The dawning of the fall television season is a time of great hope, expectation and, if you’re Will Arnett, inevitable, crushing disappointment. Every autumn, as the leaves turn, the big four and a half broadcast networks (we see you, CW!) unveil their latest offerings, the result of years of development and countless all-nighters bearing a strong aroma of flop-sweat in their wake. And yet despite the well-intentioned efforts of many, the great majority of these new programs fail, some with a bang, some with a whimper, and some with a WTF. In fact, the only seeming guarantor for television success these days is to have "NCIS" in your title.
We here at Grantland — as huge fans of both television and schadenfreude — took one look at the especially lame-looking season ahead, filled with long-chancers, no-hopers, and second-raters, and immediately thought one thing: “Garrett Morris is still alive?!?” But then a second thought occurred: It’s time for
the a first second Fall TV Cancellation Fantasy League! The goal here is to think and operate in the exact opposite manner of a network television head, or, as we like to call it, “pulling a Ben Silverman.” We will cheer failure and root for disaster. League participants will stack their teams with the new series they judge to have the least chance of success. Outright stinkers and critically adored bombs are of equal value; the Grantland Fall TV Cancellation Fantasy League is a literal race to the bottom. A full list of scoring and rules will be published later in the week.
For now, though, we present our totally biased guide to the 25 new programs debuting in the next two months. Supplemental drafts will be held for midseason replacements. (ABC’s cross-dressing disasterpiece Work It is an Andrew Luck-sized talent almost worth tanking the first half of the season for.) And despite a slew of extremely dubious new programs (hello, Boss!), cable series are off-limits, as they are almost never cancelled outright, merely left “unrenewed” at the end of the season. (RIP, Terriers!)
To the minefield!
First Bracket: The Walking Dead
Note to showrunners: Make sure your parking is validated and the Christmas trip to Malibu is refundable. This might not last long.
The Playboy Club (NBC, Monday 9/19, 10 p.m.)
The first of two ridiculously cheesy Mad Men rip-offs on the nets this fall, and by far the more ridiculous. When a show has to resort to cheap publicity stunts before it even shoots the pilot — leaking the info that the hotter cast members signed “nudity clauses” — it’s strike one. When the bunny-eared stars are forced to defend the show as “feminist,” it’s strike two. And when the pilot is campier than Liberace in a tent, it’s strike three. The fact that it’s on NBC and the lead has already been recast — with LeAnn Rimes’ tabloid-baiting fiancée? Strike five!
Man Up (ABC, Tuesday 10/18, 8:30 p.m.)
While cable continues to ask the tough questions — like how does a good man break bad, or how many horse-rapes are too many horse-rapes — network TV this fall seems to be fixated on only one: What’s the deal with all these women? Man Up isn’t the only show bizarrely fixated on a perceived feminization of culture, but it’s certainly the worst. Even beyond the cut-rate premise, the casting of Mather Zickel (the bargain Ty Burrell), Christopher Moynihan (the affordable Matthew Perry), and Dan Fogler (the dollar-store Jack Black) makes this as forgettable as it is doomed.
Grimm (NBC, Friday 10/21, 9 p.m.)
Putting a show about a modern-day fairy tale hunter on Friday nights on NBC raises the question: If a show is cancelled in the (haunted) forest, can anyone hear it?
Up All Night (NBC, Wednesday 9/14, 10 p.m.)
Up All Night would seem to have everything going for it: outstanding comic pedigree (creator Emily Spivey is a veteran of Saturday Night Live and Parks & Recreation; SNL’s Lorne Michaels is producing), big-name cast (Will Arnett, Christina Applegate, Maya Rudolph, Mr. Mariah Carey, and that familiar frisson of business people laid low by babies that America seems to love (or did once 24 years ago). But don’t be fooled: You couldn’t get toast like this if you tossed a baguette into a blast furnace. The delightful Arnett is proven ratings kryptonite, the show has already been “reworked” to boost Rudolph’s role (to better build on Bridesmaids bonhomie), and the network has announced multiple airings of a pilot already saddled with the impossible task of launching a new Peacock comedy block on Wednesdays. This brings us no pleasure — the first episode is excellent, and those involved deserving of success. But with a pricey cast it's hard to imagine new NBC boss Bob Greenblatt continuing the network's old guard sympathetic strategy of giving slow-starting sitcoms time to find their sea legs.
I Hate My Teenage Daughter (Fox, Wednesday 11/30, 9:30 p.m.)
Just when we thought that only men could be crammed into oafish, old-fashioned sitcoms in which they mug for the camera about the puzzling nature of the modern world, Fox comes through with this female-fronted turkey. Jaime Pressly leads a bizarro cast (including Cutty from The Wire!) of nominal adults tasked with understanding and disciplining a horde of wildly made-up (not to mention completely made-up) adolescents. A sour sitcom built on familial fear and hate: perfect for the holiday season!
Second Bracket: Good Luck, Charlie
Hey, even V got a second season somehow, right? Right?
Charlie’s Angels (ABC, Thursday 9/22, 8 p.m.)
Successful programs need more than the recognition factor to make it — just ask the reimagined versions of Knight Rider and The Bionic Woman (Silvermaaaaaaaan!) — and it’s unclear what else this reboot of the
warmly remembered '70s hour has going for it. Other than Minka Kelly firing handguns in skintight outfits, of course, though the potential audience for that is diminishing rapidly.
Suburgatory (ABC, Wednesday 9/28, 8:30 p.m.)
A classic comedy tweener: a family show aimed at middle-America, starring Jeremy Sisto and Cheryl Hines — refugees both from other, better shows — that does nothing but make fun of its potential audience. We’d say the terrible title alone guarantees a quick hook, but Cougar Town is now entering its third season, so what do we know?
Prime Suspect (NBC, Thursday 9/22, 10 p.m.)
A remake of the fiercely beloved edgy British cop show that starred Oscar winner Helen Mirren — only on NBC, with no swearing, and starring Coyote Ugly-survivor Maria Bello rocking a jaunty fedora in lieu of a hard-drinking edge. What could possibly go wrong?
A Gifted Man (CBS, Friday 9/23, 8 p.m.)
It’s a show on CBS about a blandly handsome doctor who sees ghosts. There is no chance that any of us will watch this. But there is an extremely strong chance that your parents, the lady who cat-sits for you, and lots of other people you try your very best to avoid will watch this. In other words: a push.
Free Agents (NBC, Wednesday 9/14, 10:30 p.m.)
Free Agents is a delightfully scripted remake of a very good British sitcom. We are rooting for it. But the exact things that make us want to watch (writer John Enbom wrote the best episodes of Party Down, funny co-stars Kathryn Hahn and Anthony Head, witty banter delivered by non-moron adults) are the very same intangibles that cause veteran industry bomb-watchers to salivate. One to keep an eye on.
Whitney (NBC, Thursday 9/22, 9:30 p.m.)
NBC’s Thursday night comedies are highbrow, single-camera ensemble pieces that are fiercely beloved by niche audiences. Whitney is none of these things. As broad and blue as the Smurf balloon at the Macy’s parade, catty comedienne Whitney Cummings is the odd woman out of the former “Must See TV” lineup (now known as the “Occasionally DVR’d by People Who Live in Big Cities” lineup). It’s not a problem of execution — though the pilot is plenty lousy — as any network would rather swing for the fences with a populist half hour than continue to please the blogosphere by enabling Community creator Dan Harmon. But dropping Whitney in Liz Lemon’s time slot is like relocating Howard Stern to NPR: The effete fan base will have their knives out — and odds are they'll be the correct knives.
Third Bracket: The In-Betweeners
Series with big risks could reap equally big rewards.
Revenge (ABC, Wednesday 9/21, 10 p.m.)
A reimagining of The Count of Monte Cristo (!) set in Long Island (!!), this highbrow suds from the ABC soap factory has definite hit potential. It all depends on the tone: If star Emily VanCamp is allowed to go high camp, the ratings could follow — but it could also get bogged down in backstabbing and backstory. One way or another, this show is making the cover of EW, whether it’s like this or like this.
Terra Nova (Fox, Monday 9/26, 8 p.m.)
Gargantuan hype. More visual effects than a Nicole Kidman close-up. A dinosaur-sized budget. Dinosaurs. Everything about this time-traveling adventure series is extra-large, including the expectations. For Terra Nova to succeed, it has to be a legit phenomenon. But if it goes down it will be spectacular, a brontosauran belly flop of epically embarrassing, money-burning proportions.
Once Upon a Time (ABC, Sunday 10/23 8 p.m.)
Is it a bad sign that the premise for this show — in which a small town in New England is also some sort of magic mirror portal to a living, fairy tale universe — makes absolutely no sense on paper? If you’re an ABC exec hoping to tap into some lingering Lost magic thanks to showrunners (and island veterans) Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, then, yes, it’s a very bad sign. Once Upon a Time has “low-rated cult-favorite” written all over it.
Pan Am (ABC, Sunday 9/25, 10 p.m.)
Another Mad Men rip but remember: If Mad Men were on a network other than AMC, its low ratings would have gotten it yanked faster than an errant weave on Basketball Wives. Pan Am looks preposterous, but could also provide the sort of lighthearted, loose-skirted fizz that vanished from Sterling Cooper around the same time as the first Bobby Draper. Besides, would Christina Ricci align herself with anything doomed to fail?
Hart of Dixie (CW, Monday 9/26, 9 p.m.)
In which Rachel Bilson takes her Josh Schwartz-ian double-talk to a cornpone Southern fantasy land where good old docs leave their practices to untrained hotties and good old boys look like QB1 from Friday Night Lights. We’d say it looks unsustainably silly, but both producer Schwartz and ratings-averse netlet the CW have been down this (dusty, alligator-infested) road before.
Fourth Bracket: Raising Hope
Stability is the name of the game in this group, as most of these shows seem like they’ve already been on the air for years. Is it any wonder most of them are on CBS?
Unforgettable (CBS, Tuesday 9/20. 10 p.m.)
It’s The Mentaladyist! Which is to say, it's getting renewed.
Person of Interest (CBS, Thursday 9/22, 9 p.m.)
Once again, Michael Emerson plays a mysterious, pinched power figure who has a thing for lists, numbers, and calling people “Mr.” in a deliciously exaggerated way. Only instead of battling a smoke monster he’s empowering Jesus to take out future violent offenders with shotgun blasts. Trust CBS to keep things neat and procedure-y and producers Jonathan Nolan and J.J. Abrams to make it all look cool. A quick cancellation is as likely as Emerson using a contraction.
Ringer (CW, Tuesday 9/13, 9 p.m.)
Sarah Michelle Gellar returns to the scene of the slaying, this time getting her Coors Lite on as a set of mysteriously troubled twins. The pilot promises plenty of twists and turns — exactly the sort of scenario that could hook a devoted fan base and wildly alienate a large one.
How to Be a Gentleman (CBS, Thursday 9/29, 8:30 p.m.)
A predictable, manageable, multicamera sitcom about meek dudes becoming mean dudes. Elevated by a strangely fantastic cast (including Dave Foley and Flight of the Conchords’ Rhys Darby) this could run for much of the next decade whether you ever get around to watching it or not.
Fifth Bracket: That's So Raven
The creators of these shows are already buying new houses on the back of anticipated Season 4 DVD sales.
2 Broke Girls (CBS, Monday, 9/19, 9:30 p.m.) has a huge safety net in CBS’ Monday comedy block, and a huge built-in fan base thanks to the hilarious Kat Dennings. Allen Gregory (Fox, Sunday 10/30, 8:30 p.m.) is a cartoon on Fox. Those tend to have longer average lifespans than crocodiles. The New Girl (Fox, Tuesday 9/20, 9 p.m.) features Zooey Deschanel in nerd glasses, singing and flirting. It's what one half of the Internet was created for. The Secret Circle (CW, Thursday 9/15, 9 p.m.) is a companion piece to The Vampire Diaries about hot witches. A safer bet than government bonds. Last Man Standing (ABC, Tuesday 10/11, 8 p.m.) marks the return of Tim Allen in a sitcom in which he complains about women. Our grandchildren’s grandchildren will still be writing jokes on the Internet about why this show is such an infuriating, enormous success.
Andy Greenwald is an author and screenwriter in New York. He covers pop culture for Grantland.
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