It happens every fall. The broadcast networks take the wraps off their shiny new toys and herald a fantastic new season full of growth and glory.
Then reality sets in.
The best-laid plans, as they say, often go awry. Flops happen. Only the strong – and lucky – survive.
With that in mind, let’s scan the prime-time landscape to see what’s working, and not, as television heads toward its midseason point. Behold the winners and losers of the fall:
Shonda Rhimes — ABC took a calculated risk by handing over its entire Thursday-night schedule to the prolific producer, who added “How to Get Away With Murder” to a slate that already included “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal.” The sexy crime thriller became one of the fall’s highest-rated, most buzz-laden shows. Rhimes now basically owns ABC.
Supporters of diversity — After years of lackluster efforts, the networks delivered their most racially diverse lineup ever, with eight new series prominently featuring nonwhite characters. Not all of the shows will stick, but several, including ABC’s “Black-ish” and The CW’s “Jane the Virgin,” are hits with critics and viewers.
The NCIS franchise — CBS already had huge success stories with “NCIS” and “NCIS: Los Angeles,” so why not go for the hat trick? To the surprise of almost no one, “NCIS: New Orleans,” with Scott Bakula leading the way, is the most-watched freshman show of the season so far.
Only one problem with that: It just encourages networks to crank out more derivative fare.
CBS — Not everything CBS touches turns to gold (See: “The Millers” and “The McCarthys”); it just seems that way. America’s top network continues to dominate the ratings race and has already awarded full-season orders to all four of its new dramas: “Scorpion,” “Madam Secretary,” “Stalker” and the aforementioned “NCIS: New Orleans.”
The NFL — Some wondered if the league’s off-the-field problems would put a dent in its popularity. Upon further review, pro football still rules. A recent clash between Green Bay and New England drew an incredible 30.9 million viewers, the highest-rated regular season game in three years.
Comic-book heroes — Big-screen movies have been leaning on the comics for ages, so why not TV? The CW hit the jackpot with “The Flash,” which has drawn record ratings for the network. Fox has also gotten positive results from “Gotham,” its dark Batman prequel. NBC’s “Constantine” hasn’t performed as well but is still hanging in there.
Leading ladies — What do Viola Davis, Debra Messing, Tea Leoni, Gina Rodriguez, Maggie Q and Cristela Alonzo have in common? They front shows that have earned full-season orders as TV continues to be a haven for strong women.
Messing makes for an interesting story on her own. After appearing in the dud that was “Smash,” NBC stuck by the former “Will & Grace” star and plopped her into “The Mysteries of Laura,” about a multi-tasking mom and detective. Despite plenty of bad reviews, the show has won over viewers.
Romantic comedies — Audiences clearly didn’t fall in love with ABC’s “Manhattan Love Story,” which became the fall’s first official cancellation. Faring no better were other shows about young couples and relationships, including NBC’s “A to Z” and ABC’s “Selfie.”
“Utopia” — What was proclaimed by Fox to be “the biggest social experiment ever televised” turned out to be one of TV’s biggest disasters. Imagine that: No one wanted to watch a bunch of annoying, insufferable strangers trying to create a new society from scratch.
Fox — Wouldn’t the poor folks at Fox love to have some of that CBS mojo? Not only was “Utopia” a wreck, but aside from “Gotham,” the network failed to find much footing with its new fall fare. Among the flame-outs: “Red Band Society,” “Mulaney” and “Gracepoint.”
Kate Walsh — After completing a successful run on “Private Practice” – and a hilarious supporting turn on “Fargo” – the actress appeared to be on a roll. But viewers found her NBC sitcom, “Bad Judge,” to be a case of really bad TV.
Peter Pan — Um, so maybe live musicals aren’t all that. Having struck gold last year with a “Sound of Music” remake that drew more than 20 million, NBC thought it was on to something and plotted a flight to Neverland. Oops. Initial ratings reveal that “Peter Pan Live” drew just under 10 million. Even worse: By the time its final hour rolled round, the audience had shrunk to 7 million.