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Viewpoints from the frontline of content.

Remarkable discovery

By Marc Berman 13-09-2017

Success breeds imitation, so you might immediately expect the freshman programming focus in the upcoming US television season to be clones of NBC’s This Is Us.

While news of relationship-themed wannabes is starting to surface – NBC recently ordered drama pilot The Unrequited, a tale of four adult siblings who descend on their mother’s home for the funeral of their father – the target date for those shows is the 2018/19 season. Stay tuned, and keep a hanky handy.

By the numbers, 12 new dramas versus five new sitcoms – I don’t consider NBC’s reboot of Will & Grace to be a debuting series – and Fox dramedy The Orville this fall means the emphasis remains on scripted dramatic storytelling.

But before I delve into the trends of note, I must begin by saying that the most anticipated new series next season is Star Trek: Discovery, and it’s not even slated on a broadcast network.

While this latest series in the Star Trek franchise will be previewed on CBS on Sunday September 24, the pilot and the remainder of the 15-episode first season will be streamed on digital platform CBS All Access in two chapters. The first begins on Sunday November 5, with the second opening in January 2018.

Star Trek: Discovery will be available on CBS All Access

“Star Trek: Discovery is an incredibly ambitious show,” teased co-creator Alex Kurtzman at the Television Critics Association (TCA) summer press tour. “In order to justify it being on a premium cable service, it had to be huge. And I don’t mean huge just in terms of scope, I mean huge in terms of story, emotion and character, and we spent a lot of time talking about how to build this world.”

CBS All Access also announced three straight-to-series orders for next season: dramas Strange Angel and $1, and sitcom No Activity. Combined with Star Trek: Discovery, one of the obvious observations for next season is the continued emphasis on the digital streamers and question of how to beef up your digital platforms without cannibalising the audience on the mother networks. That is no easy feat.

As for the five broadcasters – ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and The CW – there are four distinct trends. The first, despite the lack of notable traditional ratings via Nielsen, is the continued focus on comicbook superheroes.

Fox has slated The Gifted out of sophomore Lucifer in the Monday 21.00 hour, while ABC’s Inhumans will air on Fridays at 21.00, coming out of relocated Once Upon a Time and in place of benchwarmer Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. Both are from Marvel and, like any drama in the category, success by the numbers will be reliant on both DVR usage and potential interest on social media.

The second trend is the focus on military-themed storytelling, with The Brave on NBC on Mondays at 22.00, coming out of The Voice; Valor on The CW on Monday at 21.00, out of Supergirl; and SEAL Team on CBS at 21.00 on Wednesday, sandwiched between Survivor and relocated Criminal Minds.

Introducing SEAL Team on the Eye network was a no-brainer – it fits right into CBS’s older-skewing male-driven crime-themed mentality (as potentially does The Brave on NBC). But Valor on The CW, a tale of a US army base that houses an elite unit of helicopter pilots trained to perform clandestine international and domestic missions, is a 180º turn from the typical comic book-themed dramatic fare.

“Valor is extending The CW brand. It will be military, which is something I’ve wanted to do for the last six years,” said Mark Pedowitz, president of The CW during the TCA tour. “This is our third attempt to do it. We believe we have the right mix for the show now. But at the end of the day, it’s going to be a great soap, on top of it having a military background. It’s a cross between Army Wives and what’s going on in the military life.”

Since no new TV season is complete without some revivals, consider that to be the next trend, with three on tap this fall. NBC’s aforementioned Will & Grace, which is pretending the original series finale on May 18, 2006 never happened; CBS crime solver SWAT; and The CW’s soapy Dynasty, the original of which most of its target younger audience may not even be familiar with.

NBC, additionally, will present 10-episode Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Brothers in the Tuesday 22.00 hour. Since Law & Order already has a built-in audience, a wiser option might have been something entirely unique out of This Is Us to benefit from the lead-in support.

While not a big trend this fall, upcoming The Big Bang Theory prequel Young Sheldon represents a concept without which no fall season is complete: the TV spin-off. Airing out of its parent series, it stands the best chance of attracting the largest audience of any of the newbies. In other words, lead-in does still matter.

The new US television season officially begins on Monday September 24. Given the particularly lacklustre summer landscape, it cannot come soon enough.

today's correspondent

Marc Berman Programming Insider

Marc Berman is editor-in-chief of TV Media Insights, the online destination for US television and media.

Before that he was creator and editor of The Programming Insider, an online bible for trade magazine Mediaweek. In addition, he has authored the print column Mr Television and created Berman on TV, a series of webcasts about TV, and was also the voice behind PIPodcast, a daily topical discussion.