Stability and Familiarity Drive New US Scripted Line Up
As the big US networks begin to roll out their new Fall season shows for 2017 and 2018, the old nautical phrase “steady as she goes” comes to mind. After a volatile few years, which saw a record number of new launches and the aggressive expansion of digital disruptors Netflix and Amazon, the new schedule reveals that the networks are retreating from some of the more costly trends of recent years – shows based on movie IP, for example – and instead leaning back towards more familiar formats.
This is especially notable where reboots are concerned. This is nothing new, of course, and the shows being remade and relaunched now are fewer in number than in years past. What is of note is the shows being remade: Roseanne, Will & Grace, Dynasty. These are major properties, shows that were household names in the relatively recent past when audience figures for broadcast were far higher than today. It may well be, with uncertainty and tension dominating the news, that the hope is for audiences to be nostalgic enough for those days gone by that they ditch the PVR and SVOD and return to the comfort of scheduled shows whose names evoke happier times.
Similar thinking may be behind shows such as CBS’ big new sitcom launch, the unapologetically old-fashioned multi-camera apartment sitcom 9JKL, which bucks the trend for edgier single camera shows by embracing studio sets and live audience laugh tracks. At the same time, the season’s biggest comedy hope – Big Bang Theory spin-off Young Sheldon – swaps the multicam format of its parent show for a more dramatic single camera style.
In terms of content trends, the flow of comic book adaptations shows no sign of stopping with ABC’s Inhumans and Fox’s X-Men spin-off The Gifted both carrying the Marvel brand.
The CW’s mid-season Black Lightning brings yet another Berlanti produced superhero to that channel, and looking ahead the trend is expanding to take in smaller networks and digital platforms, with Freeform prepping Cloak & Dagger and New Warriors while Hulu has the supervillain-themed Runaways on the way.
The only discernible new content trend on the networks comes in the shape of three military-themed dramas. CBS has David Boreanaz in the Special Forces action series SEAL Team, NBC has covert warfare thriller The Brave while The CW offers the steamy young adult helicopter pilot soap opera Valor. There’s a conservatism apparent in these shows that is echoed in Wisdom of the Crowd, another entry in the sub-genre of “tech genius solves social problems without state help” which previously gave us APB and Pure Genius in the 2016/2017 season. Neither of those went beyond their first season, so consider this a last chance for this particular strain of free market libertarian procedural.
Considering some of the unlikely trends that have bubbled under in recent years – such as the 2015 post-Glee season that saw musical fantasy Galavant air on ABC – this is a very sober and safe line-up of shows that is clearly aimed at consolidating broadcast viewers while leaving the riskier propositions to the deeper pockets and ratings-free world of SVOD. Will that still be the case this time next year? Given how quickly the network landscape is changing, all bets are currently off.