For kids, September means going back to school. For football fans, it signals the return of their favorite sport. For me, fall always heralds the new TV season.
I say this as someone who doesn’t have a TV. Well, I do have a TV, but it’s hidden beneath a pile of books in my study. I haven’t turned it on in nearly two years, ever since becoming what’s called a cord cutter by disconnecting and canceling my cable service.
I now do all my TV watching on my laptop and iPad, watching favorite series via network websites and Netflix, Hulu and iTunes. It means I’m often a few days (or weeks or months) behind the water cooler chatter, but I’m too old to care. (I think this happens about the time you turn 45 or 50.)
None of which prevents me from avidly following and getting excited about the new TV season. Just as the start of the school year used to bring with it the promise of new friends and activities, September TV holds the possibility of fabulous new shows and breakout stars.
This fresh beginning mattered most to me when I was an adolescent in junior high in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. It seemed especially shiny and filled with promise as I pored over the special issue of TV Guide that listed all the new shows and schedules.
There were only three networks back then: CBS, NBC and ABC. There were a few UHF stations, but they just played syndicated reruns, and a fledgling PBS was still often dismissively referred to as educational TV.
When you’re 12, everything is still new, exciting and relevant. Mod Squad spoke to me. The exploits of the Mission: Impossible crew seemed daringly dangerous but oh so glamorous, too. And was there ever anyone cuter than Robbie (the late Don Grady) on My Three Sons?
To this day, I can remember new series that barely lasted a season but instantly captivated me. They all seemed to have “young” in the title, as in The Young Lawyers and The Young Rebels, part of the networks’ desperate attempts to seem "with it" and cash in on the ‘60s youth culture revolution.
Today, I’d never make it past the first 10 minutes of the majority of these shows. They were mostly formulaic pablum, mere repackaging of the same-old same-old with new, more youthful faces.
These days, there’s a still a new TV season in the fall, but show premieres are strung out over September and October, and then there are mid-season replacements to consider and summer launches. And forget the three-network approach. In addition to the original three networks, now we have PBS, Fox, the CW, plus all the basic cable channels (FX, USA, MTV, etc.) and pay cable channels like HBO and Showtime to consider. As if all that weren’t enough, Netflix, Hulu and other online services are beginning to program original series.
It’s more than a little overwhelming. So many shows, so little time. To help narrow the field just a bit, here are five of this season’s new shows that are likely worth catching:
- Nashville (ABC, debuts Oct. 10 at 10 p.m./9 p.m. Central). Talk about pedigree. This hour-long dramatic series comes from writer-producer Callie Khouri, who wrote Thelma & Louise for the big screen, and it stars the redoubtable Connie Britton of Spin City, Friday Night Lights, 24 and, most recently, American Horror Story. Britton plays a reigning country music queen contending with an ambitious young rival (Hayden Panieterre) who’s nipping at the heels of her cowboy boots. It could be that best of all possible TV shows: a smart soap.
- Call the Midwife (PBS, debuts Sept. 30 at 9 p.m./8 p.m. Central). This six-episode British series will air on Masterpiece, and PBS is hoping it will turn into another runaway hit like Downton Abbey. The show, based on a true story about a young nurse who served the poor in London’s downtrodden East End in the early 1950s, proved enormously popular when it aired in England last year; a second season is already in the works.
- Vegas (CBS, debuts Sept. 25 at 10 p.m./9 p.m. Central). Movie star Dennis Quaid signs on for his first TV series. The show is set in Las Vegas in 1960, when the Nevada town was being transformed from a sleepy western burg into a neon-drenched gambling paradise. Quaid plays a rancher-turned-sheriff — he chases down bad guys while on horseback — who is loosely based on real-life Vegas lawman Ralph Lamb. Michael Chiklis (The Shield, The Commish and No Ordinary Family) plays a newly arrived mobster from the East Coast who’s looking to take over the town. Not convinced yet that Vegas deserves a look? It was co-created by Nicholas Pileggi, the writer behind Goodfellas.
- The Mindy Project (Fox, debuts Sept. 25 at 9:30 p.m./8:30 Central). Comedies can take a while to hit their stride, and that may be the case with this one, created by and starring The Office’s Mindy Kaling. She plays a Manhattan doctor whose professional life is going great guns, though, of course, her personal life is a mess. The trailer and promos look a little shaky, but all the right ingredients are there and, with luck, just need time to blend.
- Revolution (NBC, debuts Sept. 17 at 10 p.m./9 p.m. Central). This is the show that TV insiders are all talking about, mostly because it comes from producer J.J. Abrams (Lost and Alias) and appears to be ambitiously complex. A post-apocalyptic drama, it follows a family as they attempt to reunite and survive after a permanent global blackout puts computers, phones, planes, cars, etc. out of commission. The cast includes Billy Burke (he plays Bella’s father in the Twilight movies), Giancarlo Esposito, Zak Orth and Elizabeth Mitchell.
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