An Unusual Fall TV Season

By Amit Jagwani  | 

At this point in the summer, most production studios would be back in production for the fall TV season. Most scripted series would have cameras rolling, but the Covid-19 pandemic has forced unions and studios to revisit safety protocols and negotiations, and the industry is now eyeing late-August and September launches. Flexibility has been the name of the game, as networks have decided to get creative with acquisitions and programming.

It is possible that the traditional three-week holiday production break will be skipped, or that networks will extend the spring 2021 television season into the summer to make up for some fall delays. For now, we face an uncertain and unusual fall television season ahead.

Acquiring Shows to Fill the Gaps
Because the pandemic began to escalate in March, production companies and networks were left without a pilot season. New shows have been picked up based on scripts alone, and while everyone waits for the opportunity to watch efforts like Chris Meloni’s Law & Order spinoff, networks have been forced to look elsewhere to potentially fill their schedules.

Some networks have turned to shows that have aired previously on other platforms, be they foreign pickups or streaming imports. FOX, for example, will be running L.A.’s Finest, and Devils, starring Patrick Dempsey, both of which were purchased from Spectrum Originals.

NBC purchased the rights to air hit Canadian hospital drama Transplant and CBS was at one point reportedly considering shows from its All Access streaming service, like The Good Fight or Picard. The CW acquired Swamp Thing, a DC-Universe series based on a comic book. CBS also had to postpone Survivor, but was lucky enough to have an upcoming season of The Amazing Race ready to go.

A Look at the Fall TV Season

  • NBC is, per Deadline, betting on consistency. The lineup only welcomes one newcomer, the Law & Order spinoff Law & Order: Organized Crime, based on Chris Meloni’s SVU character Elliot Stabler. This series never filmed a pilot and was ordered straight-to-series, and joins a lineup including The Voice, No. 1 drama This is Us, the Wednesday Windy City block (Chicago P.D., Chicago Med, and Chicago Fire). It is possible that many of these series will be delayed because of production, but for now the schedule is set. Jimmy Fallon has already returned to the studio for The Tonight Show, and Seth Meyers is reportedly returning this fall. New comedies starring Kenan Thompson (Kenan) and Ted Danson (the Tina Fey-produced Mayor) will arrive midseason.
  • CBS is taking a similar approach to NBC and possibly anticipating delays, but not making drastic changes to its fall lineup. As mentioned, the longtime CBS hit Survivor had difficulty with overseas production, and is delayed until 2021, but The Amazing Race will replace Survivor in its 8 pm slot, with SEAL Team and S.W.A.T. rounding up the evening. S.W.A.T. is reported to be the first scripted show to return to filming after being moved up from midseason to fill the hole left by Survivor. The schedule on CBS also includes a few new premieres this fall, one being the Queen Latifah reboot of The Equalizer. Late-night hosts Stephen Colbert and James Corden returned to the studio August 10. CBS president Kelly Kahl told Variety that creative options abound for fall programming: “I’m not going into specifics, but we have plenty of options at our disposal,” he said, hinting at the possibility of using acquisitions from the Viacom merger or one-off specials until the season launches.
  • FOX is taking a different route: already-filmed shows and animated series. FOX’s animation-heavy lineup leads a “coronavirus-proof” Sunday, with Family Guy, The Simpsons, and Bob’s Burgers among the network’s only returning series. These cartoons, of course, never lapsed in production because of remote work or social distancing concerns. As mentioned, the network purchased Spectrum Originals’ LA’s Finest, and new series NeXt and Filthy Rich, which were already in the can. The only uncertainties for FOX are hit The Masked Singer and NFL Football.
  • The CW has taken an even more drastic route: the network has postponed its entire fall season, including Supergirl, Flash, and the brand-new Superman & Lois. The fall will be filled with a mixture of reality shows like Masters of Illusion and Whose Line is it, Anyway?, acquisitions like Swamp Thing and Tell Me a Story, and the final seven episodes of much-anticipated Supernatural.
  • ABC relies on the Bachelor and Dancing with the Stars franchises to anchor its Monday and Tuesday schedules, but its scripted series are following the CBS/NBC plan. The network only has two new series on the docket, David E. Kelley’s Big Sky, and Supermarket Sweep, a reboot of an ‘80s game show. The Good Doctor, Grey’s Anatomy, and more are all currently scheduled to return.

While it’s shaping up to a Fall TV season unlike any other, viewers are likely primed and ready for a mix of returning favorites and new series. And there’s still room for some unanticipated additions to the schedule.

Amit Jagwani
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