As the number of scripted series continues to grow (more than 500 in 2018), it is not just a race to produce the biggest quantity, but also the highest quality programming. Looking at the upcoming slate for 2019, there appears to be no shortage of unique stories coming.
Here, Variety previews the most anticipated scripted television of 2019 — both new and returning.
“The Act” (premieres spring 2019)
Inspired by the real-life saga of Dee Dee Blanchard — a woman who conned friends, neighbors, strangers, and her own daughter into thinking her daughter suffered from debilitating diseases — and her daughter Gypsy Rose — who plotted her mother’s murder — this limited series stars Patricia Arquette and Joey King. It’s the latest in a long line of true-crime tales come to life on the small screen, but the toxic familial relationship at the center and actor commitment to transformation (King shaved her head for the role, for example), will surely make it extra compelling.
“American Gods” (Season 2 premieres March 10)
It has been a long, complicated road to the second season of the cable fantasy series based on Neil Gaiman’s novel, so seeing how things shake out for Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) and Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) has been an equally long time coming. The second season sees the duo preparing for war between the old and new gods, which means the action, emotion and stakes should only be bigger the second time around.
“Big Little Lies” Season 2
Since it didn’t drop in 2018, after all, there is even more intrigue around the follow-up to the awards-magnet first season of the drama based on Liane Moriarty’s novel of the same name. This time around, the show will be a brand new story, from Moriarty and David E. Kelley, seeing the returns of stars Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, and Shailene Woodley — with the addition of Meryl Streep.
“Black Monday” (premieres Jan. 20)
From the creator of “Happy Endings” comes a period comedy set in 1987, during the worst stock market crash in the history of Wall Street. The series that stars Don Cheadle, Andrew Rannells, and Regina Hall will attempt to answer what caused that crash in the form of a “group of outsiders” who took on the “blue-blood, old boys’ club.” While the methods may be at times outlandish, the sentiment at the center is grounded and timely.
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (Season 6 premieres Jan. 10)
After a whirlwind of an upfronts season that saw this long-running cop comedy canceled at Fox and then resurrected by the Peacock, the members of the 99th precinct will be back for even bigger adventures. Now Jake (Andy Samberg) and Amy (Melissa Fumero) are married, and Holt (Andre Braugher) may be the commissioner. The stakes are higher, so the laughs should be that much stronger, too.
George Clooney is returning to the small screen to produce, direct, and star in this limited series adaptation of Joseph Heller’s book of the same name. The series, which is an American-British-Italian co-production, also stars television favorite faces Kyle Chandler, Hugh Laurie, and Christopher Abbott.
After 13 years, viewers will be transported back to Deadwood, S.D., for a revival movie that reunites the cast of the three-season premium cable drama. The project had been talked about since the cancellation of the original series, and as the years ticked on, the question of when it would come still ranked high on the list of things about which execs at the network were asked. The entire cast can’t return — a couple of actors, such as Powers Boothe, have since passed away — but the majority, including Ian McShane, Timothy Olyphant, Paula Malcomson, Kim Dickens, William Sanderson, and Gerald McRaney, are.
“First Wives Club”
“Girls Trip” scribe Tracy Oliver has re-imagined the 1996 film of the same name into a half-hour dramedy starring Jill Scott, Ryan Michelle Bathe, and Michelle Buteau. Putting female-centric stories first, the show will see this trio of friends getting over their ex-husbands, who have wronged them to various degrees. Viacom has a lot at stake with this one, having originally picked up the show for its Paramount Network, but deciding to move it to BET while production was already well under way.
Lin-Manuel Miranda is heading to television next year with a limited series based on Sam Wasson’s biography of famed choreographer Bob Fosse. Set as a two-hander about Fosse (Sam Rockwell) and his partner Gwen Verdon (Michelle Williams), the show is sure to be the next in a long line of prestige projects for the cabler, focusing on big worlds and even bigger personalities.
“Game of Thrones” (final season premieres in April)
After eight years, the premium cabler epic is signing off with a short (only six-episode) final season whose theme will be centered on “desperate characters” coming together to face a common enemy. A high body count is all but guaranteed, but so is high fanfare around the ratings and awards giant.
Neil Gaiman’s next television venture is a six-part streaming series based on the 1990 novel he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett. It’s the first of a number of projects he will create for Amazon, after signing an overall deal there earlier this year. The genre-bending series stars David Tennant and Michael Sheen as a demon and an angel, respectively, who work together to try to stop the apocalypse.
“Jane the Virgin” (final season premieres spring 2019)
Jennie Snyder Urman’s dramedy about a young woman who was accidentally artificially inseminated has come a long way in its four seasons thus far. It won over critics and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, earning the show’s star Gina Rodriguez multiple Golden Globe nominations (and one win). Its fifth and final season will see the show writing the final chapters of family, romance, and telenovela-style twists, including answering just how Michael (Brett Dier) is back from the dead (…or is he?) and who Jane (Rodriguez) will end up with once and for all.
“The Passage” (premieres Jan. 14)
Justin Cronin’s vampire novels are a meaty trilogy that have seen multiple attempts at adaptation, both in film and in this small-screen version, but “Friday Night Lights” writer and producer Liz Heldens finally got it right. Starting the journey at the beginning, when the virus is contained and Brad Wolgast (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) is tasked with collecting the child (Saniyya Sidney) who will prove to be the key to everything, the show blends the supernatural genre elements with which book readers fell in love with a sweet story of father-daughter-style bonding.
Before Ryan Murphy signed his unprecedented $300 million, five-year Netflix deal, there was a bidding war among the streamers for his new political anthology series. It ultimately landed at Netflix, and he subsequently signed that deal. Casting rumors for the show that centers on a young politician (Ben Platt), with each new season following him during a different race, have kept the buzz big for the show. While at one point Barbra Streisand was considering a role, ultimately that one went to long-time Murphy muse Jessica Lange. The rest of the cast rounds out so far as Dylan McDermott, January Jones and Zoey Deutsch.
The first streaming series Ryan Murphy sold was an origin story for the Hannibal Lecter-esque villain of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”: Nurse Ratched. After developing boundary-pushing broadcast and cable series for years, intrigue is high for what Murphy will do when he has even fewer rules. The series received a two season commitment right off the bat and sees Murphy teaming up once again with Sarah Paulson, who plays the title role.
“True Detective” (Season 3 premieres Jan. 13)
Four years after Nic Pizzolatto’s second season of his crime anthology came and went, the third has heat for bringing star Mahershala Ali back to TV, as well as for its complex storytelling that will see the mystery play out in three individual time periods.
“Untitled Morning Show”
The tech giant made a huge move when it negotiated Jennifer Aniston’s return to television alongside new small-screen darling Witherspoon. The duo will star and executive produce, joining other big name talent behind the camera, including showrunner Kerry Ehrin and director Mimi Leder. The subject matter that goes meta to look at television production, as well as the impact of the #MeToo movement, only adds to the anticipation. A lot is on the line for the show, given its big budget, as well as untested foray into the scripted arena for the company. Expectations could not be higher, but and sources say they are now in production, so let’s hope they bring this one to screens sooner rather than later.
“Veep” (final season premieres spring 2019)
The Julia Louis-Dreyfus-led political comedy sat out 2018, just as real-life politics were getting crazier every day so all eyes will surely be on its return. When it does come back, it is doing so with the shortest season ever, consisting of only seven episodes, but as indicated on his social media feeds, showrunner David Mandel has packed a plethora of jokes, callbacks, and iconic show imagery into that final run.
Damon Lindelof’s return to television would be highly anticipated, regardless of what the project was, but given that it is a series based on Alan Moore’s graphic novel of the same name, the interest is that much higher. In another feat of worldbuilding, “Watchmen” is set in a time and place where superheroes are not celebrated as saviors, but rather hunted as outlaws. Lindelof will be putting his own spin on the story, rather than ripping plot strictly from the comic pages.
“What We Do in the Shadows”
Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi adapted their 2014 mockumentary into a half-hour small-screen series. Featuring a trio of vampires who have been around (and have been friends and roommates) for hundreds of years, the show balances comedic moments of them still struggling to adapt to life with the darker reality of their blood-thirsty urges. The film has a cult following, but Clement and Waititi are not set to star in the series version, so some of the intrigue comes from the unknown aspects.
“You’re The Worst” (final season premieres Jan. 9)
Stephen Falk’s non-traditional rom-com will deliver one final, alcohol-soaked, Sunday Funday-infused, roller coaster ride as Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Aya Cash) inch their way closer to walking down the matrimonial aisle. The show has always been strongest when relying not just on one couple of characters, but the supporting ensemble, so before the series shuts off for good, there should be moments of marginal growth for Edgar (Desmin Borges), Lindsay (Kether Donohue), and maybe even Paul (Allan McLeod) or Vernon (Todd Robert Anderson).