The buzz is back.
After a few seasons in which the networks struggled mightily (and futilely) to get the attention of viewers, this fall has seen a massive surge of attention for a slew of young series. And in many cases -- though not all -- the hype has been matched with equally impressive ratings.
But while Nielsen numbers are still incredibly important to a show's long-term survival, both broadcast and cable networks are increasingly interested in how series are rating in the pop culture as well as in the overnights. With out-of-the-box hits harder to come by, networks know they need to be more patient with shows than in the past.
Strong buzz is a good way to figure out what's clicking with audiences.
No longer limited to critical reviews and magazine stories, TV buzz is just as likely these days to come from the blogosphere or social networking sites such as Twitter or Facebook. How a series performs on Hulu or iTunes also can give executives a hint of whether series are starting to break though.
With that in mind, TheWrap has come up with a six-pack of series (most new, a few returning) that are delivering the biggest and deepest buzz of the fall season. Plenty of shows have better ratings and deliver more ad revenue -- but these are the ones getting people to talk about them on a regular basis.
Think we missed a worthwhile contender for the Buzz List? Sound off in the comments section below.
Why it's buzzworthy: Because it's lived up to the amazing hype Fox has created for it. While some insiders thought the network was crazy to bow this show after "American Idol" last spring -- four months before the actual series premiere -- it turned out to be a brilliant strategy.
By giving viewers a taste of what was ahead, Fox allowed a fan base to grow up around "Glee" over the summer. Die-hard fans spent the summer tweeting and texting their devotion to various cast members, building up buzz about the music and generally serving as boosters for the show.
But even without the amazing marketing, "Glee" had all the makings of a buzz hit: a young, attractive cast of newcomers; provocative and soapy storylines and the "Idol"-like energy that comes from musical performances.
Breakout star: In terms of singing ability, Lea Michele is the clear stand-out. But because she's part of an ensemble loaded with so much talent, it might prove tough for her to break out on her own (until she does a solo album, perhaps).
So that leaves critical darling Jane Lynch. Beloved for years for her character work, Lynch on "Glee" finally gets to be front and center as a star. It's about time.
Ratings vs. hype: Suprisingly well-matched. "Glee" seemed destined to be the classic Nielsen underdog -- beloved by critics and a core viewer based but ignored by the larger public. Instead, it has become a solid Wednesday performer -- and should only grow stronger if, as expected, it moves behind "Idol" this spring.
Why it's buzzworthy: In the same way "The Cosby Show" revived the sitcom during the ‘80s, in just two months on the air "MF" has managed to make the family comedy hip again. All the old baggage from 30 years of sitcoms (fat husband, hot wife, dumb kids) has been replaced by a new format in which believability and genuineness rule.
The media are jumping all over the show, with Variety and Entertainment Weekly both recently running glowing profiles about how "MF" is, in the words of EW, "saving the family sitcom."
ABC's two other surviving Wednesday comedy freshman -- family-oriented "The Middle" and the more mature "Cougar Town" – also are getting plenty of attention. But the anchor for the whole night -- and a very likely Emmy magnet next summer -- is "MF."
"We've all been reading and writing about The Death of the Sitcom for so long that the success of 'Modern Family' feels like an enormous relief," Newark Star-Ledger TV critic Alan Sepinwall told TheWrap. "This is one that's not only good, but that seems to have connected with audiences."
Breakout star: It's hard to choose just one. Eric Stonestreet, the over-the-top half of "MF's" lovable gay couple, shines every time he's on screen. And Ty Burrell's Phil is perhaps the best Everyman ever.
But if we had to pick, we'd go with Rico Rodriguez. His young Manny is wise beyond his years and consistently has some of the funniest (and sweetest) moments on the show.
Ratings vs. hype: Matches up pretty well. "MF" is an out-of-the-box hit that's instantly transformed ABC's comedy fortunes. It's being hailed as the savior that it is.
PARKS & RECREATION
Why it's buzzworthy: The new series from the team behind "The Office" is a kinder, sweeter take on workplace culture. It's become almost cliche now to note how "P&R" got off to a rocky start during its initial six-episode run last spring, but there's no denying Greg Daniels and Michael Schur have dramatically upped the funny (and heart) in the show this fall.
It's paying off in great buzz. Entertainment Weekly put the show on its Must List earlier this month and has even started chronicling the show's best lines. The diverse cast of comics also is generating attention, from Twitter superstar Aziz Ansari to Nick Offerman's instantly iconic Ron Swanson.
"I'd follow Leslie Knope into the abyss," said Denise Martin, a reporter/blogger for the L.A. Times. "Unlike Michael Scott, she's a hard worker, her intentions are always good and -- most important for me -- she's not a cynic. Throw in Pawnee's finest ... and it's damn near a perfect comedy."
Breakout star: Offerman. His Ron Swanson is quickly becoming the icy, heartless soul of the "P&R" gang. The Star-Ledger's Sepinwall has called the character "a man who can say completely demented things with absolute certainty, as if they were the most natural thing in the world." That's a tribute to Offerman's acting -- and writers not afraid to have a main character who isn't a sitcom softie.
Ratings vs. hype: Unfortunately, all the love and attention hasn't paid off quite yet. In a difficult 8:30 p.m. Thursday timeslot, "P&R" regularly finishes fourth. Still, the numbers are inching upward, and the series is doing very well among men 18-34, a notoriously difficult demographic group to reach.
THE GOOD WIFE
Why it's buzzworthy: Pre-season prognosticators expected "Good Wife" to do well with viewers. Between star Julianna Margulies and its positioning behind two editions of "NCIS," it seemed a natural fit for CBS.
What's been surprising is how much attention the pop culture elite have paid to the show. Critics use phrases such as "pleasant surprise" and "more than I expected" to describe the series, which hasn't been shy about exploring the pain and suffering Margulies' legal eagle is facing as she tries to get back to work following her high-profile hubby's scandalous affair.
The buzz has resulted in some unlikely media outlets showing the love for "Good Wife." Recent issues of Entertainment Weekly, for example, have highlighted the show in the magazine's Must List and in a fashion police feature. That never happened with "Diagnosis Murder."
Also helping is the fact that the series is incredibly timely, coming on the heels of a number of politicos going through real-life sex scandals of their own.
Breakout star: This is Margulies' show, plain and simple. But she was already a top-tier TV star. So we're going with "Bend it Like Beckham" vet Archie Panjabi. She brings complexity to the part of in-house investigator Kalinda, who has more than an air of mystery about her.
Indeed, while producers recently put out the word that they were casting for a male love interest for Panjabi, several media outlets and blogs have reported buzz that her character might actually be bisexual.
Ratings vs. hype: Well-matched, with perhaps a bit more hype than the ratings justify. "The Good Wife" is a hit but not yet a blockbuster. Still, CBS marketing and PR have effectively tapped into a reservoir of media good will toward "The Good Wife" to get this show far more mentions than the typical first-year CBS drama.
THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF ATLANTA
Why it's buzzworthy: Remember when "The Hills" was the only thing any woman under 40 talked about? That obsession has been transfered to Bravo's blockbuster "Housewives" docu-soap franchise, which soon will have five separate installments. One of them, "The Real Housewives of D.C.," has become something of a national sensation before it's even been cast, thanks to a certain pair of White House-crashing socialites who very much hope to be a part of the show.
But this fall was all about the ladies of Hotlanta. The multicultural cast features some of the most outsized personalities on TV, not to mention plenty of ego and ambition.
Buzzmakers have responded with rapturous attention to the show, making it a regular trending topic on Twitter on Thursday nights and filling thousands of blogs with snarky recaps. The stars are regulars on the talk show circuit and gossip columns, and one (Kim Zolciak) even had a modest dance hit with a song called "Tardy for the Party."
"I think that what makes the 'Housewives' so compellingly addictive is that we're constantly wondering what lines of civility and etiquette these women will cross in blazingly embarrassing fashion," blogger Ben Mandelker of B-Sideblog.com told TheWrap.
Breakout star: Zolciak may have the music career, but as the L.A. Times put it, NeNe Leakes is the "queen bee" of Hotlanta. Originally the good girl everyone related to, she's transformed herself into something of a villain (if media reports are to be believed). It doesn't seem to matter whether she's angel or devil, however. Leakes has quickly become what Heather Locklear was to the original "Melrose Place": Essential.
Ratings vs. hype: Network shows with four times the viewership of "RH" don't get half the buzz the Bravo soap garners. But by cable standards, "RH" is a monster hit. The second season of "Atlanta" consistently delivered nearly 3 million viewers each week, growing more than 100 percent over season one and ranking as the highest-rated installment of the franchise yet.
THE VAMPIRE DIARIES
Why it's buzzworthy: One word: Vampires! Seriously, given Hollywood's love for bandwagons, it's sort of amazing that The CW was the only broadcaster to go after the "Twilight"/"True Blood" crowd this season with its own bloodsucking hour.
The CW's foresight has been rewarded with the network's biggest new hit since "Gossip Girl." Viewers are responding to the show's juicy storylines, its super-hot cast and the always appreciated sense of humor that showrunner Kevin Williamson ("Scream") brings to the table.
"I think the show is darker and more complicated than some people were expecting, emotionally and plot-wise," said "Vee," co-founder of Vampire-Diaries.net. "The showrunners have proven right out of the gate that they're not going to take it easy on their characters or audience."
Breakout star: Ian Somerhalder. He already had the most face recognition going into the show, thanks to his turn on "Lost." But playing bad-boy vamp Damon has turned him into a megastar among the tween and teen set. If Williamson can hook him up with a key part in a summer blockbuster, look for his career to explode.
Ratings vs. hype: CW shows will always draw more buzz than viewers. But "TVD" is very clearly a hit by any measure. After setting records with its September premiere, its audience still seems to be growing. It's also helped the CW increase its Thursday night ratings among adults 18-34 by more than 20 percent.