Upfronts review: More legal dramas, less multi-cam laughs

Patricia Heaton (right) returns to TV in “Carol’s Second Act”. (CBS)

Also: fewer new shows

The 2019-20 season is going to be more dramatic and less comedic.

That’s the analysis of the five major network’s fall schedules, containing perhaps the fewest number of new shows in memory.

The major networks don’t really invest in pilots anymore, thus there are fewer programs to look at as replacements. Ratings aren’t really important as they used to be either, given we’re in a new era of streaming amid dwindling shares for broadcast television networks. This is one of the reasons why networks are slow to cancel programs in the first place – giving them more time to find their footing. For one, The CW rarely axes shows these days.

With that said, here are the trends to look for:

– In the 1990-91 season, there were 34 new fall shows spread out among four networks – and Fox had yet to expand to every night. By comparison, there are only 15 new shows spread out among five networks for the 2019-20 season – less than half of the number nearly thirty years ago. Quite a change in the streaming era.

– There are some new shows with some oddball concepts: you have a show featuring a baker falling in love with a supermodel (midseason entry¬†The Baker And The Beauty); a sock salesman falling in love with his Nigerian nurse after a heartattack (Bob Hearts Abishola) and NBC’s Perfect Harmony, where a Princeton music professor helps out a small-town choir.

– Everyone wants to be in the legal profession: CBS has All Rise in a sort-of-reboot of L.A. Law, while an ABC midseason drama (For Life) has a prison inmate becoming a lawyer in prison so he can fight for his fellow inmates.

– Even though counter-programming is basically dead in the DVR/streaming era, one battle to watch is CBS’ Survivor and Fox’s Masked Singer airing opposite each other on Wednesday nights.

– Comedy is hard: there are numerous sitcoms inter weaving serious situations into the show – in addition to Bob, this list includes fellow CBS newbie The Unicorn (friends help deal with wife’s sudden passing) while NBC’s Sunnyside has a politician’s career going south after being busted for public intoxication and winds up being hired by undocumented immigrants.

– With The Big Bang Theory gone and the 1980s/1990s sitcom reboot craze all but kaput, once again the number of multi-cam sitcoms are at dangerously low levels. On the fall schedule, CBS has four and ABC just one, with none on NBC and Fox at all (though Will & Grace and Last Man Standing return midseason.) At this rate, look for multi-cam sitcoms to be extinct soon.

– And speaking of reboots, not a single new “retro” project is on the networks’ schedule, meaning this craze may be over with, thank God.

Will these new fall schedules generate any interest among viewers? Likely not, but it doesn’t really matter. As long as advertisers and media buyers continue to drop large sums of money to reach viewers – and over-the-air broadcast network television has the greatest reach of any medium outside of radio – then the network TV business will be fine, no matter what kind of junk they put on the air.


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