The number of scripted TV shows airing in 2017 reached an all-time high (500 and counting), but networks are not showing any signs of slowing down. Looking ahead to next year, they are going bigger and bolder with storytelling, production values, and marquee names to break through the clutter and make enough noise to attract — and then keep — an audience.
Here, Variety previews the most anticipated scripted television of 2018 — both new and returning.
“9-1-1” (premieres Jan. 3)
Ryan Murphy’s return to broadcast television is event television in and of itself, but adding to the caliber of the new drama about first responders and the 9-1-1 operators who take and route the calls is the star power of the cast: Connie Britton, Angela Bassett and Peter Krause chief among them.
“The Alienist” (premieres Jan. 22)
The Turner cabler has a lot at stake for this 1800s period drama based on Caleb Carr’s novel of the same name. Fictionalizing history through Teddy Roosevelt (Brian Geraghty), at the time a police commissioner, the show is a psychological thriller following a secret investigation into a series of gruesome murders. Including characters that represent an early look at criminal psychology, the media, and the bureaucracy of law enforcement, the show is designed to touch on gender and other political issues.
“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” (premieres Jan. 17)
The second installment of Ryan Murphy’s true crime anthology series starts with the murder of fashion designer Gianni Versace (played here by Edgar Ramirez), but rather than following the crime through the media and into the courtroom ala the first installment that was “The People vs OJ Simpson,” the action rewinds so that the 10 episodes deep dive into the events that led up to the murder — for both Versace as well as his killer Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss in a “Glee” reunion with Murphy) who was on a cross-country murder spree that culminated in Miami.
“Big Little Lies” Season 2
Although it was just announced, buzz around the return to the affluent lives of the women of Monterey, Calif. portrayed by Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon (both re-signed) has been strong ever since the limited series came to a close in April 2017. With David E. Kelley on board to write all seven of the new scripts based on another story from Liane Moriarty and Andrea Arnold attached to direct, all eyes are on this Emmy winner.
“Black Lightning” (premieres Jan. 16)
While the CW already has four other DC superhero shows, the backdrop for this new offering is a very grounded, realistic world that taps into issues of the day like racial tension and gang violence. The heroes of this story are a multi-generational African-American family who have other worldly powers — a father just getting back into the superhero game after promising his wife years ago that he’d get out because of the dangers, as well as his two daughters are embarking on their own origin story, about to come into some very powerful abilities of their own. The show hails from Salim Akil and Mara Brock Akil.
Little is known about the upcoming 10 episode series created by JJ Abrams and based on the storytelling of Stephen King, but the teaser trailer drops hints at the inclusion of classic characters, locations, and themes from everything from “It” to “The Green Mile” to “Misery.” But those auspices, combined with the streaming service’s track record for groundbreaking original dramas of late is more than enough to build anticipation.
“The Chi” (premieres Jan. 7)
Hot off her historical Emmy win for comedy writing, Lena Waithe created this new premium cabler drama exploring coming of age tales on the South Side of Chicago. The pilot episode comes out swinging, exploring the wrongful death of an African-American teenager who was falsely accused of another African-American teen’s murder, as well as how that unconscionable event affects everyone in that young man’s orbit — from his family to the even younger boy that witnessed the murder. It’s a tale about strength — emotional, psychological, and of character — as well as one that shines a light on the stories of those often forgotten.
The timing has never been better for a show to not only explore traditional standards of beauty and obsession with weight loss but also blow them up. Showrunner Marti Noxon has adapted Sarai Walker’s novel about a woman preparing for weight-loss surgery whose life gets turned upside down by two competing feminist factions, putting her in the middle and making her rethink what it means to be a revolutionary. The show also marks Julianna Margulies’ (“The Good Wife”) return to the small screen.
“Grown-ish” (premieres Jan. 3)
In a rare move, ABC family comedy “Black-ish” is getting a spinoff on another network with a younger demographic. Following the oldest Johnson daughter (Yara Shahidi) as she goes to college, this half-hour comedy is giving a voice to the next generation as she adopts the voiceover format of her father to let the audience in on her inner fears, insecurities, and the cultural and other hot topics of the day.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” Season 2 (premieres April 2018)
There may be no series — new or returning — more anticipated that the Emmy winner for drama that manages to strike all the right nerves in today’s tumultuous political climate. The second season of Bruce Miller’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel will expand upon the world of Gilead to introduce the next generation — many of whom are “true believers” of the patriarchal, oppressive way.
“Heathers” (premieres March 2018)
A present-day reboot of the 1980s cult film, the series features fresh faces in the titular characters and updates some of the backstories for these more inclusive times — one of the Heathers, for example, is a male who identifies as gender-queer — but will still tap into the timeless themes of popularity and power. Shannen Doherty, who starred in the film, is set to guest star. This could just be the show that puts the new network on the map.
“The Looming Tower” (premieres Feb. 28)
Based on Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer-winning nonfiction book, the 10-episode series will explore “Al-Qaeda and the road to 9/11” through how the rivalry over jurisdictions between the CIA (focusing on former CIA director George Tenet, played by Alec Baldwin) and the FBI (through FBI’s counterterrorism chief John O’Neill, played by Jeff Daniels) in the late ‘90s/early aughts affected Osama bin Laden’s rise to power.
Cary Fukunaga (“True Detective” season one’s director) is coming back to TV in the new year with two big projects, but this streaming service drama is the one pulling focus right now due a combination of star power: actors Emma Stone, Jonah Hill, Justin Theroux, Julia Garner (“The Americans” and “Ozark”), Jemima Kirke, and Sally Field, as well as subject matter. The show follows two patients at a psychiatric hospital who dive into fantasy worlds, allowing the show to push genre boundaries more than the average dark comedy.
“Marvel’s Jessica Jones” Season 2 (premieres Mar. 8)
The series has been off the air for more than two years, so no return may more highly anticipated than that of Jessica Jones, the private investigator with a very special set of skills. The sophomore effort promises to be even more personal as Jessica struggles to put her life back together after the murder of Kilgrave (yes, David Tennant is expected to make a comeback).
“Mosaic” (premieres Jan. 22)
Steven Soderbergh already released an interactive version of this verite style murder mystery via the aptly-named “Mosaic” mobile app, allowing the audience to follow one or multiple character journeys through the complicated tale. But the auteur director will debut his vision for the story through the six-episode limited series.
Uber producer Ryan Murphy has quite a few projects on his plate this season, from the procedural “9-1-1” on Fox, to FX’s “The Assassination of Gianni Versace,” not to mention the follow up to “Feud,” focusing on Prince Charles and Princess Diana. But come next spring, he’ll debut his latest anthology series “Pose,” a 1980s-set anthology series which will feature — along with frequent Murphy star Evan Peters — the largest cast of transgender actors in series regular roles ever in a scripted series.
“Roseanne” (premieres Mar. 27)
Following in the footsteps of 2017’s highly anticipated reboot of “Will & Grace,” the entire cast (including both Beckys — but Sarah Chalke in a new role) of the Alphabet’s blue-collar family sitcom is back to explore what Connor family in modern day, in addition to introducing the next generation in David (Johnny Galecki) and Darlene’s (Sara Gilbert) kids.
“Sharp Objects” (premieres June 2018)
Amy Adams’ return to the small screen is enough for many to eagerly await the eight-episode limited series from the premium cabler. The series, based on Gillian Flynn’s novel, and from Marti Noxon and Jean-Marc Vallee, depicts a complicated heroine in Adams’ character of Camille, a woman who returns to her hometown to investigate the murders of two little girls, forcing her to finally confront long buried personal demons.
“Unreal” Season 3 (premieres Feb. 26)
Although this fictionalized look at the drama on- and behind-the-scenes of a reality dating competition has had its ups and downs, the third season is set to explore the first female suitor (Caitlin FitzGerald) and the 26 men who vye for her attention, if not her heart. But the real intrigue around this show comes from the dynamic between Quinn (Constance Zimmer) and Rachel (Shiri Appleby), two women who will stop at nothing to advance.
“Unsolved” (premieres Feb. 27)
The still technically unsolved murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. have been a hot button topic for all kinds of media — from other music to documentaries and now to this fictionalized tale of the murder investigation. But rather than start with a big flashy scene of the crime, the first episode of this limited series spends time and care to showcase how young these men were when their lives were cut short. And then it dives deep into the men tasked with solving the crime. The show leans in heavily to the police side of the story and with that comes commentary on the racial tensions of the time.
“The X-Files” Season 11 (premieres Jan. 3)
The 10th season of Chris Carter’s groundbreaking, genre-bending sci-fi FBI drama was a revival that saw Agents Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) facing down new seemingly paranormal activity and government conspiracy. But it ended with the biggest of cliffhangers, as a pandemic swept the country and threatened to claim Mulder, while Scully was literally staring up at bright light in the sky that was maybe, possibly, probably a UFO. A second season was all but guaranteed from the ending alone, and now the time is coming to see if it can stick the landing.
Based on Caroline Kepnes’ novel and hailing from uber producers Greg Berlanti and Sera Gamble, expectations are high merely from the team assembled. The show centers on a obsessive millennial (Penn Badgley) who uses modern technology to stalk a woman and then insert himself in her life.
“Westworld” Season 2
Rebounding after first season production delays, the show made quite a splash in its debut, scoring 22 Primetime Emmy nominations (tying for the most noms of the year). The ambitious nature of the storytelling — multiple worlds, multiple timelines, themes of questioning, consciousness, and what it means to be human — promises to deliver even more in the second season with the introduction of new worlds.