Don’t let anybody tell you network television is dead — although there are multiple murderers, a couple of demons and at least one ghost on the new shows premiering this fall on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and The CW.
There are also fewer new shows on broadcast TV this year, just 17 (including one revival), with many more to come at midseason. The networks are trying to compete with cable, premium cable and streaming, so throwing 40-plus shows on all at once — when history shows that at least 30 of them would be dead on arrival — makes no sense.
But you want to know what’s worth watching and what isn’t. So here’s your quick guide, broken down into three categories — yes, no and maybe.
Yes, try these
“The Unicorn” (Thursday, Sept. 26, 7:30 p.m., CBS/Ch. 2) • Wade (Walton Goggins) is a nice, naive guy still getting over the death of his wife a year earlier. He’s completely unaware that he is a “unicorn” — “that elusive creature that all single women are looking for,” his friend says. He’s single, employed and has a track record as a good father and husband. Wade starts dating, but the show is really about his family — his two adolescent daughters (Ruby Jay and Makenzie Moss) and his friends (Robb Corddry, Michaela Watkins, Omar Miller and Maya Lynne Robinson). And every one of them is nicely defined in the pilot, which NEVER happens. “The Unicorn” is funny, smart, sweet and engaging. It’s the best pilot this fall.
“Nancy Drew” (Wednesday, Oct. 9, 8 p.m., The CW/Ch. 30) • In this update of a character that first appeared in print 89 years ago, the girl detective is now a young woman. Nancy (Kennedy McMann) is mourning the untimely death of her mother, which put her plans for college on hold. She’s working as a waitress and she’s sworn off mysteries — but then she becomes a suspect in a murder. And this is all tied to an earlier death, which may have involved her mother and father (Scott Wolf) and definitely involves a ghost. Not a Scooby-Doo reveal with a logical explanation, a real ghost. It’s scary. I jumped three times watching the pilot. And I loved it, which is the most shocking thing of all.
“Bob Hearts Abishola” (Monday, Sept. 23, 7:30 p.m., CBS/Ch. 2) • Bob (Billy Gardell), a middle-aged sock manufacturer, has a heart attack. While recovering, he falls for his Nigerian nurse, Abishola (Folake Olowofoyeku) — and she thinks he’s sort of odd. But they’re both funny and charming, in decidedly different ways; they have unexpected chemistry; and interracial romance between a Detroit native and an immigrant from Nigeria is an engaging twist. But what makes this show is that it’s about Abishola, her family and their immigrant experience. It’s surprisingly good.
“Perfect Harmony” (Thursday, Sept. 26, 7:30 p.m., NBC/Ch. 5) • A drunken, down-on-his luck former Princeton music professor (Bradley Whitford) stumbles into a small-town church and finds a group of musical misfits. He decides to turn them into an award-winning choir. That sounds absolutely terrible — but, lo and behold, this is a very good sitcom. It’s funny, filled with great characters (the cast includes Anna Camp, Tymberlee Hill, Rizwan Manji, Will Greenberg, Geno Segers and Spencer Allport) and there’s some great music. I’m shocked by how good it is.
“Stumptown” (Wednesday, Sept. 24, ABC/Ch. 4) • Cobie Smulders stars as one of the most intriguing new characters on TV this fall — Dex Parios, a strong-willed private detective in Portland, Ore. A veteran who was emotionally damaged by her service in Afghanistan, she’s smart, capable and has a talent for getting at the truth, but she’s lacking in social skills. She isn’t a favorite of the local police, but her brother — who has Down syndrome — adores her. So will you.
No, skip these
“Carol’s Second Act” (Thursday, Sept. 26, 8:30 p.m., CBS/Ch. 2) • This is the kind of show that makes people mock network sitcoms. It’s loud. It’s dumb. And it’s not funny. Patricia Heaton stars as an over-eager, 50-year-old divorcee who quit her job as a teacher and went to med school. Now she’s an intern surrounded by other interns half her age. This is a show populated not by characters, but by caricatures. It’s awful.
“Bless the Harts” (Sunday, Sept. 29, 7:30 p.m., Fox/Ch. 13) • This is ugly animation that labors — mostly unsuccessfully — for laughs. It’s about a poor family in North Carolina who, we’re told, love each other, but the characters are interchangeable and forgettable. Great voice cast — including Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Jillian Bell and Ike Barinholtz — but they can’t make it funny.
“Bluff City Law” (Monday, Sept. 23, 9 p.m., NBC/Ch. 5) • Jimmy Smits stars as Memphis lawyer Sydney Strait, who convinces his brilliant-but-difficult daughter, Sydney (Caitlin McGee), from whom he has been estranged for years, to return to his firm and fight for truth, justice and the American way. I really wanted to like this show — I enjoy legal dramas and I’m a big Smits fan — but it’s … bad. The writing is weak; the characters are not believable; and McGee is just … bad. It’s a huge disappointment.
“Almost Family” (Wednesday, Oct. 2, Fox/Ch. 13) • This show seems contrived past the breaking point. A young woman (Brittany Snow) finds out — along with the rest of the world — that her fertility doctor father (Timothy Hutton) fathered a lot of his patients’ children. Turns out she knows one of them (Megalyn Echikunwoke), quickly meets another (Emily Osment) — and there are at least 97 more out there. Including one she had sex with. Yup. Incest in the pilot!
“Prodigal Son” (Monday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m., Fox/Ch. 13) • Because, apparently, we don’t already have enough shows about serial killers on TV, now there’s this permutation. Malcolm Bright (Tom Payne) is the son of a notorious serial killer. He knows how serial killers think. A criminal psychologist, he helps hunt down serial killers. And — in a page lifted right out of Hannibal Lecter’s book — he goes to see his imprisoned father (Michael Sheen, “The Good Fight”) for help. It’s standard stuff. If you find serial killers entertaining, have at it.
Maybe; take your chances
“Sunnyside” (Thursday, Sept. 26, 8:30 p.m., NBC/Ch. 5) • Kal Penn stars as Garrett Modi, once the youngest-ever New York City councilman; now an out-of-work disgrace after a video of his bad behavior went viral. He’s approached by a rather goofy group of immigrants who want his help to become citizens, and he signs on — to rehabilitate his own image. This is a show with possibilities, but they’re mostly unrealized in the pilot. And the immigrants — including one played by potential break-out star Joel Kim Booster — are more interesting than Modi.
“All Rise” (Monday, Sept. 23, 9 p.m., CBS/Ch. 2) • Newly appointed judge Lola Carmichael (Simone Missick), a former prosecutor, doesn’t want to play by the rules and ruffles feathers when she takes the bench. Actual lawyers will, no doubt, cringe at the lack of reality in this show — most judges don’t solve crimes — but there’s something very appealing about Carmichael (and Missick). The supporting characters need some serious fleshing out, however. So the verdict is still out on this one.
“EVIL” (Thursday, Sept. 26, 9 p.m., CBS/Ch. 2) • Think “The X-Files” with demons. Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers) is a super-skeptical psychologist — a divorced mother of four young daughters — who doesn’t believe in anything supernatural. But when she meets priest-in-training David Acosta (Mike Colter) and starts investigating a possible possession, things get REALLY scary. The pilot is good (and creepy), but can the premise hold up?
“Batwoman” (Sunday, Oct. 6, 7 p.m., The CW/Ch. 30) • Three years after Batman vanished, his cousin, Kate Kane (Ruby Rose) puts on the suit and becomes Batwoman — Gotham City’s new protector/vigilante. Yes, she’s a lesbian. Yes, that plays into the story. But “Batwoman” isn’t really about that. It’s another CW superhero show from the producers of “Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Black Lightning,” “Legends of Tomorrow” and “Supergirl,” and that’s the problem. The pilot is pretty good, but it feels like more of the same.
“Mixed-ish” (Tuesday, Sept. 24, ABC/Ch. 4) • This prequel to “Black-ish” is set in the 1980s, when Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross in “Black-ish”) was just a teenager (played by Arica Himmel). It’s about Bow, her hippie parents — white father (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) and black mother (Tika Sumpter) — her two mixed-race siblings, and her tough businessman paternal grandfather (Gary Cole). And it’s fine. Not great. Not bad. Fine. If you’re a fan of “Black-ish” and/or “Grown-ish” (on Freeform), you’ll probably like “Mixed-ish.”
“Emergence” (Tuesday, Sept. 24, ABC/Ch. 4) • A plane crashes, and the local sheriff (Allison Tolman, “Fargo”) finds the sole survivor — a completely unharmed young girl. And she, it turns out, has some serious super powers of some sort. Plus, she’s being pursued by Bad Guys covering up some sort of Terrible Conspiracy. The pilot is good, Tolman is great — but ABC has a history of not finishing the sci-fi shows it starts, so maybe this is something to binge later if it sticks around for a while.
“Kids Say the Darndest Things” (Sunday, Oct. 6, 7 p.m., ABC/Ch. 4) • Tiffanny Haddish hosts this reboot, and she’s funny. The kids she talks to are funny — and they do, indeed, say the darndest things. It’s not great art, but if you’re looking for a way to kill an hour, what’s not to like?
WHEN WILL YOUR OLD FAVORITES RETURN?
Sept. 23 • “Bull” (CBS); “The Good Doctor” (ABC); “The Neighborhood” (CBS); “9-1-1” (Fox); “The Voice” (NBC)
Sept. 24 • “Black-ish” (ABC); “Bless This Mess” (ABC); “The Conners” (ABC); “Empire” (Fox); “FBI” (CBS); “New Amsterdam” (NBC); “NCIS” (CBS); “NCIS: New Orleans” (CBS); “The Resident” (Fox); “This Is Us” (NBC)
Sept. 25 • “Chicago Fire” (NBC); “Chicago Med” (NBC); “Chicago P.D.” (NBC); “The Goldbergs” (ABC); “The Masked Singer” (Fox); “Schooled” (ABC); “Single Parents” (ABC); “Survivor” (CBS)
Sept. 26 • “Young Sheldon” (CBS); “The Good Place” (NBC); “Grey’s Anatomy” (ABC); “How to Get Away With Murder” (ABC); “Law & Order: SVU” (NBC); “A Million Little Things” (ABC); “Mom” (CBS); “Superstore” (NBC)
Sept. 27 • “American Housewife” (ABC); “Blue Bloods” (CBS); “Dateline NBC” (NBC); “Fresh Off the Boat” (ABC); “Hawaii Five-0” (CBS); “Magnum P.I.” (CBS); “20/20” (ABC)
Sept. 28 • “48 Hours” (CBS)
Sept. 29 • “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” ABC; “Bob’s Burgers” (Fox); “Family Guy” (Fox); “God Friended Me” (CBS); “NCIS: Los Angeles” (CBS); “The Rookie” (ABC); “Shark Tank” (ABC); “The Simpsons” (Fox)
Oct. 2 • “Seal Team” (CBS); “S.W.A.T.” (CBS).
Oct. 4 • “The Blacklist” (NBC); “WWE Smackdown Live” (Fox)
Oct. 6 • “Supergirl” (CW); “Madam Secretary” (CBS)
Oct. 7 • “All American” (CW); “Black Lightning” (CW)
Oct. 8 • “The Flash” (CW)
Oct. 9 • “Riverdale” (CW)
Oct. 10 • “Legacies” (CW); “Supernatural” (CW)
Oct. 11 • “Charmed” (CW); “Dynasty” (CW)
Oct. 15 • “Arrow” (CW)
Midseason • “Amazing Race,” CBS; “American Idol,” Fox; “America’s Got Talent: The Champions” (NBC); “The Bachelor” (ABC); “Blindspot” (NBC); “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (NBC); “Criminal Minds” (CBS); “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” (CW); “Ellen’s Game of Games” (NBC); “Good Girls” (NBC); “Hell’s Kitchen” (Fox); “Hollywood Game Night” (NBC); “In the Dark” (CW); “Last Man Standing” (Fox); “Little Big Shots” (NBC); “MacGyver” (CBS); “Making It” (NBC); “Man With a Plan” (CBS); ”Manifest” (NBC); “Masterchef” (Fox); “Masterchef Junior” (Fox); “The 100” (CW); “Roswell, New Mexico” (CW); “Station 19” (ABC); “Undercover Boss” (CBS); “The Wall” (NBC); “Will & Grace” (NBC)
Summer 2020 • “America’s Got Talent” (NBC); “The Bachelorette” (ABC); “Big Brother” (CBS); “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (ABC); “World of Dance” (NBC)