The most CBS-ish new series of the 2013-14 TV season got off to a strong start last night, while the most NBC-like new series floundered. Nothing new there. Lucky for NBC, it aired the CBS-ish one — the new procedural crime drama The Blacklist, starring James Spader. Unfortunately for CBS, it aired the NBC-like, highly serialized event series that bellyflopped in same time slot as The Blacklist — the Toni Collette-Dylan McDermott starrer Hostages.
Once upon a time, long before DVRs, Netflix and original scripted cable programing, broadcast network execs eagerly anticipated the start of their new TV season to see which of the many, many new series they’d thrown against the wall would stick. These days, each network has one key new series it needs to work — really work, not “Vegas is the No. 1 new drama” work — to call a season successful.
ABC, for instance, needs to launch Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. If it clicks, nothing else matters. Super Fun Night? It can bomb — which is good because ABC has already decided to premiere the show with its second episode and that’s never a good sign. And Lucky 7 may be the series that demonstrates America will not watch a show about how winning the lottery messes you up — because that is their financial strategy. Weeks before S.H.I.E.L.D.’s scheduled unveiling, The Reporters Who Cover Television were already squealing with delight after being treated to its super-secret screening at TCA Summer TV Press Tour 2013, though there have been disturbing reports of subsequent scripts coming in so not-good that Joss Whedon had to take a break from the 85 other projects he’s working on to step in and do last-minute rewrites.
NBC, meanwhile, needs a 10 PM drama that isn’t flukey, isn’t serializes and doesn’t start to come apart at the seams in the second half of the season, like Revolution did last season. No matter how much you read about NBC badly needing to re-establish itself in comedy on Thursday nights (it’s over, get over it), Monday at 10 is NBC’s Must Fix TV. A Blacklist hit gives NBC the bright shiny 10 o’clock light with which to dazzle affiliate station execs grousing about the lousy lead-ins they’ve been getting for their late local news. The Blacklist needs to look as good ratings-wise, five or six weeks from now, as it did last night.
Fox execs are happy dancing over how well Sleepy Hollow held up last night in its first week against Actual Competition – of the previous week’s 10 million viewers and 3.4 rating in the demo, which Fox’s best fall drama launch in six years. But what Fox really needs to get off the ground is Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The network made a big play getting Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher’s B9-9, in hopes of finally landing an actual live-action comedy block — something programming chief Kevin Reilly has been talking about for years — on Tuesday nights. B9-9 did OK in its early launch last week, but it faces Actual Competition for the first time tonight in the form of CBS’ about-to-lose-Cote-de-Pablo NCIS and ABC’s S.H.I.E.L.D.
If CBS, meanwhile, can protect an eight-comedy framework on its weekly schedule all season, no one will be talking about Hostages. On Thursday nights it’s got two new ones: The Crazy Ones stars Robin Williams, for whom Americans have enormous good will, who plays the founder of a hot-shot ad agency. It also stars Sarah Michelle Gellar, who plays a deer caught in headlights when playing scenes with Williams. On the bright side, Williams has great chemistry with James Wolk, who plays a junior member of the agency. CBS’ other Thursday comedy, The Millers, stars Margo Martindale, Beau Bridges and Will Arnett. The pilot episode has fart jokes, pulled off by Martindale, which should ensure its success on CBS. If not, she presumably can return to her role on The Americans, and Arnett gets the Arrested Development Shield of Immunity. Bridges may be in trouble.
CW is in a slightly different position. It just needs one of its new series to click. Doesn’t matter much which. Reign, CW’s glitzy new crunchy-gravel soap, while its riskiest addition to the schedule, has the most potential upside because it would say something new and interesting about CW — something along the lines of “It’s not just the vampire and superhero network.”