Just when you thought it was safe to disconnect your DVR, the scripted television landscape again becomes crowded with essential viewing material. With the Television Critics Assoc. winter press tour upon us and kicking off Tuesday from the Langham hotel in Pasadena, Calif., Variety’s TV staff chronicles the programs it’s most looking forward to in 2016.
“American Crime” (ABC): Jan. 6
Coming off of a slew of Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for its freshman season, John Ridley’s dark ABC anthology is back with a new storyline and new characters set among a rattling high school male rape accusation. With strong, fresh cast members (“Falling Skies” alum Connor Jessup playing the victim) and the return of Felicity Huffman, Timothy Hutton and Regina King in all new roles, the critically acclaimed drama hopes to see bigger ratings than its first run, which garnered rave reviews across the board for its risk taking and boundary breaking of typical network fare.
“Shades of Blue” (NBC): Jan. 7
As if a procedural crime drama isn’t enough to draw in NBC’s “SVU” and “Chicago” type viewers, does the name Jennifer Lopez ring a bell? The multi-hyphenate superstar shows no signs of slowing down, pulling double TV duty as a judge on “American Idol,” while also gearing up for her Las Vegas residency — and with a gun in hand on the new NBC cop series, the star should surely show off even more of her bad-ass skills.
“Shadowhunters” (Freeform): Jan. 12
Debuting with a rabid, built-in fanbase from “The Moral Instruments” book series, “Shadowhunters” is kicking off ABC Family’s Freeform rebrand, premiering with a prime lead-in of the cabler’s long-running hit “Pretty Little Liars.” Aside from a familiar storyline, the hyped saga series stars Disney alum Katherine McNamara who’s already proven to be avidly plugged into her Twitter fans pre-launch.
“Teachers” (TV Land): Jan. 13
The half-hour laffer is coming to the cable net with little expectation, which will likely fare well for the Alison Brie-produced series because industry types who’ve sampled the show early have been raving with laughter. Joining the channel’s fan-favorite “Younger,” the schoolyard-set ensembler is a good move in TVLand’s new direction.
“Billions” (Showtime): Jan. 17
Swaggering hedge-fund titans square off with an ambitious U.S. attorney in Showtime’s new drama, which stars one of the network’s most high-profile actors, Damian Lewis, formerly of “Homeland.” Watching his billionaire character battle Paul Giamatti’s wily lawyer promises plenty of sparks — not to mention a glimpse at the lifestyles of the rich and infamous.
“American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson” (FX): Feb. 2
If you think FX’s second installment of “Fargo” had a fabulous cast, wait until you see who’s in this juicy, addictive chronicle of the O.J. Simpson trial and the legal and media circus around it. Based on Jeffrey Toobin’s book about the murder prosecution, which blew up into one of the dominant stories of the ‘90s and beyond, this intriguing miniseries stars Cuba Gooding, Jr., Sarah Paulson, John Travolta, Nathan Lane and Courtney B. Vance, all doing fine work. Don’t miss an almost unrecognizable but divine Connie Britton as loopy bit player Faye Resnick.
“Madoff” (ABC): Feb. 3
One of two upcoming Bernie Madoff miniseries (The other is HBO’s “Wizard of Lies”), ABC’s miniseries starring Richard Dreyfuss as the corrupt financier is a safe bet. Inspired by ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross’ book “The Madoff Chronicles,” the series also stars Blythe Danner as Madoff’s wife, Ruth.
“Vinyl” (HBO): Feb. 14
As if a series that counts Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger and Terence Winter among its exec producers wasn’t enough to gain attention, this long-anticipated period drama in the 1970s has a smooth cast. Bobby Cannavale stars as Richie Finestra, a music exec trying attempting a comeback for his label, with Olivia Wilde as his wife, Devon, and Ray Romano as his head of promotions/confidant, Zak.
“11.22.63” (Hulu): Feb. 15
Hulu’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel has all the makings for a stellar limited series. Star power comes courtesy of lead James Franco as well as Josh Duhamel, Chris Cooper and T.R. Knight, and it’s a time-travel story penned by “Friday Night Lights” alum Bridget Carpenter that she and King exec produce along with J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk. Plus there’s the premise: How can Franco’s character thwart the JFK assassination?
“Fuller House” (Netflix): Feb. 26
Generations of fans will probably have similar plans on Feb. 26: binging all 13 episodes of the “Full House” follow-up. Though the pressure is on with such high expectations after nearly a decade on air and years of syndication, with most of the entire original cast returning — sans Olsen twins — the streaming series is sure to be a success, at least in terms of social media buzz, whether it be good or bad. In familiar terms, “Fuller House” will probably be “Everywhere You Look.”
“The Catch” (ABC): March 24
The series has dealt with some recasting (Peter Krause replaced Damon Dayoub, who was the male lead in the pilot) and showrunner shifts (“Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” alum Allan Heinberg in for Jennifer Schuur and Josh Reims), but the material is still the basis to be Shondaland’s next big thing: “The Killing’s” Mireille Enos stars as a fraud investigator whose personal life may be the biggest con of her career.
“The Path” (Hulu): March 30
Hugh Dancy stars as the spellbinding leader of a Scientology-like cult; Aaron Paul plays a member who has begun to question the movement, without raising the suspicions of his wife (Michelle Monaghan), who’s ever more committed. Executive produced by Jessica Goldberg and Jason Katims (“Parenthood”), “The Path” looks not only at religion but also at relationships and marriage.
“All the Way” (HBO): Spring 2016
It’s not unreasonable to expect that the role that won Bryan Cranston a Tony Award may add a few more trophies to his mantle (not that the four-time Emmy winner needs them). Adapted from Robert Schenkkan’s Broadway play into a film for HBO, “All the Way” looks at President Lyndon B. Johnson’s tumultuous first year in office, from JFK’s assassination through LBJ’s campaign for the presidency.
“Confirmation” (HBO): Spring 2016
Kerry Washington has it handled as Anita Hill, the woman at the center of the 1991 Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings — and the subject of this much-buzzed about HBO Film from a script by Susannah Grant (“Erin Brockovich”). Wendell Pierce (“The Wire”) plays Thomas, alongside an A-list cast including Jeffrey Wright, Greg Kinner, Jennifer Hudson and Eric Stonestreet.
“Hap and Leonard” (Sundance): Spring 2016
Let’s start with the cast: Christina Hendricks in her first post-“Mad Men” role, as the femme fatale who knows just how to manipulate her ex, James Purefoy (“The Following”). And then there’s his gay best friend, Michael K. Williams (“The Wire,” “Boardwalk Empire”), who returned from the Vietnam War with a temper. This combustible trio ignite in this 1980s-set, darkly comic adventure, as their get-rich-quick schemes are undoubtedly bound to lead to trouble.
“The Night Manager” (AMC): Spring 2016
Hugh Laurie takes center stage in this modern-day adaptation of a John le Carre novel, now a six-part miniseries. But this time, the charming Dr. House has gone rogue as a businessman engaging in illegal arms trade — and it’s up to the well-meaning Tom Hiddleston to infiltrate his camp and derail his schemes.
“Preacher” (AMC): Mid-2016
The gritty drama based on Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s comics is a mix of a supernatural story and a revenge thriller. Can Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s partnership with “Breaking Bad’s” Sam Catlin make for AMC (or even the TV landscape’s) next big comic adaptation?
“Animal Kingdom” (TNT): Summer 2016
TNT president Kevin Reilly’s rebranding efforts continue with this TV adaptation of the 2010 Australian crime drama that made U.S. stars out of the likes of Jacki Weaver, Ben Mendelsohn and Sullivan Stapleton. This series, which stars Ellen Barkin and Scott Speedman, was created by “Halt & Catch Fire’s” Jonathan Lisco with the pilot directed by John Wells. Both serve as exec producers. TNT is also gaining buzz for “Good Behavior,” which is created by Chad Hodge and features Michelle Dockery as a recently incarcerated con artist.
“Westworld” (HBO): TBA 2016
This project has been long in development at HBO, but anticipation for it is still keen. Take J.J. Abrams (one of its producers, along with Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy), add a famous Michael Crichton tale, and litter the cast list with top-notch names (Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Tessa Thompson, Sidse Babett Knudsen) and you have a recipe for geek heaven — maybe. We’ll have to see what HBO cooked up when it finally sets a premiere date for this tale of artificial reality run amok at a high-tech theme park.