The 2019-2020 broadcast season is all but set and with it, several clear trends have emerged among the Big 4 and The CW.
The name of the game this year is franchise extensions. There are currently five such shows lined up for next season: “Batwoman” (Arrow-verse) and “Katy Keene” (“Riverdale” spinoff) at The CW; “Mixed-ish” (“Black-ish” prequel) at ABC; “FBI: Most Wanted” at CBS; and “9-1-1: Lone Star” at Fox. NBC had given a straight-to-series order to “Law & Order: Hate Crimes,” but the release of that show has been delayed indefinitely. It remains in active development at the network.
Katz Media Group’s Stacey Schulman told Variety such programming is not surprising as the networks strive for stability in unstable times.
“There’s a lot of money that gets invested in developing shows and it’s certainly a better bet that already has a built-in audience,” Schulman said. “The downside of that is you don’t do much to change your demographic composition or lower your median age. You’re not going to attract a new audience necessarily with a show like that, but it does help you shore up time periods.”
Speaking of stability, fans can expect to see most of their favorites returning to the broadcast lineup next year. This year the broadcasters canceled just 26 shows, down from 40 in 2018. This allowed some shows that were doing only so-so in the ratings to continue for another year as the networks would rather continue on with a known entity rather than take a risk on an unknown.
There are also some shows with some surprisingly similar plotlines moving forward. CBS and NBC have dueling widower comedies on deck. CBS’ “The Unicorn” with Walton Goggins debuts Thursdays this fall in the choice post-”Young Sheldon” timeslot, while the Kenan Thompson-led “The Kenan Show” is set for midseason. Both shows deal with a man with two daughters adjusting to life now that his wife is dead. ABC had a similar pilot in contention this year — “Nana” starring Katey Sagal and Ben Lawson — though that show was ultimately passed over.
Fox is also leaning heavily back into animated comedies next season, with the network ordering three such projects straight-to-series. All three boast impressive auspices, including Amy Poehler and Lord & Miller, as well as stacked voice casts that feature Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, and Nick Offerman among many others.
“Animation is a really significant part of our brand. It’s a key thing that defines who we are,” Michael Thorn, president of entertainment for Fox Entertainment, told Variety. “One of the opportunities we see to be successful is to really grow our animation business. I think it’s one of the asssets we have that none of the other broadcast networks have, so clearly you can see we’re really ramping up there.”
Fans of LA top cop dramas will also have a couple of options going into next spring. Edie Falco is returning to broadcast in “Tommy” at CBS, starring as the first female chief of the LAPD. Meanwhile, Stephen Dorff, hot off his acclaimed turn on “True Detective,” will star in the Fox drama “Deputy.” That show centers on a LA County Sheriff’s deputy who becomes the acting sheriff when the current one unexpectedly dies. Both shows will bow at midseason.
Turning to casting, the three legal dramas coming next season all feature people of color in lead roles. “Counterpart” alum Nicholas Pinnock will star in “For Life” at ABC, which based on the life of Isaac Wright Jr. Simone Missick of “Luke Cage” fame will star as an LA judge in CBS’ “All Rise,” and Jimmy Smits return to NBC with “Bluff City Law.”
Interestingly, Missick is not the only Marvel-Netflix alum who landed on broadcast next season following the cancellation of the entire Marvel TV universe at the streamer. “Luke Cage” star Mike Colter will star in the supernatural CBS drama “Evil” from Robert and Michelle King, while “Daredevil” Season 3 star Wilson Bethel will star alongside Missick in “All Rise.”
Whatever the trends may be, broadcast television is still a medium that draws millions of eyeballs and billions in ad revenue. If the networks wish to remain competitive with their growing competition, they will need to begin thinking outside the box sooner rather than later.