When it comes to TV, the fall is all build-up. The TV outlets — streaming, cable, and, especially, the networks — promote their new shows with the persistence and positivity of perky life coaches, and then the premieres are scrutinized by critics, viewers, and advertisers. I challenge you to find a pop culture media outlet that doesn’t cover the onslaught that is Fall TV during the month of September.
And then, basically nada. The shows, ranging from major network efforts such as NBC’s “Manifest” to designer streaming series such as Amazon’s “Forever,” are released into the digital ether, to become a hit, a miss, or something in between. Here’s a catch-up session with some of the new shows.
Movie stars do not a TV hit make: This is an old lesson proven true once again, as Jim Carrey, Sean Penn, and Emma Stone appeared in fall shows that didn’t quite break through. There is no guarantee for TV success, no matter what, even if a big-screen face is in the mix. For every hit like “Big Little Lies,” led by heavy-duty stars Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, there’s a flop like “Gypsy,” the Naomi Watts series about a therapist crossing boundaries with her clients.
Carrey’s “Kidding” on Showtime, about a Mister Rogers-type entertainer trying to grieve a loss when the world wants him to smile, failed to generate enthusiasm and ratings. I like the show, but I find Carrey jarring and unconvincing in the intensely sincere role. Showtime has renewed the series despite low-to-middling numbers, most likely as a nod to Carrey, who also executive produced the cabler’s “I’m Dying Up Here.”
Penn’s plodding “The First” on Hulu, about space travel, barely made a ripple, and Stone’s challengingly surreal “Maniac” on Netflix, costarring Jonah Hill, didn’t get much post-release buzz either. Neither series is showing up on many year-end Top 10 lists, but it’s impossible to be more specific about their performances: The streaming services don’t make their ratings public. Julia Roberts’s excellent “Homecoming” on Amazon, on the other hand, is queued up for the Emmy circuit, having just won a number of Golden Globes nominations. A second season is on the way.
Sometimes you go back to the well, and the well is dry: Reboots are all the rage for the networks, as these rejiggered old shows come to the market as known products. When promoting TV, audience familiarity is a big plus. But a few high-profile reboots have disappointed this season, including CBS’s “Magnum P.I.” and “Murphy Brown.” Say it with me this time: There is no guarantee for TV success — especially when, as in both of these cases, the material stinks.
After the boffo return of “Roseanne” last season, many assumed “Murphy Brown” would also captivate viewers with its political humor. But Candice Bergen’s sitcom, given a prime Thursday spot, drew low numbers, and it’s unclear whether it will return for another season. It has been a long time since Murphy’s nemesis Dan Quayle was in the public imagination, and reruns of the original series are not available online to develop new audiences since it left the air in 1998. And then the political jokes — inevitable about Donald Trump and Fox News — were relentless and stale.
Talk-show mishegas: Late-night talkers are strong these days, as political humor keeps them afloat. But a few other talk shows have crashed and burned this fall. ABC’s new “The Alec Baldwin Show” on Sunday nights did extremely poorly out of the gate — and this was before his arrest — with 2.1 million viewers. The network — which also has Baldwin’s successful “Match Game” reboot — moved the talk show to a Saturday night dead spot, and its future is bleak.
Megyn Kelly is also a fall dud, having lost her show after making offensive comments about blackface. NBC hired her for a lot of money, knowing about her history of racial insensitivity on Fox News, but the network has nonetheless let her go (the exit negotiations are ongoing). Of course, if her hour of the “Today” show had been doing well, NBC might have been more forgiving, don’t you think? Interestingly, the ratings for that hour have risen since Kelly’s departure.
Intubations R Us: Medical dramas know where we live. In our own lives, we struggle with matters of life and death, and we face insurance issues — so a decent show based on those near-and-dear issues stands a good chance. Last season, CBS’s “The Good Doctor” took off, and this season NBC’s “New Amsterdam” has done fairly well. “New Amsterdam” is manipulative as all get-out, as it gives us a hero doctor with cancer who is trying to break through bureaucratic hospital baloney. But it pushes all the right buttons for viewers. Positioned after “This Is Us” on Tuesday nights, the show, a steady ratings performer in the 6 millions, quickly won a full-season order.
Mythology mish-mash: NBC’s endless early promotion for “Manifest” was provocative, and it paid off: 10.3 million viewers caught the premiere. The drama was quickly deemed the season’s top-rated new drama, even if the numbers have dropped significantly since then — down to 5.9 million. The premise has been compared to that of “Lost,” as a plane disappears for five years, then lands with no time passing for the passengers. But the execution is anything but “Lost”-like; it’s mediocre at best, with too much focus on the melodrama of those involved in the big mystery. The season will have 16 episodes, and I’m assuming its spring performance (there are seven episodes to go) will be the determining factor in terms of renewal.
Full-season orders: I have wanted to like “Single Parents” since I first heard about it. I like the cast a lot, with Taran Killam, Brad Garrett, and Leighton Meester, and I like the concept. But it’s just awful, and I’ve watched every episode so far. Nonetheless, ABC has given the show a full-season order. Go figure. The ratings, in the 3 millions, are lousy. Also getting full-season orders: ABC’s men-do-cry-a-thon “A Million Little Things,” Nathan Fillion’s clichéd “The Rookie,” CBS’s bland (and blandly titled) but popular Dick Wolf procedural “FBI,” CBS’s surprisingly popular “God Friended Me,” “Magnum P.I.,” CBS’s forgettable “The Neighborhood,” and the CW’s updated “Charmed.”Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.