Grading the Networks on Their New Fall Slates

How they stack up in terms of strategy and execution (hint: ABC, you could learn something from the Peacock)

Fall 2010 — it's a season that's nothing short of ambitious, across all the broadcast networks. NBC and ABC stand out for boldness and sheer quantity — though that isn't necessarily a good thing — and everyone's betting big again on scripted.

Of course, each network has to fine-tune its slate to fit its own strategy; what's good for the CW isn't necessarily going to work on NBC. 

Here, TV Hunter grades the new slate of fall shows in terms of strategy and execution, network-by-network.

ABC

It's a clear case of quantity over quality at the alphabet network, which is rolling out 10 new shows — the biggest crop of the bunch.

The Good: Matthew Perry's comeback vehicle "Mr. Sunshine" has a stellar cast and a bright spotlight on it thanks to the former Friend. Suburban superhero comedy "No Ordinary Family" and high-school flashback drama "My Generation" also bring fresh concepts to the table.

The Bad (or perhaps more accurately, The Derivative): So many of ABC's shows seem to be treading in familiar territory. "Detroit 1-8-7" is a homicide investigation drama in the vein of "Law & Order" and countless others. "Body of Proof" follows a quirky medical examiner who seems like a female version of "House." The reality show "Secret Millionaire," which features rich people disguising themselves among the proletariat to do volunteer work, is a blatant ripoff of "Undercover Boss." "The Whole Truth" is your standard-issue sexually charged courtroom drama. And "Off the Map" is a medical drama set in South America that seems to be "Grey's Anatomy" with a dose of Doctors Without Borders.

ABC also is rolling out two relationship-centric sitcoms based on cringe-inducing premises:. "Happy Endings" features a group of friends whose worlds are turned upside down when two of them break up. "Better With You" focuses on a woman with stereotypically sexist biological clock-driven anxiety about being unmarried to her longtime partner.

GRADE: C- … With the exception of a few bright spots, many of these already seem stale out of the gate; none has the makings of a big hit. 

CBS

CBS' big guns — "Two and a Half Men" and "Big Bang Theory" — are both traditional shows with above-average writing and edgy humor. Several of the network's newbies attempt to duplicate that formula, but with with twists.

The Good: "$#*! My Dad Says" is a sitcom with an added boost from Twitter hype and a hilarious performance from William Shatner. "Hawaii Five-O" is an updated version of blue-chip classic TV. "Blue Bloods" brings two of the writers from "The Sopranos" to broadcast to tell the story of a New York police commissioner, played by Tom Selleck, who heads a family of cops in addition to the rest of the department.

The Bad: Jim Belushi and Jerry O'Connell are "The Defenders," in a debauched Vegas take on the legal drama. The concept is interesting, but based on the pilot, the show doesn't go beyond frat boy humor and slapstick. "Mike and Molly" is a sitcom with the added gimmick that the titlular couple are both overweight. There are only so many fat jokes we can take. 

GRADE: B+ … "$#*! My Dad Says," "Hawaii Five-O" and "Blue Bloods" all look promising. Here's hoping the power of Selleck's famous mustache helps the latter overcome its awful Friday night time slot. 

THE CW

The CW is aiming for its core teen/young adult audience with the college cheerleading drama "Hellcats" on one hand — and going for a broader stroke with action thriller "Nikita" on the other.

The Good: The strategy is sound here — and "Nikita's" lead actress Maggie Q seems poised for breakout stardom.

The Bad: Despite the promise of "Nikita," its numbers were only so-so when it debuted last Thursday. "Hellcats," more of a natural fit for the network, debuted to more disappointing numbers. And soft ratings for premiere episodes are rarely a sign of good things to come. 

GRADE: D+ … with an upside caveat. Early numbers don't look good, but let's not fail the CW just yet; perhaps much of its young audience has yet to return from summer vacation.

FOX

"American Idol" is already in steady ratings decline, not to mention in judicial shake-up. Fox needs to find a new hit to prepare for a post-"Idol" world — and fast.

The Good: "Lone Star," a drama about a polyamorous Texas con man, looks like it may become an addictive guilty pleasure. "Running Wilde" brings a pair of familiar faces — "Arrested Development" alum Will Arnett and "Felicity's" Keri Russell — together. And "Raising Hope" is a dysfunctional family comedy from the people behind "My Name Is Earl."

The Bad: All of the network's new shows look good, but none has the potential to be a ratings juggernaut.

Grade: B … No need to worry too much. Even if "Idol" continues to slide, it will still be a force for Fox for at least another season or two; enough time for Fox to do some experimenting.

 

NBC

The Peacock is rolling out seven new shows — six scripted and Cheryl Hines' education-institution makeover show "School Pride." 

The Good: Conspiracy thriller "The Event" looks like it will be the next big buzzworthy series. It's paired with returning spy comedy "Chuck" and Jerry Bruckheimer's new U.S. marshals bounty-hunting drama "The Chase" for a strong Monday night. "Law & Order L.A." should be a sure thing for solid ratings, especially with a boost from the curiosity surrounding the franchise's move from the East Coast.  

The Bad: Jimmy Smits' Supreme Court Justice show "Outlaw" has pedigree, but NBC relegated it to Friday-night ratings wasteland, where it's directly facing off against "Blue Bloods"– and Tom Selleck. Indian workplace comedy "Outsourced" was the most poorly reviewed pilot of the season. "Undercovers," about a pair of caterers who are CIA agents, has a great cast and high production values, but the writing needs an upgrade. "School Pride" has a feel-good premise; it might not be as tiresome as all of the trashy reality shows, but as a makeover show and an unscripted series, it feels like we're covering familiar ground. 

The Grade: A- … It's a big slate, with some interesting possibilities — unlike ABC's big slate of retreads. Most important, the network doesn't really need all of them to stick. One big hit will be an improvement for NBC — and "The Event" looks like it's just that.