What's Trending: Upfronts 2015

What's Trending is a series looking at what is popular or will become popular, and spitballing ideas of what this means for the present and the future.

The upfronts have finally passed. While a few pilots have their fates to be determined, we currently have the massive chunk of shows picked up. Some are looking good, some are looking bad, but there definitely some interesting things emerging from this:

The Doctor is In!
For a while, the medical drama craze had started to go on the downturn. Shows like ER, House, and Private Practice were leaving, and the only two medical dramas still around were ABC's Grey's Anatomy and NBC's The Night Shift. But for some bizarre reason, the medical drama's pulse has been much more active, most notably over at the Peacock NBC not only has renewed Night Shift for a season 3, but has added another show in the Chicago umbrella with Chicago Med, in addition to this fall's Heartbreaker. Meanwhile, CBS has added in Code Black in their new show lineup, Fox's Rosewood focuses on a pathologist, and even ABC is having a medical comedy with Dr. Ken. Whether these shows succeed or fail, it's definitely telling us that the medical drama is trying to make a comeback after a slight fading away, and NBC will try the hardest to make it happen.

Berlanti, Berlanti, Berlanti
Greg Berlanti has slowly become one of the most sought-after producers. Not only does he have renewals for The Flash, Arrow, and The Mysteries of Laura, he also has NBC's Blindspot and CBS's Supergirl coming this fall, with CW's Legends of Tomorrow arriving in midseason. In just a few years he went from that guy who made soaps (Everwood, Brothers and Sisters) to some one-hit blunders (Eli Stone, No Ordinary Family) to destroying DC (Green Lantern) and then resurrecting it. Some other new producers rising up are Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci. While they've had some experience with shows like Alias and Fringe, they are now all over TV with Hawaii Five-0, Sleepy Hollow, Scorpion, and the upcoming Limitless. Dan Fogelman also earned a miraculous season two of Galavant and a pickup for Grandfathered. Aaron Kaplan, despite 7 of his shows being developed, only one has survived, being Life in Pieces. But he also still has Mysteries of Laura and Secrets and Lies.

Heartthrobs Return
While veteran actors always attempt to make a return, this is even more so. Rob Lowe has not one, but two shows (The Grinder, You, Me and the End of the World), and John Stamos will be starring in Grandfathered. In midseason, Patrick Warburton returns in the Suzanne Martin comedy Crowded opposite Carrie Preston. And if you really want to go old, Craig T. Nelson reprises his role as Hayden Fox in the upcoming sequel series to Coach, and James Brolin stars in Life in Pieces. Now like many attempts of old actors trying to be relevant, it might not always work out that well. It didn't work for Michael J. Fox nor Robin Williams, and it may not work out well for these guys. But hey, they still have a decent shot.

The Drama Resurgence
Earlier in the decade, a combination of new hit shows, a meltdown, and a writer's strike all led to a huge resurgence in the comedy genre. In 2011, the third seasons of Modern Family and The Middle led to huge spikes after already growing from season two, Suburgatory and Happy Endings benefited greatly from their lead-ins, Last Man Standing was a solid player, The Big Bang Theory was building up great momentum, New Girl became a rare comedy hit for Fox, whose last live-action comedy hit was Malcolm in the Middle years ago, Two and a Half Men spiked after Sheen's departure, and 2 Broke Girls became the biggest freshman comedy hit in years.

But in 2012, all of that changed. Happy Endings bombed after its Tuesday move, Suburgatory went down despite a better lead-in, New Girl was hit hard in an attempt to anchor a two-hour comedy block, CBS had only one single new comedy that nobody watched, and NBC had to cancel almost all of its comedies outside of the marginal Community and Parks and Recreation, with the only newbie renewals being The Neighbors and The Mindy Project, both doing passable at best.

In 2013, again, now new comedy emerged out of the cracks that was a hit, outside of Mom and arguably The Millers, and About A Boy, but the two only managed to get good ratings via a good lead-in.

But in 2014, things were looking up...somewhat. The Goldbergs, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Mom had grown from their previous year, ABC's comedy strength continued with both Blackish and Fresh Off the Boat, and Fox's Last Man on Earth became a sleeper success on a network with comedy woes. But the comedy carnage was extreme. NBC once again had to start from scratch with only one returning comedy, Selfie and Manhattan Love Story croaked before November even rolled around, Mulaney was a megabomb, Weird Loners was even worse, and The McCarthys was pretty much forgotten about.  For those other second seasoners, The Millers was canceled after 4 episodes of season two, and About A Boy was essentially in a burnoff. So in response, comedy hours in the fall have gone way down. Currently, if one includes Best Time Ever, and Simpson repeats at 7, there are currently 10 hours of comedy among the big four. For dramas, beginning in September, there are a total of 35 hours, while in November there's an addition of three more drama hours. Though looking at the new comedies, one can easily see why. In the opinion of this blogger, outside of The Muppets, not a single new comedy trailer has impressed me. So in some cases this could very well be a good thing, but the lack of any real breakouts is very disconcerting for comedy fans and while the pendulum will swing again, it's likely not to happen any time soon, unless the 2016 development is absolutely incredible.

Diversity Strikes Again
In less depressing news, actors of color are now getting more love than ever before! The success of Blackish, Empire, How to Get Away with Murder, and Fresh Off the Boat was a huge wakeup call to the executives, as a good chunk of new shows have people of color as main or very prominent characters.

At ABC, the kings of the diversity boom, there's the all Afro-American remake of Uncle Buck, the Ken Jeong starring Dr. Ken, and Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra in Quantico.

But FOX isn't a slouch either, with Morris Chestnut's Rosewood airing before the megahit series Empire, along with Scream Queens featuring Keke Palmer and the only thing good thing that came out of Mulaney, Nasim Pedrad. Fox also has Bordertown that kinda sorta has Hispanic representation, but in the worst possible way.

NBC meanwhile is focusing on more diversity with People Are Talking's Tone Bell and Bresha Webb, The Player's Wesley Snipes, and Chicago Med's Yaya Dacosta. NBC also is attempting to tap into the latino audience with Eva Longoria's Hot and Bothered, America Ferrera's Superstore, and Jennifer Lopez' Shades of Blue.

Even CBS is using Code Black (Luis Guzman) and Rush Hour to give more love to the often forgotten. Things are looking up for the networks if this trend is continuing to work for them, both for actors and for the ratings.

The common idea is to have new shows be behind greatly performing shows, but this season, there are a lot of shows starting off the night or being hurt by a weaker lead-in. ABC's The Muppets is kicking off Tuesday, Quantico is with a compatible but comparatively weaker Agents of SHIELD, and Oil and Of Kings and Prophets are expected to bring their own power into the ring with Once Upon A Time being far too weak to give a good lead-in to two shows. Fox has an all-new Tuesday, with three newbies back-to-back-to-back. Whether its faith or stupidity, it seems unlikely all three will be able to survive. While Scream Queens looks to be one of the bigger hits of the fall, Grandfathered and The Grinder better have some real strength. Elsewhere, Rosewood surprisingly starts out the night on Wednesday as Empire will be leading into local programming. CBS and NBC are slightly more lenient, but the former's Supergirl will kick off Monday in November in fierce competition against Gotham, while NBC has Heroes Reborn, a semi-reboot of the original series. Now most of these shows have some sort of brand or pre-existing popularity to them that makes them much easier to have good faith in, including The Muppets, Supergirl, Heroes, and arguably Scream Queens. But the rest are very much up in the air until we get a far better understanding of the future ahead.

Tuesday Freshman Fight
It's truly a rare case of three newbies fighting each other for attention, and this rarity will occur Tuesdays at 10. CBS' Limitless, with Bradley Cooper recurring and Scorpion producers at the helm, looks to be the early favorite of the three. ABC's Quantico has been getting rave responses early on, but will that translate to good ratings? And of course, NBC's magic wild card of Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris. Being the first primetime variety show since The Wayne Brady Show in 2001, the show could go either way. On one hand, primetime variety shows have been gone for years, and no one knows if Heartbreaker will be a hit or not. But on the other hand, NBC's bread and butter in the comedy genre currently are The Tonight Show and Saturday Night Live, so maybe there will be potential interest in that type of audience. But of course, we won't know until it happens.

Owning Shows
Probably the biggest thing that went unnoticed was the rise of shows being owned by the network. For ABC, all of the shows that were picked up were owned by ABC Studios in some way, shape or form. In fact, the only shows that aren't owned by ABC are Fresh Off the Boat, The Middle, The Goldbergs, Modern Family, and Last Man Standing. Meanwhile at Fox, the only pickup from an outside studio 100% is the DC series Lucifer, and the only veteran being Gotham. NBC is slightly more forgiving, as shows like Blindspot and The Player are being given a prime position, but not a single new comedy is from an outside studio. There are of course many veterans from outside studios: The Blacklist, The Mysteries of Laura, The Night Shift, and Undateable, but that is still much less than owned shows. CBS however has bucked the trend, with newbies from WBTV (Supergirl, Rush Hour) and 20th TV (Life in Pieces). And many of their comedy veterans like Big Bang Theory, 2 Broke Girls, Mike and Molly, and Mom come from WBTV. But sadly, the only drama not owned by CBS is Person of Interest which is only getting a 13-episode season, that likely will be its last. Not only that, but Girls, Molly, and Interest are all being held until midseason.

Now why is this being done? Well for one thing, first-run ads aren't nearly as important now. Syndication deals and international sales have kept many shows alive, and with the rise of streaming services, it has become a far greater incentive to networks. So to get the most money possible, many shows that are not owned in some way by the network usually don't get picked up unless they are a surefire smash. Even ratings losers like Extant, Under the Dome, The Good Wife, The Night Shift, and more are still able to survive via lucrative deals off network. So while Hawaii Five-0 gets millions in syndication, that money goes directly to CBS Studios, while Person of Interest's money goes to WBTV. So in the future, as live TV continues to go down, get ready to see a lot of shows owned by the parent studio. Whether this is a good idea or not is debatable, but only time will tell.

General Thoughts
Looking at the new fall shows, there doesn't seem to be a show that really stands out from the crowd. While last year had shows like How to Get Away with Murder and Gotham, and the year before that had The Blacklist and Agents of SHIELD, there doesn't seem to be any other show with nearly as much huge hype or buzz. There are some that come close like Scream Queens, Supergirl and The Muppets, but the rest feel more like Scorpions: shows that could be successful and strong, but not huge powerhouses to the likes of Empire. Of course, this is all pure snap judgment, and time will tell if there will truly be a breakout in the mix. So in short, anything can happen in showbiz.

-Eric McInnis

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