For years, analysts have pronounced the coming death of network TV, spurred by the rise of cable networks and Millennials who consume all their media online. But a funny thing happened to the “big five” networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and The CW) last season: They produced some must-see TV. Rather than simply leaning on a mixture of procedural crime dramas, reality shows and stale sitcoms to stave off extinction, network TV produced event dramas like Empire, How to Get Away With Murder, and The Flash that drew big, consistent ratings and got huge critical buzz. The coming fall season will, as a result, see very little change, as networks double down on what may finally serve as a winning formula.
CBS has ruled as America’s number-one network for more than a decade on the backs of popular crime-solving franchises like CSI, NCIS, and Criminal Minds, as well as multi-camera sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory and Mom, all of which will return in September. But its two big new dramas will be pulpier stories based on established brands. First, the heavily advertised Supergirl (premiering October 26th), which borrows from the zippy and colorful approach of The CW’s DC Comics superhero shows (Arrow and The Flash), although apparently won’t be able to cross over with them. Second is an adaptation of the 2011 Bradley Cooper film Limitless (September 22nd) about a man (Jake McDorman) who discovers an experimental drug that quadruples his IQ.
CBS’s slow-and-steady approach has long existed as an outlier to the panicked fumbling of its four major rivals, rejecting plays for younger audiences in exchange for consistency. Its shows are rarely critically favored, outside of the acclaimed drama The Good Wife, which is going into its seventh season, but it’s even rarer to see genuine sci-fi like Supergirl or Limitless. Its other new shows are more along traditional lines—Life in Pieces (September 21st) is a star-studded family sitcom starring James Brolin and Dianne Wiest, and Code Black (September 30th) is essentially a rebooted ER, but set in an L.A. county hospital.