Networks continue to look for winning combination

Rick Bentley
The Fresno Bee

The combination of a better than average 2014-15 TV season, the continued strength of reality shows and an unwillingness by the networks to do much on Saturday nights has resulted in one of the smallest groups of new programming for the 2015-16 season.

There will be only 22 new programs debuting on the five major networks. Last year, the five networks launched 24 new shows and in the 2013-14 season there were 29 new offerings.

These new shows will be mixed with returning series in an effort to draw viewers. Some will work. Others will fail. How the programming will play out begins to unfold in September.

The changes are making for some interesting TV. Here are some trends:

Comedy continues to kill NBC: Once the home for some of the best TV comedies — “Seinfeld,” “Cheers,” “The Cosby Show” — NBC keeps struggling to find good shows to make viewers laugh.

For the 2013-14 season, NBC added three new comedies: “Welcome to the Family,” “Sean Saves the World” and “The Michael J. Fox Show.” All three died. Last year, the new fall comedies included “Marry Me,” “ Bad Judge” and “A to Z.” They also died quick deaths.

Even the mid-season offering, “One Big Happy,” didn’t make it to the 2015-16 season.

There won’t be three comedy deaths this fall since the network is only launching one new comedy, the Mark-Paul Gosselaar series “People Are Talking.” It will join NBC’s only other comedy, “Undateable.”

NBC is so desperate to find a comedy that works that the ’90s series “Coach” is being revived starring Craig T. Nelson. It will be a mid-season replacement.

To be fair, NBC isn’t the only network having problems. The CW hasn’t launched a new scripted comedy in years.

No shortage of comic book shows: One of the biggest hits from last year’s fall season for Fox was the pre-Batman series “Gotham.” Add to that the success of “The Flash,” “Arrow” and “iZombie” on the CW, along with ABC’s wins with “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” plus “Agent Carter,” and CBS has been moved to get into the comic book world.

The story of Superman’s cousin will unfold in “Supergirl” when it takes over the 8 p.m. Monday time slot in November. “Glee’ graduate Melissa Benoist will play the woman of steel. It might seem strange that the older skewing CBS would add such a show, but this is the network that aired “The Incredible Hulk” and “Wonder Woman.”

The CW is not resting on its comic book laurels. It has “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” waiting to go on as a mid-season replacement. It will include Wentworth Miller as Leonard Snart/Captain Cold, Dominic Purcell as Mick Rory/Heatwave, Victor Garber as Dr. Martin Stein, Brandon Routh as Ray Palmer/The Atom and Arthur Davill as Rip Hunter.

Not all comic book shows have been a hit; NBC’s “Constantine” lasted only one year.

Thin on ideas: Along with turning to comic books for inspiration, the networks are looking to TV programs canceled in the past for new offerings. Along with the for mentioned “Coach” on NBC, FOX is reviving “The X-Files” and NBC is bring back “Heroes” as “Heroes Reborn.”

The networks have also turned to movies for inspiration with the Fox series “Minority Report,” based on the 2002 Tom Cruise movie, and NBC’s “Limitless” is a TV version of the 2011 Bradley Cooper movie.

Reality reality: The next round of “American Idol” that launches in January will be the final season of the former ratings juggernaut. This is a loss of a major reality show, but several others — “Survivor,” “The Amazing Race” and “The Voice” — continue to attract solid numbers.

But the last new network reality show was “MasterChef Junior” in 2013 and it’s ratings have not been that impressive.

Saturday wasteland: The CW Network has never ventured into Saturdays, but the other four networks have. Now, they fill the time with reruns of scripted shows, sports and the news magazine “48 Hours.”

Someone should take a chance with at least one new scripted program. CBS is holding “Person of Interest” to mid-season, a show that would fit Saturday nights.