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Fall Network TV Preview: DRAMAS

"2019-2020 Network TV Preview, Part I"

If only predicting fall TV hits could be as simple as predicting Super Bowls. (We all know the Patriots will be there for a fourth straight year. It’s just the way of the world.) TV is always murkier. Good shows are few and far between these days. Network pilots (or when those aren’t available, the three minute trailers) often don’t give us a sense of the quality of a show. And when good shows do find their way to the screens they are rarely watched. Heck, some shows don’t even get interesting until several episodes - or a few years - in. 

But never fear, my TV friends. After watching every single network TV preview (pilot or trailer) and consulting a Ouija board, a psychic hotline (do those even exist anymore or is that something else Millennials killed?) and the ghosts of all the characters who died or “moved on” on Lost, I am absolutely certain that I have settled on the top network dramas for you when the fall TV season begins… 

(And if they fail, remember it’s not my fault. Blame the supernatural forces). 

Here are 6 worth watching this fall, based on the extended trailers they showed at the Upfronts back in May… 

#6  Bluff City Law  (NBC)

When to find it: Mondays, 10PM Eastern, beginning 9/23

Cool Quote: “We are total opposites. You are conservative; I wage war.”


Fighting through yet another crowded fall of legal and cop shows comes one with star-power and sentiment, which should be enough to stand out a bit. A father and daughter with very different legal styles team up to take on civil rights cases and/or evil corporations and fight for what is right in Memphis. Cheesy? Maybe. But with a TV veteran Jimmy Smits (LA Law, NYPD Blue, The West Wing) and a relative newcomer Caitlin McGee, this show has a likeability index that is pretty high. Instead of a show about the lawyers themselves (Boston Legal) or about quirkiness of courtrooms (Picket Fences, Ally McBeal) we have a courtroom show about justice and defeating racism and helping others. That combined with the father-daughter-family angle here and we should have an older-skewing, but solidly performing hit.

Want to watch a preview?


#5  Nancy Drew (CW)

When to find it: Wednesdays, 9PM Eastern, beginning 10/9

Cool Quote: “I don’t believe in ghosts. I believe in looking for the truth.”

The CW

I asked some high school students if they knew who Nancy Drew was and they gave me blank looks before someone said, “Is that the skater that got attacked by Tanya Harding?” That’s not a good start for name recognition. If CW executives have the last laugh, though, pretty soon Nancy Drew will not make people think of a 1930s book series, but instead an ultra-cool Veronica Mars-ish hip detective that becomes a must-see TV show. Like the 90210 reboot, the trailer for this makes me nervous that there could be some tone problems. It follows a group of teens (though they seem awfully close to acting college-ish) as they become suspects in a murder in Horseshoe Bay, Maine -- a town already haunted by a murder years ago and ghosts (perhaps literally) of that unsolved crime. Nancy (Kennedy McMann), a super-sleuthing detective, and her group of misfit friends have to navigate the complex web of clues and solve the case (which presumably will last most of the season). While the preview shows Nancy kissing a guy (gasp! She’s a teenager, after all), the tone is otherwise soooo old fashioned and PG-ish here that it seems like a Disney Channel Show or a Goosebumps mystery. It looks quite toned down from The Vampire Diaries or The Originals or what we think of as CW television. Nevertheless, McMann looks compelling and the show should be quirky fun. It’s just not about a skating attack.

Want to watch a preview?


#4 Stumptown (ABC)

When to find it: Wednesdays, 10PM Eastern, beginning 10/25

Cool Quote: “Sometimes people have the kind of problems the police can’t help with…”

Kailey Schwerman/ABC

This show is very, very unlikely to be good (as far as quality goes), but it looks tolerable and perhaps even fun--thanks to a charismatic kick-ass lead. This won’t be winning Emmys for drama (and other than Game of Thrones, only shows that coastal critics watch are nominated these days anyway) but who cares? We watch TV to be entertained. And this may reminds us that TV dramas don’t have to be dark to be fun.  The show, based on a graphic novel, stars Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother, The Avengers) as an army-veteran-turned-private-investigator with an unorthodox and unapologetic approach to the job, often irking everyone in Portland, Oregon in the process. It seemingly follows a stereotypical trope of the tough woman with a hidden soft side--but with car chases and gambling and lots of fights. This may be the pure “fun” show of the fall on network TV.

Want to watch a preview?

#3 Evil (CBS)

When to find it: Thursdays, 10PM Eastern, beginning September 26

Cool Quote: “The problem with my job is possession looks a lot like insanity and I need someone to help me distinguish between the two.”

Jeff Neumann/CBS

I hate horror films. I hate horror novels. I hate horror shows. I’m not the person that should be in the same room as a horror show. And just the trailer for this show is already unsettling my dreams. But what’s intriguing in CBS’ Evil is its time-tested premise. Evil exists. Can it be scientifically proven? Or can it be attributed to the Devil or to things that go bump in the night?  This show looks to be spectacularly scary, a cross between The Silence of the Lambs and The Exorcist. And it’s a shout-out to how scary shows should be. You don’t need the blood and guts of a horrormovie to be terrified. Katja Chambers (Manhattan) stars as a psychologist who teams up with a Catholic priest or official (it’s a bit unclear) played by Mike Colter (Luke Cage, The Good Wife) to determine if criminal behavior has an earthly or super-natural origin. It also stars Michael Emerson (Lost, Person of Interest) in what seems to be another perfectly creepy role. If done well, this will be the scariest show on network TV. (Well, a lot of shows will be scarier--as in so bad you’ll feel your brain cells disintegrating. But Evil looks to be intentionally terrifying.) CBS should get kudos here for going outside the familiar and expected. I have no clue how this is going to find an audience on CBS (it seems to be more of a natural fit to air on CBS All Access), but I love that they want to make it a weekly procedural on network TV. I just will watch with the lights on and the doors locked.

Want to watch a preview?


#2 Emergence (ABC)

When to find it: Tuesdays, 10PM  Eastern, beginning September 24

Cool Quote: “I am gonna keep you safe. I am not going to let them take you.” 

Virginia Sherwood/ABC

The show stars Allison Tolman (Fargo) as a police chief who investigates a mysterious accident in her town. She makes a connection with a child left at the scene, played by Alexa Swinton, and soon realizes the child might be the key to unlocking a larger conspiracy. The child, of course, is not normal and can do eerie supernatural things. I am probably in the minority here in thinking this looks good, but I’ve always been a sucker for do-good characters battling odds and shady government-folk, and this show gives off the vibe that viewers are headed down that road quite a bit. Tolman’s character looks likeable: she lives with her father still and her early interactions with the creepy supernatural girl have been fun to watch. Will this show get noticed, though, on ABC? I’m not sure if the cast looks hip enough to make a splash in the media and it feels old out of the gate, which is really too bad since it could be something different and interesting.  Right now, the way it looks, this show gets an A for concept, but may struggle to find an audience. If it combines heart, intrigue, and some good writing, it may last long enough for us to figure out what the conspiracy is and whether the lost child becomes found… if she’s even a human at all! The show seems to be one part 24 with a dash of X-Files and a half of cup of Designated Survivor, but without the star power. Hopefully, the writers themselves can elevate the show and it emerges as a 2019-2020 hit. 

Want to watch a preview?


#1 Batwoman (CW)

When to find it: Mondays, 8PM Eastern, beginning October 7

Cool Quote: “I’m not about to let a man take credit for a woman’s work.”

Kimberley French/The CW

In a Gotham City that Batman has long abandoned and crime has escalated Ruby Rose (Orange is the New Black) plays Kate Kane, a cousin of Bruce Wayne. She ignores her father’s pleas to stay away from Gotham City and instead finds herself battling the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ gang that is destroying the city. She follows in the Wayne family legacy as she becomes Batwoman, while also dealing with the hired group of guards that patrol the city and her own father’s over-protective nature. She also seems caught up in her own darkness and angst (a requirement, of course, if you’re going to go to the Batcave). While much of the press is about Rose playing the first openly gay lead of Superhero TV show, the show will live and die ratings-wise on whether it’s witty, fresh, and interesting. And so far, so good. It looks hip, unique, and comic-y. And Kate Kane looks just as cool when she’s not being a superhero. And you can never say that about Bruce Wayne. The downside: Alice in Wonderland may look like a cool villain, but she also seems to make the show less real and could drive people away from the show who would be tempted to try a more realistic-looking superhero show. Comic book TV shows can succeed, but typically aren’t really hits. Will this break the mold? Maybe. Stranger things have happened: 17 million viewers once tuned in to see Jessica Alba in Dark Angel search for justice in Seattle on Fox.  But whether the CW can convince non-super hero fans to tune in to what promises to be both dark but empowering--will determine if Batwoman becomes a super-sized hit. No matter what, I’ll be watching.

Want to watch a preview?


I’m Dreaming of Midseason (Network) Drama!

But wait--you want more? If you are the type of person who has already completed his or her holiday shopping (if that’s the case, I hate you--unless you’ve bought your favorite TV critic a fantastic gift!), here are the bright spots coming this winter. Most of them won’t appear on our screens until early 2020: 

Cliff Lipson/CBS

It’s never too early to think mid-season, where CBS’ Tommy seems to have strong potential. Edie Falco plays a newly appointed police chief in LA who must navigate not only all the duties of her new job, but the politics of being in a public spotlight--all while dealing with an egotistical and potentially sexist mayor. Meanwhile, for those of us already nervous about computers controlling our lives, Fox’s nExt looks like a fun Person of Interest-type show where A.I. technology has gone out of control and its creator teams up with a Homeland Security Cybersecurity division to try to shut down Alexa-type devices that have way too much power. And if you’re looking for something a bit lighter, a musical dramedy is (hopefully) expected to appear with the expected debut of NBC’s Zoe’s Extraordinary Playlist. The show features a young computer-coder in San Francisco who questions her sanity when she starts hearing other people’s thoughts and desires--through song. Jane Levy (Suburgatory) and Peter Gallagher (The OC) star.

Join me next week for my network COMEDY preview and the following week for my network REALITY and SPECIALS preview!


Meet the Author

About / Bio
A TV critic for entertainmentfuse.com with a passion for network and cable TV, I have been writing about TV for more than 20 years. I teach English and Journalism/Media studies to high school students and community college students in the Boston area. I'm a crazed sports fan of the Cubs, Red Sox, Patriots, Bears, and Illinois Fighting Illini. This month's funny claim to fame: Once Googled myself and saw college student in NC used me as a source and called me a "Reality Television Theorist"... like all day I would sit in a room and ponder the great life mysteries of reality TV. If only I could. 🙂

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