7 Fall TV Burning Questions: Can ‘Empire’ Keep Growing? Will Media Ever Stop Treating Muppets Like Real People?

TheWrap ponders the new 2015-16 television season

According to Nielsen, which still gets to decide such things, the 2015-16 television season begins Sept. 26. In reality, the new season kicks off Sept. 15 with the premiere NBC’s “Best Time Ever,” the first new broadcast entertainment show of the fall.

The weeks that follow will see big premieres in primetime and late night, on broadcast and cable. Stephen Colbert has already taken over for David Letterman on “The Late Show.” Trevor Noah will do the same for Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” toward September’s end. “Empire” will attempt to build on its record breaking success. And “Supergirl” will take flight on CBS in October.

But with so much new programming flooding the calendar, disappointment and failure will be way more common than success. With that in mind, TheWrap looks at the biggest, burningest questions to consider as we spring into fall TV.

ABC Cancels 'Manhattan Love Story'

When Will the First Show Be Cancelled

Last season, broadcasters showed uncommon patience with their freshman crop. It was five weeks before the first series, ABC’s “Manhattan Love Story,” was canceled. That was a stark contrast to the fall of 2013, when ABC waited all of two weeks before making “Lucky 7” the first casualty of the season.

In the too-much-TV era, it’s more important than ever for series to come out of the gate strong. Viewers have so many  options to choose from that they may be less inclined to give a show a second, third or fourth chance than in year past. But with delayed-viewing ratings now more important than ever to networks and advertisers, programmers are less inclined to kill a show without first getting a full picture of its viewership.

It still takes Nielsen more than twenty days to produce ratings that include live viewing plus seven days of playback. That could be enough to buy even the biggest flops a few weeks.

Best Time Ever TCA

Will NBC’s Bet on Live TV Pay Off?

“How I Met Your Mother” star Neil Patrick Harris returns to series television Tuesday with “Best Time Ever,” a live variety show based on the U.K. series “Saturday Night Takeaway.” The show is part of an investment in live TV this season that also includes comedy “Undateable” and the live musical “The Wiz” slated for December.

“So often now nowadays people will TiVo stuff, and they just watch it,” Siobhan Greene, producer of “Best Time Ever,” said in August at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. “But … I’m telling now this is the show. And you are going to have to watch this show live.”

Networks are increasingly drawn to live TV as a hedge against the DVR. But as Fox revealed this summer when it quickly cancelled “Knock Knock Live,” mere liveness is not a guarantee that viewers will tune in.


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Can Stephen Colbert Unseat Jimmy Fallon?

Colbert won the ratings war with “The Tonight Show” in his first night out as host of “The Late Show.” He then handed that lead back to Fallon on night 2, when the NBC host had BFF Justin Timberlake on. With both shows breaking out the big-guns in bookings in the week to come–Hillary Clinton on “Tonight,” Ted Cruz on “Late Show,” Donald Trump on both–the ratings lead could flip back and forth for a while. But long term is a tall order. As  TheWrap reported Tuesday, Fallon is pretty far in front of his competition by most metrics — particularly in Nielsen numbers.

In all likelihood, over time, Fallon will stay No. 1, just like Leno was for so many years before him. But Colbert is such a special talent that if anyone can compete for the top slot, it’s him. The truly fair way to measure Colbert will be against what David Letterman has done in recent years, which hasn’t been all that much. So CBS should be pleased with how that works out, no matter how things shake out against Fallon.

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Can Trevor Noah Fill Jon Stewart‘s Shoes?

Noah actually has bigger shoes to fill than Colbert does, despite the smaller arena. Stewart was Comedy Central’s network identity, which became even more invaluable when “The Colbert Report” ended its epic run in December.

The talented and likable Noah has inherited a lot of responsibility for a young comic with limited TV experience — and starting Sept. 28, Noah will suddenly be the face of the a flagship show. It is imperative that the socially conscious comedic torch continues to be carried by the program, or Comedy Central (and Larry Wimore and Chris Hardwick) is in a bit of trouble.

The good news is that “The Daily Show” has essentially evened itself up with “Saturday Night Live” in terms of developing talent, so maybe Noah will be the next Jon Oliver. For now, he’s funny and handsome and will immediately benefit from sample viewing.


Will ‘Supergirl’ Live Up to the Hype or Crater the Superhero Genre?

Supergirl seems like another no-brainer superhero drama, from the creators and showrunners behind The CW’s popular “Arrow,” “The Flash” and the upcoming “Legends of Tomorrow.” But those shows didn’t have to deliver CBS-sized numbers in order to be considered successful.

Will Superman’s cousin prove to be a draw for the older CBS crowd and will she have it in her to deliver much bigger numbers than her CW counterparts? More importantly, when will we start to see some crossovers?

Chuck Hodes/Fox

Can Empire Keep Growing?
“Empire’s” first season shattered ratings records, becoming the first show in at least 23 years–since Nielsen changed the way it measured shows–to grow week over week in total viewers for its first five telecasts. The season finale alone attracted 17.62 million viewers, an increase of 79% from the show’s premiere. But is that kind of growth sustainable? After it’s phenomenal freshman season, all eyes will be on the Fox show to repeat or beat its previous accomplishments.

The show has several things working in its favor. The entire main cast is returning, along with a whole new slew of guest stars that includes Chris Rock, Mariah Carey, and Marisa Tomei. But this season will play out across 18 episodes, unlike season one which had only 12. Will viewers be willing to gut it out in the Lyon’s den for that long?


Will the Media Ever Stop Treating the Muppets Like Real People?

The Muppets are not people. This fact is apparently difficult for the media, which goes out of its way to report on ABC’s puppets as though they’re actual human beings.

Two of the non-humans, Kermit and Miss Piggy, were on stage during the “Muppets” panel at the Television Critics Association summer press tour last month, putting executive producers Bill Prady and Bob Kushell in the unique position of having to discuss their show while journalists earnestly directed questions at their characters. Certainly, Shonda Rhimes didn’t face the same dilemma when she was on stage with Kerry Washington, Ellen Pompeo and Viola Davis — not Olivia Pope, Meredith Grey and Annalise Keating — just a few hours later.

The show’s mockumentary set-up doesn’t help matters, as it lends itself so nicely to the franchise’s self-referential sense of humor. But let’s not forget that for seven seasons, “30 Rock” was set inside NBC headquarters, and the media was still able to go without reporting on the comings and goings of Jack Donaghy as though it were real life. Here’s hoping we can all regain that level of sanity before “The Muppets” premieres on Sept. 22.