could alienate Batman fans and newbies alike. (One minor character fixates on plants; another has a thing for riddles.) If it stops dropping an Easter egg every other line and focuses on telling new stories, Gotham could be TV’s answer to the Eisner- and Harvey-award-winning comic Gotham Central.
The order: Thirteen episodes, because the producers have to run out of potential Jokers after episode six. [EA]
Scorpion (CBS, debuts September 22 at 9 p.m.)
Based on the life of Walter O’Brien, the man with the fourth-highest IQ in the world, Scorpion follows the adventures of a team of geniuses who help agent Cabe Gallo (Robert Patrick) and the federal government solve problems too complex for the FBI. O’Brien is played by Elyes Gabel, and his team consists of Katharine McPhee, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Jadyn Wong, and Ari Stidham.
What it’s selling: A “fun-cedural,” according to creator and executive-producer Nick Santora, but Scorpion may have a hard time separating itself from the pack of CBS’ other “-cedurals.” However, it does have a light touch and its pilot moves like a bullet, trading off the cast’s chemistry and hacker jargon. Obviously it could devolve into another boring case-of-the-week show, but it easily could rise above the genre’s trappings.
What are we buying? The cast has solid chemistry—though McPhee hasn’t settled into her role—and it’s always good to see Patrick, who brings gravity to his performances even if the material isn’t up to snuff.
The order: If the show can keep up the heightened pace of the pilot, it could be an enjoyable way to spend an hour every Monday. Give it 13 episodes to see if it can maintain the “fun” in “fun-cedural.” [VM]
Jane The Virgin (The CW, debuts October 13 at 9 p.m.)
The characters in Jane The Virgin watch a lot of telenovelas, a hearty wink in a show that is basically a soap opera in shinier wrappings. (One that’s also an adaptation of the Venezuelan novela Juana La Virgen.) The accidental artificial insemination of 26-year-old virgin Jane (Gina Rodriguez) is the foamy center of a show around which is blanketed some familiar soapy trimmings. Between affairs, police stakeouts, a character with a dark, twisty past, and another character with a big secret sure to be revealed, Jane might not get enough screentime to explore what it’s like to be pregnant with a child she worked her whole life to avoid.
What it’s selling: A fun soap opera with the high jinks, will they/won’t theys, and swirly storylines that are expected from The CW. The refreshing Spanish-speaking core cast must look attractive to the network, too.
What are we buying? Jane The Virgin has the potential to emerge from its many messy plotlines like an Ugly Betty butterfly—if it doesn’t get bogged down in the superfluous. Given some solid writing, each storyline will be slowly unpackaged and each mini-mystery satisfyingly teased out and wrapped up. But the pilot lays so much on the table, the show could spoil quickly.
The order: Six episodes. By then the writing will have either sorted itself out into a cohesive and interesting story or the soap-opera nods will be more like heads banging against walls. [CPM]
Mike Tyson Mysteries (Adult Swim, debuts October 27 at 10:30 p.m.)
A concept so perfect for Adult Swim it could only have been divine inspiration (or the implementation of a rigorous formula), this new animated comedy finds Mike Tyson playing himself in a Scooby-Doo parody. Iron Mike is part of a groovy gang that includes the ghost of the Marquess Of Queensbury (Community’s Jim Rash) and an alcoholic Pigeon (Norm Macdonald), traveling around in a van solving mysteries and fighting monsters.
What it’s selling: Exactly what it sounds like. If the idea of watching an animated Mike Tyson pretend to be Shaggy Rogers sounds like appealing midnight viewing, well, it’s right there.
What are we buying? The series looks exactly like what it’s selling, so… longevity. It doesn’t seem like Mike Tyson Mysteries will lean on jokes about Mike Tyson, which just might be its key to sticking around.
The order: Five episodes. As great as it sounds for a few quick laughs, there’s no way this joke can sustain a full season of television. Right? [ET]
State Of Affairs (NBC, debuts November 17 at 10 p.m.)
Put Scandal, The Blacklist, and Homeland in a blender and you’ll come up with Katherine Heigl’s not-that-eagerly awaited return to TV. In the blandly titled State Of Affairs, Heigl plays a CIA analyst who compiles the list of gravest threats against the nation for the president’s daily briefing. It’s a show pitching Heigl as a plucky heroine who must be the most glamorous CIA employee ever: showing up for work at 2 a.m. sporting jeans, stilettos, and a bouncy ponytail, then switching into a fancier ensemble complete with “punk chic” leather jacket for her regular meeting with President Alfre Woodard.
What it’s selling: Um, Katherine Heigl’s not-that-eagerly awaited return to TV? State Of Affairs, helmed by The Blacklist’s Joe Carnahan, offers a weird blend of two of this this TV season’s major tropes: Heigl’s character Charleston Tucker is yet another in a string of strong political women (not to be confused with Téa Leoni’s Madam Secretary); she claims to be a “total slob in my personal life, total sniper in my professional one” (not to be confused with Kate Walsh’s Bad Judge). The sequence that introduces a new briefer to the team tries just as hard: They’re edgy! They make fun of newcomers, and pedestrian research tools like Wikipedia and Google! They groove to rock music while evaluating important terrorist threats against the nation!
What are we buying? Not much, unless you really want to see Heigl climbing onto a turnip truck in her heels to escape the CIA when she’s suspended after making a ridiculous priority decision. As Madam President, Woodard is awesome as usual, but we’ve seen these secondary characters before, most recently in the offices of Olivia Pope & Associates: There’s an Abby, a male version of Quinn, and James Remar as an older, less crazy Huck. State Of Affairs’ agency scenes aim for the compelling frantic energy of The Blacklist, with a gaping hole at the center where a charismatic someone like James Spader should be.
The order: Even the initial six-episode order appears optimistic. [GI]
Utopia (Fox, debuted September 7; new episodes Tuesdays and Fridays at 8 p.m.)
Survivor meets governor in Fox’s newest reality experiment, created by The Voice’s John De Mol and based on a popular Dutch format. Fifteen men and women are dropped into an isolated location with next to no resources and given the task of creating their own society, with the process monitored and streamed 24/7 by an endless array of hidden cameras. In between building shelters and drafting constitutions, the Utopians also engage in the reality-show traditions of power plays, petty squabbling, and ill-advised hookups.
What it’s selling: Kid Nation for adults with a Big Brother-level of access to the players—the latter of which Fox is literally selling to viewers, in the form of a $5 per month premium-screening option. It’s an entirely open-ended show with no cash prize, making it less about competition and more about legitimate curiosity regarding what these random individuals put together. The twist that contestants will leave and be replaced on a regular basis means the show can evolve constantly, suggesting a best-case scenario in which Utopia could be a perpetual-motion machine of reality television.
What are we buying? A show that has this much time and money invested in it promises to be either a fascinating experience or a spectacular failure, and either one should be fun to watch. Plus, after the repetitive drag of The X Factor and the excruciating failure of I Wanna Marry Harry, it’s encouraging to see Fox showing more high-concept thinking in its reality development.
The order: Full season. Fox’s promos have already promised 52 weeks of content, and the network is hungry for a new reality hit. [LC]
NCIS: New Orleans (CBS, debuts September 23 at 9 p.m.)
The world of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service expands from D.C. (the OG version) and L.A. (the spin-off featuring Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J) to New Orleans, where the living might be easy but the crimes perpetrated against military personnel are unusual and often gruesome. Taking on the role of team leader/father figure is Scott Bakula, who plays Dwayne Cassius Pride, otherwise known as King. He’s joined in the ragtag ranks by a small-town-cop-turned-agent (Lucas Black), another agent running away from her past (Zoe McLellan), and a brilliant, globetrotting medical examiner (CCH Pounder) who fell in love with les bon temps and never left.
What it’s selling: New Orleans fits the classic NCIS formula: A body is found that somehow relates to the Navy or the Marine Corps, the team of colorful characters investigates the crime in their own unique way, the evildoer is caught in the end. But it’s set in New Orleans, a fact the show constantly reiterates with its famed locales (Cafe Du Monde and beignets set an early scene in the backdoor pilot), near-constant music, and Bakula’s ridiculous Southern accent.
What are we buying? Bakula is an inherently charming performer who has come into his own in middle age. Here, he combines two of the best aspects of his most recent characters—the laid back charm of Men Of A Certain Age’s Terry and the quiet strength and assurance of Looking’s Lynn—into one man, all while turning the campy flamboyance up a notch. And even though CCH Pounder isn’t given much to do at the onset, knowing she’s a secret weapon in the show’s arsenal makes for intriguing things to come.
The order: Thirteen episodes, meaning the audience will get approximately 130,000 reminders that the show is set in New Orleans. [ME]
Manhattan Love Story (ABC, debuts September 30 at 8:30 pm)
At its core, this comedy is exactly what it sounds like, following Dana (Analeigh Tipton) and Peter (Jake McDorman) as they embark on a new relationship in—believe it or not—Manhattan. Dana and Peter are exactly who you’d expect them to be: She’s a fish out of water with ambitious personal and professional goals, while he’s a self-centered young man who has to confront his preconceptions about women. It may sound stale, but creator Jeff Lowell goes where no comedy has gone before, telling his story with inner monologues of both lead characters to explore what men and women really think about relationships.
What it’s selling: The same half-hour rom-com everyone else seems to be selling these days, with an added dose of women’s/men’s magazine clickbait promising to explore the true essence of what it means to be a man or woman in contemporary relationships.
What are we buying? Not a word of it. From the moment Peter’s inner monologue (judging whether he’d have sex with random women he passes on the street) is paralleled with Dana’s (judging whether she would buy the women’s purses), Manhattan Love Story trivializes both men and women with a crude and humorless investigation of gender. Tipton and McDorman try, but there are no actors who could save this premise from devolving into an ugly, unpleasant, and near-unwatchable misfire.
The order: Two episodes, because we have to make sure Lowell isn’t sitting on a bombshell about either gender that only this show can uncover. You never know! [MM]
Selfie (ABC, debuts September 30 at 8 p.m. Pilot currently streaming.)
From Suburgatory creator Emily Kapnek comes My Fair Lady re-told through the filters of social media. Eliza Dooley (Karen Gillan) is a self-obsessed Internet “star” who hires marketing strategist Henry (John Cho) to redesign her image when an embarrassing video goes viral. For 20 minutes, Henry mansplains how to be a functional human to Eliza and it’s as insufferable as it sounds. Eliza comes across as Jess Day in the early stretch of New Girl’s first season; the similarities are amplified by the fact that it seems as if the Scottish Gillan studied Zooey Deschanel’s drawling inflections when honing her American accent. She’s dysfunctional to the point that she’s not even believable, a bumbling caricature who seems like she was dropped in from a different planet.
What it’s selling: A massive dose of social-media buzzwords and jargon. The sitcom wants to be a critique and exploration of selfie culture—and the vapidity it breeds. However, it comes off more as a scathing and heavy-handed mess that at times teeters into slut-shaming territory.
What are we buying? To their credit, Cho and Gillan manage to sell what few jokes the script lends them. And it’s quite possible that the infantilized Eliza we meet in the pilot will become more nuanced and less offensive moving forward. New Girl, after all, eventually transformed Jess from an idiot into a much more believable, complex character. (And Kapnek similarly crafted several intricate and fun female characters on her previous series, Suburgatory.) Eliza, however, just seems like a punchline, and a lazy one at that.
The order: Three episodes, because if Eliza doesn’t becoming more interesting and Henry doesn’t become less patronizing soon, watching this is just going to be unbearable. [KKU]
Happyland (MTV, debuts September 30 at 11 p.m.)
It’s not the happiest place on Earth, but it’s close: The fictional Happyland theme park is an intriguing setting for a dramedy about the people who call a fantastical vacation destination “home.” It’s also a spot that lends itself naturally to contemporary riffs on fairy-tale staples, be they the Cinderella-like ascent of a Happyland serf turned park royalty or a waggish new hire who turns out to be Prince Charming—and may be closer to protagonist Bianca A. Santos than their initial love connection lets on.
What it’s selling: A big, dumb twist at the end of the pilot that won’t be discussed here (but has dominated conversation about Happyland since MTV presented the show to the television press in July).
What are we buying? Unfortunately, that melodramatic reveal disrupts what’s otherwise a low-impact introduction to a colorful setting that’s ripe for exploration on a weekly basis. Without the twist, Happyland would be the most fun TV has had at the amusement park since the glory days of Disneyland.
The order: Seven episodes, one for each dwarf. (Dopey gets the pilot.) [EA]
The Flash (The CW, debuts October 7 at 8 p.m.)
Looking to expand its DC universe, The CW has added Arrow companion series The Flash to its fall lineup. Beginning with the mysterious origins of Barry Allen’s alter ego (both sides of the character played by Grant Gustin), the pilot effectively establishes its elaborate world, but also spends time developing a diverse cast of compelling characters. The pilot manages to be both smart and downright fun, never getting too lost in exposition or stylization, focusing instead on the characters who populate Central City.
What it’s selling: A charming and occasionally campy comic-book adaptation that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Whereas Fox’s Gotham drags with heavy drama, The Flash is more self-aware, full of jokes and infectious characters.
What are we buying? Though remarkably different in tone from Arrow, the expansion of this TV universe makes room for complex serialized stories. (And maybe crossover appearances from the residents of Starling City?)
The order: Twelve episodes and possibly more if the show manages to strike a healthy balance between episodic fun and a cogent, serialized mystery. [KKU]
Marry Me (NBC, premieres October 14 at 9 p.m.)
After a long courtship, Annie (Casey Wilson) and Jake (Ken Marino) are ready to take the next step—only neither of them can seem to get the other to take that step at the same time. A matrimonial starting point led to maximum laughs (if lackluster ratings) for Happy Endings, which shares a creator (David Caspe) and a co-star (Wilson) with Marry Me. (Caspe and Wilson, meanwhile, share an IRL marriage.) Unlike Happy Endings, however, Marry Me starts before, rather than after, a wedding, so the premise of this one is likelier to stick around as the kooky friends (Sarah Wright, Tymberlee Hill, John Gemberling) and meddling parents (Tim Meadows, JoBeth Williams, Dan Bucatinsky) fill in around the central couple.
What it’s selling: Love, 21st-century style, with all the trimmings: bleeped cursing, advice from your two dads, and in-pilot flashbacks that would seriously mess with the pacing if the jokes weren’t flying so fast.
What are we buying? The chemistry between Wilson and Marino, one of those all-too-rare sitcom pairings that actually seems to like each other—even when they’re judging each other over the political donations of a taqueria chain.
The order: At the risk of drawing further Happy Endings parallels, 13 episodes for the series to nail its comic POV, with a back-nine honeymoon (provided Wright, Hill, and Gemberling can carry their own storylines). [EA]
Red Band Society (Fox, debuts September 17 at 9 p.m.)
Kids bonding in a cancer ward is hardly upbeat television, but Fox is riffing off the success of The Fault In Our Stars to tell another heartfelt story about young people going through something horrible and life-altering. The result is a television show based upon an odd hospital where a lot of kids who have some kind of terrible disease all live at the hospital. Their hospital rooms have been occupied for so long they’ve become dorm rooms, with posters and stereos and the like. The kids take classes together. They sneak off and smoke pot in freight elevators. And along the way they learn important life lessons about love, friendship, and family, mostly in montages scored by Coldplay’s “Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall.”
What it’s selling: Treacly Chicken Soup For The Soul stuff coupled with teen romance and hospital drama. It’s sort of brilliant, at least on paper. Add Octavia Spencer as the ward nurse and a voiceover narrator who is literally in a coma, though, and things begin to feel a little messy.
What are we buying? The kids are winning mostly because they’re so sarcastic and biting—look, they seem to say, you try being nice if you’re dying slowly of some stupid disease. And Spencer has a great screen presence. The rest gets a big “meh.”
The order: Thirteen episodes, but only if someone gets pregnant. [SS]
Forever (ABC, special preview September 22 at 10 p.m.; timeslot debut September 23 at 10 p.m. Pilot currently streaming.)
Here’s another crime procedural set in New York City with a twist: The main character, a medical examiner, has a dark and terrible secret. Oh wait, you mean you wanted the real twist? Right. Not only is Henry Morgan (Ioan Gruffudd) weirdly Sherlock Holmes-ian—he can guess a person’s profession by looking at their fingertips—he also never dies. Every time something happens to him that should kill him, he wakes up in the nearest body of water. That means a lot of swimming in the East River. (Good thing he’s immune to death already.)
What it’s selling: ABC sure hopes that viewers find Gruffudd charming, because the whole idea of the show lives and dies around him. Henry’s voiceover narration and unique quirks make up the sum total of what makes this show different from anything else. And he’s basically perfect: Henry Morgan frees the slaves! He saves Jewish children rescued from the Holocaust! He kills himself all the time to help people! If you’re not charmed by his every move—like when scrapes foam off of a corpse’s lungs— then this show has very little for you.
What are we buying? Weirdly, Gruffudd makes it work, most of the time. He’s a born charmer, and Forever has already demonstrated some interest in making the show’s supernatural elements less of a cute gimmick and more of a curse or a burden. The supporting cast seem reasonably charmed by Gruffudd, too.
The order: Eh, give it 22. It barely needs any fuel at all to keep running. [SS]
The Mysteries Of Laura (NBC, debuts September 24 at 8 p.m.)
Debra Messing hasn’t managed to star in a hit show or film since she left Will & Grace, but that hasn’t stopped her from trying. Her latest attempt is a dramedy on NBC, another new fall series that finds a female protagonist attempting to balance a work life and a life life. The Mysteries Of Laura complicates things by throwing in a cute, estranged husband who cheats on Laura, but who still wants to be married to her.
What it’s selling: Messing’s Laura is funny in a relatable and mostly charming way—she’s not a slapstick failure, she’s just scraping by with one jerry-rigged fix after another. As a result she’s less funny and more morally ambiguous. Case in point: She attempts to get her kids to sit still through an elementary-school admissions meeting by drugging them with cough syrup. It works until one of them vomits up the bad-tasting stuff. Funny, or… messed-up? This show makes it hard to say.
What are we buying? Not a lot. The case-of-the-week stuff isn’t great—low-stakes and surface-level—but at least we get to see Laura succeed at it. The comedy is just “Mom!” with a little cop humor tossed in. What’s most confusing is Laura’s relationship with her soon to be ex-husband, played by Josh Lucas. It seems like the show wants them to have romantic chemistry, but he’s a well-heeled cad who seems to be selling manipulation as romance. Whatever the show is trying to do with them, in the pilot, it’s not working.
The order: Four episodes, just so we can see when Laura punches her ex in the face. [SS]
Black-ish (ABC, debuts September 24 at 9:30 p.m.)
Despite previously starring in two short-lived, family-themed sitcoms—2003’s All About The Andersons and 2012’s Guys With Kids—Anthony Anderson takes another shot at the genre, this time trying his hand at a single-camera comedy. Andre “Dre” Johnson (Anderson) and his wife Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross) are living well in the suburbs, but Dre is concerned that his success is causing his quartet of kids to lose their cultural identity. Whether Dre’s right or wrong, his Pops (Laurence Fishburne) rarely misses a chance to question how his grandchildren are being brought up.
What it’s selling: A single-camera version of The Cosby Show and the idea that a so-called “black sitcom” doesn’t require its every comedic beat to be punctuated by raucous laughter.
What are we buying? A sitcom with a lot of potential in premise that fits perfectly into ABC’s Wednesday night lineup without being too quirky. It’s also an opportunity for know-it-alls to say, “What do you mean you’re surprised that Laurence Fishburne can do comedy? I’ve got two words for you: Cowboy Curtis.”
The order: Thirteen episodes, so ABC can see if it’s going to be successful-ish before committing to a full season. [WH]
Stalker (CBS, debuts October 1 at 10 p.m.)
If you like stalkers, you’ll love CBS’ new thriller procedural. Stalker brings Kevin Williamson (writer of Scream, creator of The Following) to tell the story of two detectives assigned to the arm of the LAPD that focuses on stalking cases. Maggie Q and Dylan McDermott play partnered detectives Beth and Jack, both of whom have stalking histories of their own. Fans of Williamson will notice the same terrifying violence, masked murderers, and creepy phone calls that have defined much of his work.
What it’s selling: Williamson told the audience at the Television Critics Association summer press tour that his goal was both to bring awareness to stalking issues, especially cyberstalking, as well as to “entertain” the viewer. The first scene is a woman being lit on fire and burned alive in her car.
What are we buying? Very little. In addition to a lot of unsettling storytelling featuring violence against women that is largely gratuitous, the lead characters have a weird dynamic that is probably supposed to be a little sexy but instead boils down to being a little creepy. For example: Jack tells Beth that he can’t figure out why she doesn’t like him, then observes he did stare at her breasts when they first met. He asks why she would wear a silk blouse and red lipstick if she didn’t want men to look at her. She then apologizes for misjudging him.
The order: Abort mission. Cancel immediately. [SS]
Kingdom (DirecTV Audience, debuts October 8 at 9 p.m.)
Set in the scrappy world of B-level mixed-martial arts, Kingdom is a soapy drama about a guy who trains fighters (Frank Grillo, a bit player in some pretty good stuff) and the world surrounding him. That includes a washed-up pro who just got out of jail, a no-good son, and of course a hopeful contender—played by a buffed-up Nick Jonas!—who could take everything to the next level.
What it’s selling: A family drama in the world of MMA, which is a very popular world indeed. If half the people who’ve purchased Tap Out T-shirts in America watch this show, it could be No. 1 in the ratings.
What are we buying? A surprisingly solid cast that builds a world quickly, a presumably weekly MMA bout, and a whole lot of soap. It looks a bit like Sons Of Anarchy already, though without as much of that outlaw element. It may need to add more of that (sadly) to keep up the plot.
The order: Audience Network—which is responsible for the last couple of seasons of Damages and the non-end of Friday Night Lights—has ordered 10 episodes, and it’s tough to imagine wanting to watch too many more than that, unless the show gets really weird. [JM]
Tomorrow: A cop who’s also miraculously a mom, details on getting away with killing someone, and all the streaming stuff that doesn’t have an official premiere date.