TV falls to changing of habits

New shows may benefit as annual ritual transforms amid technology

By

Published:

 

The idea of an actual “fall TV season” now almost feels like something you might find in a thrift shop. It’s a little bit dowdy, and threadworn. It’s something everyone once got excited about. Now it’s something everyone tolerates.

Barely.

Yes, your favorite shows will all soon be back.

But you can also take your sweet time watching them, on your own “smart” TV or handheld device.

Yes, there will be new shows to sample.

But immediate history suggests you won’t, at least right away.

The era of “Peak TV” has meant many things to many viewers, notably a realization that there are only so many hours in any given day. Who has time for all this stuff? For the traditional age-old fall TV season, it’s really meant obsolescence. Television is now a yearlong scrum, in which shows are launched wherever and whenever, then watched wherever or whenever. The bounty of so many new series on so many new platforms has essentially “flattened” the viewing year, and thank goodness for that (imagine 450-plus scripted series launching during a few weeks in September).

Yes, some advertisers still cherish the quaintly archaic notion of families contentedly gathering around the family TV on a cool autumn night like they did back in the late-20th century.

But you certainly don’t. Besides, you’ll fast forward through all their commercials anyway.

Nevertheless, advertisers still matter, and for that reason, another fall television season — antiquated relic of a bygone era when four networks roamed the land and ruled our helpless TVs — is about to begin. At least there are a few noteworthy trends and shows to keep it interesting along the way. Meanwhile, here are some burning questions about them …

Will there be fewer new shows this fall? Befitting fall’s diminished status, the five commercial broadcast networks have been launching fewer and fewer fall series, but 2017 looks pretty much like 2016. Nineteen newbies will arrive through early November, or the exact same number as last fall. To an extent, this smaller yield is a reflection of viewing patterns. More people now watch any given show days, weeks or months after its original airdate. That’s good for the show because its life is extended. That also means fewer cancellations — therefore fewer holes to fill right now. But consider that a decade ago, in 2007, 26 series were launched in early fall.

What’s the fall’s biggest launch? That’s an easy one — “Star Trek: Discovery,” the first “Trek” in 12 years, since “Enterprise” wrapped in ’05. But after its initial launch tonight on CBS, “Star Trek: Discovery” then heads over to its streaming service, CBS All Access. There’s no mistaking the symbolism, or the intent. CBS is using one of the most important franchises in TV history to seed a brand-new franchise — and a service that one day may replace CBS, too. This is the most exciting development of the fall season, also one that will further erode it.

What’s the key genre trend? The patriotic-military drama is getting a reinvigorated close-up: “The Brave” (NBC, Monday); “SEAL Team” (CBS, Wednesday); and “Valor” (The CW, Oct. 9) is each about an elite unit up against impressive odds and each has the fire power to even ’em. Three similar shows during the same fall rush may be coincidence or enough-already-with-time-travel (last fall’s hot trend.)

Will “This is Us” avoid the sophomore slump? Ah, the dreaded sophomore jinx — when hit shows their first season turn into also-rans their second. A few examples stand out here: “Mr. Robot,” “Quantico,” “Blindspot” … What about “Us”? Fact is, far fewer series endure the slump than conventional TV wisdom would seem to suggest. But “Us” had a disappointing first season finale, or at least one that indicates the how-did-Jack-die story will be stretched out through eternity and beyond. So a slump in the making? Odds are better than even that “Us” will do just fine.

Could the reboot craze be cooling? Available evidence suggests otherwise. NBC’s “Will & Grace” arrivesThursday, CW’s “Dynasty” Oct. 11, and CBS’ “S.W.A.T.” on Nov. 2. Meanwhile, expect “Roseanne” II sometime midseason. And did we mention “American Idol,” also back early next year after setting a world speed record as fastest revival after cancellation ever? This doesn’t mean every show that ever aired will eventually return from the dead. That shouldn’t stop the networks from trying, however.