Overall, the five broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and The CW — will be introducing a roster of 17 new primetime television series this fall. The 2019-20 television season officially begins on Monday, September 23, and the breakdown by new series is nine scripted dramas, seven scripted sitcoms, and the non-scripted reboot of Kids Say the Darndest Things, hosted by Tiffany Haddish, on ABC.
There will be an additional 20 new series rolled out later in the season -— 12 dramas, seven sitcoms and one realty/competition. That brings the grand total to about 37 new series.
The inherent trends: more revivals, more spin-offs, and a continued emphasis on the hour-long drama format.
While these networks, of course, want you to believe everything new will be a success, attracting an audience in this era of “Peak TV” (where over 500 scripted series vie for eyeballs across all outlets) is more challenging than ever. Most seasons, three out of five new broadcast series do not make it into a second season. And, unfortunately, I do not see this upcoming season as an exception.
To guide you through the clutter, let me give you a synopsis of new series (by network and in order of debut date) of just what to expect and what has the best chance to succeed.
4 New Series (2 dramas, 1 comedy and 1 non-scripted)
Tuesday 9 p.m. ET – debuts September 24
In this prequel spin-off from Black-ish, Rainbow Johnson (Arica Himmel) recounts her experience growing up in a mixed-race family in the 1980s and the constant dilemmas they had to face over whether to assimilate or stay true to themselves.
What to Expect: While the pedigree of Mixed-ish from Black-ish creator Kenya Barris suggests a quality product, Black-ish has never been a success by the traditional Nielsen ratings. And the lack of tenure for sophomore lead-in Bless This Mess could be detrimental. But it you do like Black-ish (which immediately follows at 9:30 p.m.), and competing FBI on CBS and This Is Us on NBC are not in your viewing wheelhouse, why not give Mixed-ish a try?
Like its parent series, even a potential diluted delivery will likely warrant a full season pick-up (and, ultimately, a long series run) for Mixed-ish.
Tuesday 10 p.m. ET – debuts September 24
Described as a character-driven genre thriller, Emergence tells the tale of a police chief (Allison Tolman) who takes in a young child (Alexa Skye Swinton) she finds near the site of a mysterious accident. The girl has no memory of what has happened. The investigation draws her into a conspiracy larger than she ever imagined, and the child’s identity is at the center of it all.
What to Expect: Opposite NCIS: New Orleans on CBS and sophomore medical drama New Amsterdam on ABC, Emergence offers something entirely different. But given the failure of Nathan Fillion to gain much traction on the alphabet net with crime solver The Rookie in this time period this past season, something unproven opposite two established dramas makes Emergence a potential long shot. Chances of survival for Emergence are 50/50 at best.
Season two of The Rookie, meanwhile, moves to Sundays at 10 p.m. out of Shark Tank.
Wednesday 10 p.m. ET – debuts September 25
Based on the graphic novel series, Stumptown follows Cobie Smulders as Dex Parios, a strong, assertive and sharp-witted Army veteran with a complicated love life, gambling debts and a brother to take care of in Portland. Her military intelligence skills make her a solid private investigator, but her unapologetic style puts her in the firing line of hardcore criminals and not quite in alliance with the police.
What to Expect: Scheduled against Chicago PD on NBC and S.W.A.T. on CBS, not even a kick-ass Cobie Smulders on Stumptown sounds all that different. While ABC’s promotion of this new crime solver has been aggressive all summer, lead-in sitcom Single Parents should not be returning, and that could inhibit the audience base for Stumptown. Lead-in still matters, and this viewer is not necessarily finding Ms. Smulders all that believable in this capacity.
Kids Say the Darndest Things
Sunday 8 p.m. ET – debuts October 6
What to Expect: Out of veteran America’s Funniest Home Videos (which will probably outlive us all at this point) and into Shark Tank (which on Sunday has a limited audience), consider this new version of Kids Say the Darndest Things nothing more than time period filler. But if football on NBC is not your forte, this mindless hour offers a modest — and painless — alternative.
5 New Series (3 comedies, 2 dramas)
Bob Hearts Abishola
Monday 8:30 p.m. ET – debuts September 23
In this comical love story from Chuck Lorre, a middle-aged compression sock businessman from Detroit (Billy Gardell) unexpectedly falls for Folake Olowofoyeku as his cardiac nurse, a Nigerian immigrant, while recovering from a heart attack. Undaunted by Abishola’s lack of initial interest or the vast differences in their backgrounds, Bob’s goal is to win her heart.
What to Expect: While Chuck Lorre can seem to do no wrong on CBS (think The Big Bang Theory, Young Sheldon, Mom, Mike & Molly and Two and a Half Men), I can still personally see Billy Gardell with Melissa McCarthy on Mike & Molly. Are these two characters compatible? Given the importance of providing lead-in support to new legal drama All Rise, CBS may have chosen the wrong new comedy for Monday.
Monday 9 p.m. ET – debuts on September 23
This new courthouse drama follows the chaotic, hopeful and sometimes absurd lives of its judges, prosecutors and public defenders, as they work with bailiffs, clerks and cops to get justice for the people of Los Angeles amidst a flawed legal process.
Among them is newly appointed Judge Lola Carmichael (Simone Missick), who doesn’t intend to sit back on the bench in her new role, but instead leans in, immediately pushing the boundaries and challenging the expectations of what a judge can be. Marg Helgenberger (CSI) co-stars.
What to Expect: Considering the target audience will probably still be watching competing Dancing With the Stars on ABC and/or The Voice on NBC, All Rise could be the first new series cancellation of the season. Do you, after all, really want to watch a serious law drama after two comedies on CBS? And do you have any recollection of a legal drama resonating in the Monday 9 p.m. hour on CBS? I don’t.
Thursday 8:30 p.m. ET – debuts September 26
A recent widower (Walton Goggins) eager to move on from the most difficult year of his life realizes he is unprepared to raise his two daughters on his own and equally unprepared for the dating world — where, to his shock, he is suddenly a hot commodity.
What to Expect: While CBS faces its first fall schedule minus The Big Bang Theory in 12 years, prequel spinoff Young Sheldon is an adequate replacement to anchor Thursday. And the protected time period coupled with a lively — and funny — pilot definitely gives The Unicorn an advantage over new competing NBC sitcom Perfect Harmony.
The Unicorn has the best chance to succeed of the three new CBS comedies.
Carol’s Second Act
Thursday 9:30 p.m. ET – debuts September 26
After raising her children, getting divorced and retiring from teaching, Carol (Patricia Heaton) at age 50 decides to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. According to the press release, “It’s her enthusiasm, perspective and even her age that may be exactly what will make her a great success.”
What to Expect: The obstacle to this show’s success may be the premise. Based on the absence of any real laughs in the pilot, the generic Carol’s Second Act may not be much of an improvement of the reboot of Murphy Brown in this time period last fall.
Thursday 10 p.m. ET – debuts September 26
Dealing with the complicated, non-binary nature of evil and how social media has changed its definition, a skeptical female clinical psychologist (Katja Herberts) joins a priest-in-training (Mike Colter) as they investigate supposed miracles, demonic possessions, and other extraordinary occurrences.
What to Expect: Since I am the first to commend any project that dares to be different, CBS deserves early accolades for this unusual concept. Given the modest competition — the final season of How to Get Away With Murder on ABC and granddaddy Law & Order: SVU on NBC — I can see Evil being sampled. And my crystal ball tells me much of the audience will be back for more. After all, are any of you really watching Law & Order: SVU these days?
3 New Series (2 comedies, 1 drama)
Bluff City Law
Monday 10 p.m. ET – debuts September 23
The focus is on a group of lawyers at an elite Memphis law firm that specializes in the most controversial landmark civil rights cases. Leading the pack is Jimmy Smits as legendary lawyer Elijah Strait and Caitlin McGee as his brilliant daughter Sydney.
What to Expect: Given the lead-in support, there is always a possibility that Bluff City Law will attract a respectable audience (particularly with Jimmy Smits present). But facing The Good Doctor on ABC and Bull on CBS is no easy task. Think NBC’s recent time period entry The Enemy Within, which came and quickly went. And a new law drama on CBS (All Rise) in the Monday 9 p.m. hour may not necessarily bode all that well for Bluff City Law.
Thursday 8:30 p.m. ET – debuts September 26
Former Princeton music professor Arthur Cochran (Bradley Whitford) unexpectedly stumbles into choir practice at a small-town church, where he finds a group of singers that are out of tune in more ways than one. Despite the ultimate clash of sensibilities, Arthur and his newfound cohorts may just be the perfect mix of individuals to help each other reinvent and rediscover a little happiness, just when they all need it most.
What to Expect: Due to the inability of lead-in Superstore to reach a mass audience (which is a shame given just how good that comedy is), there is no reason to expect much interest in Perfect Harmony. While you can’t blame NBC for promoting Perfect Harmony, I just don’t see that scene with newly minted Emmy Award winner Bradley Whitford barfing the way to attract an audience. My advice: stay away.
Thursday 9:30 p.m. ET – debuts September 26
Named after the diverse neighborhood in Queens, New York, Sunnyside centers on former New York City Councilman Garrett Shah (Kal Penn), who finds his calling when faced with seven recent immigrants in need of his help and in search of the American Dream.
What to Expect: With limited lead-in support from the final season of The Good Place, keep the expectations low. Of course, if competing (and unproven) Carol’s Second Act on CBS drops the ball, NBC could certainly benefit. And my instincts tell me NBC will be more patient with Sunnyside than Perfect Harmony.
3 New Series (2 dramas, 1 animated comedy)
Monday 9 p.m. ET – debuts September 23
Tom Payne stars as Malcolm Bright, a criminal psychologist whose father, Dr. Martin Whitly (Michael Sheen), notoriously slaughtered at least 23 people in the 1990s. Bright uses his mind to help the NYPD solve gruesome crimes, and his unorthodox way of carrying out justice draw parallels to his sociopathic father.
What to Expect: Paired with medical drama 9-1-1, Fox offers a drama alternative to veteran competition series Dancing With the Stars on ABC and The Voice on NBC. Opposite newbie CBS legal drama All Rise, Prodigal Son stands a better chance of attracting an audience because of the compatibility with its lead-in and, quite simply, because it is a better series (at least from the perspective of the pilot, that is). Keep a positive eye (or two) on Prodigal Son.
Wednesday 9 p.m. ET – debuts October 2
An only child (Brittany Show) finds her life turned upside down when her father (Timothy Hutton), a famed fertility doctor, reveals that he used his own sperm to conceive upwards of one hundred children, including two new sisters. As these three women accept their new reality, they will attempt to form a non-traditional bond as sisters, even as they must welcome an abundance of new siblings into their rapidly expanding family.
What to Expect: Let me repeat, lead-in still matters…very much so. So, following hot sophomore music competition series The Masked Singer on Wednesday, and airing in a time period where no one competing show is all that big (the final season of ABC’s Modern Family, included), Almost Family stands one of the best chances of any new series to succeed. “Thumbs up” to Fox for another original drama entry that dares to be different.
Bless the Harts
Sunday 8:30 p.m. ET – debuts September 29
This new animated comedy follows the Harts, a Southern family that is always broke and forever struggling to make ends meet. One day they hope to achieve the American dream, but they are already rich in friends, family and laughter. Kristen Wiig (Saturday Night Live) is featured in the voice cast.
What to Expect: Once upon a time, Fox on Sunday offered a highly competitive animated comedy line-up (anchored by The Simpsons, of course). But with age comes deterioration (are you really still watching Homer and company?), and there is no reason to believe Bless the Harts will make much of a dent. At this point, Fox should reconsider the cartoon block on Sunday.
2 New Series (2 dramas)
Sunday 8 p.m. ET – debuts October 6
Based on the DC Comics character, Kate Kane (Ruby Rose) soars onto the streets of Gotham as the superhero, an out lesbian and highly trained street fighter primed to snuff out the failing city’s criminal resurgence. But Kate must overcome her own demons before embracing the call to be Gotham’s symbol of hope.
What to Expect: Considering the benchmark of success of The CW is social media (and not in the traditional Nielsen ratings), chances of Batwoman making noise, and plenty of it, are likely. Then, of course, is the network’s track record for renewing both new and established series. It never seems to cancel anything.
Of the 17 new network series this fall, chances of a second season renewal for Batwoman are the most likely.
Wednesday 9 p.m. ET – debuts October 9
In this reboot, 18-year-old Nancy Drew (Kennedy McMann) thought she would be leaving her hometown for college. But when a socialite is murdered, Nancy finds herself a prime suspect in the crime, along with a group of other teens present at the scene.
What to Expect: Airing out of Riverdale, the compatibility with Nancy Drew seems flawless. But Riverdale outside of social media is ultimately limited, and this young super sleuth may have to solve the case of where the viewers are. Of the two new CW fall series, Batwoman is the one to keep an eye on.
Marc Berman is the founder and Editor-in-Chief for Programming Insider. He also covers the broadcasting landscape, at present, for Forbes.com, Watch!, Newspro and C21 Media in London. His prior pieces have appeared in Campaign US, The New York Daily News, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, The Los Angeles Times and Emmy Magazine, among other outlets.