For the TV industry, midseason is the new fall. Actually, this has been the case for a few years now: Broadcast networks have discovered the wisdom of holding back some of their biggest bets and debuting them in the deep, dark winter months, perhaps giving them a greater chance to break out amid slightly more flaccid competition.
Sometimes, such shows still fizzle (the CW’s Byzantine cult-centric drama “Cult” in 2013). Other times, you find yourself with a monster hit (Fox’s hip-hop soap “Empire” in 2015). Of course, because everyone is using the same strategy, the midseason field is growing more crowded, and today’s wisdom might turn into tomorrow’s folly.
Here’s a look at the good news, bad news and biggest bets for broadcast TV this midseason.
The Good: In case you hadn’t heard, CBS has the Super Bowl this year. “Supergirl” premiered to a decent audience in late October. And because the network had an eight-game "Thursday Night Football" package again this year, taking up an entire night’s worth of real estate, it’s got quite a few veteran shows (like "Person of Interest") sitting on the shelf.
The Bad: That decent audience for “Supergirl” hasn’t exactly stuck around; viewership has since declined more than 50 percent in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographic. As for “Code Black,” the medical drama that debuted in September, it wasn’t the “ER” CBS wanted it to be, and it is unlikely to be renewed. Because of the sheer number of shows that have to premiere, the midseason schedule looks like someone decided to play musical time slots, which could cause some confusion as viewers try to figure out when they can watch the next season of “The Odd Couple,” which begins April 7.
The Big Bets: Having seen some success in the past with reality series that have aired episodes after the Super Bowl (“Survivor,” “Undercover Boss”), the network is attempting to use the most watched event of the year to reintroduce Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show” to the masses in the hopes that he’ll get a bump. Colbert is still ahead of predecessor David Letterman in the ratings for the 18-49 demographic, but more than 60 percent behind competitor Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show.”
The Good: “Empire” is down from its record-setting first season, which ran uninterrupted last winter, but it’s still the biggest scripted show on broadcast TV in the 18-49 demo.
The Bad: In order to shore up its dismal Tuesday night comedy block, Fox is moving Andy Samberg’s cop comedy “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” away from its current plum post-“Simpsons” spot on Sunday, back to the Tuesday comedy block where it began its life. New bro-ish comedy “Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life,” which already feels like schedule chum, will take the slot “Brooklyn” is vacating, to give it more of a chance.
The Big Bets: The network is doing its own live musical on Jan. 31 — “Grease Live,” starring Broadway vet/budding TV star Aaron Tveit as Danny, Julianne Hough as Sandy and Vanessa Hudgens as Rizzo. One of the bigger complaints with NBC’s live musicals is that the casts are stuck in a sterile, audience-less environment for the telecast. Fox is listening, apparently, because “Grease Live!” will in fact be performed in front of a live studio audience.
And then there’s the “X-Files” revival, which, given that the network only ordered six episodes, actually isn’t much of a risk. Ratings expectations aren’t as high as online fervor among X-Philes might suggest, according to media-buying sources. The first episode will bow after the NFC Championship Game, increasing the likelihood that a decent number of eyeballs will sample the revival, but as we’ve seen with scripted series that air post-Super Bowl, that seldom ends up making a difference to a drama or comedy’s regular audience. That’s also not to say the continued adventures of Scully and Mulder will be a misfire, or that even a so-so performance would preclude the possibility of yet another batch of episodes. Fox owns the show, and therefore has ways of profiting from it beyond just advertising revenue. (Can you say “streaming rights”?)
The Good: The new FBI thriller “Blindspot” was one of the few modest new wins this season, and Dick Wolf’s “Chicago” empire successfully expanded to the medical sector. Well, at least NBC has the Olympics in Rio this summer.
The Bad: NBC’s Thursday night is still a nuclear wasteland when it comes to ratings. Life is tough without “The Voice,” which won't return until the end of February, and so in the interim the network is trying out comedy on Monday nights for the first time in recent memory with America Ferrera-led “Superstore,” which performed decently in a special post-“Voice” sneak peek, and Eva Longoria-led “Telenovela,” which didn’t quite hold up in its own post-“Voice” sneak. While NBC has taken a page out of ABC’s playbook and developed a nicely diverse crop of shows, that’s not a guarantee of success in and of itself.
The Big Bets: Jennifer Lopez’s cop drama “Shades of Blue” was ordered straight to series in February 2014, bypassing the usual pilot stage, but when it was finally put on the schedule at the network’s upfront presentation to advertisers this May, there still wasn’t footage ready to show the public. (One reason media buyers have said they’re feeling a little gun-shy.) The show finally premieres Jan. 7 in the 10 p.m. slot, which hasn’t seen a hit since “ER” left the air. Thursdays are still important nights for movie studios that want to advertise new releases, but after the hits NBC has taken on the night of late, it’s probably just hoping for something that doesn’t lose much of its “Blacklist” lead-in.
The Good: A large (for the CW) number of people continue to watch “The Flash” live, on a regular basis. The series regularly beats out its broadcast competition in the time slot — something no other show on the network can boast, though that’s been the case since the CW’s inception.
The Bad: No one besides the Hollywood Foreign Press Association seems to be watching “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” the musical comedy starring Golden Globe-nominated Rachel Bloom. Live ratings are also down for aging tentpole “The Vampire Diaries.”
The Big Bets: Calling the network’s sole new midseason show — DC series “Legends of Tomorrow” — a “bet” is perhaps a bridge too far. The success of “Arrow” and “The Flash” means spinoff “Legends” is about as close as you can get to a sure thing these days.
The Good: The first installment of the anthology series “American Crime” (not to be confused with FX’s upcoming “American Crime Story”) netted a bunch of Emmy nominations and a win for actress Regina King, telling an intricately woven tale about immigration and our justice system. The second season is even more intense, dealing with rape in high school, and looks to be another awards contender. Against critical advice, a larger-than-expected number of people are watching freshman Friday night comedy “Dr. Ken.” And though “Modern Family” continues to see its ratings sink, Wednesday’s family comedies are still solid, critically and commercially. New Shondaland drama "The Catch," which stars Mireille Enos of "The Killing," will replace "HTGAWM" in late March, and ought to prove yet another solid performer, at the very least.
The Bad: “American Crime” wasn’t exactly a huge ratings draw, and probably won’t be this go-round either. “The Muppets” was a joyless mess. ABC’s entire “Thank God It’s Thursday” lineup of Shonda Rhimes-produced shows is down — “How to Get Away with Murder” lost about a third of those all-important 18-49-ers this fall, a disappointing turn for a rare 10 p.m. hit. The network’s only new relative success on the drama side of things was FBI soap “Quantico,” which won’t return until March. It’ll air behind new thriller “The Family,” about an ostensibly kidnapped son who finds his way back home after 10 years.
The Big Bets: “Of Kings and Prophets,” the story of biblical Kings Saul and David, will premiere March 8. The series was supposed to begin its run in the fall, only to be unceremoniously yanked from the schedule mere weeks after it had been placed there. The show is clearly an effort to capitalize on the massive ratings of bloody swords-and-furs joints like “Game of Thrones” and History’s miniseries “The Bible.” (It should be noted that NBC’s follow-up to “The Bible,” “A.D. The Bible Continues,” was a quiet failure.) This is not a cheap show — an action-heavy period drama like “Prophets” can cost up to $6 million an episode, and its episode order was cut from 13 to 10. But ABC does appear to be hoping that, with “Prophets,” a higher power can lift the curse of the Tuesday 10 p.m. slot. That, or it’s just another sacrificial lamb.