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Reading The Tea Leaves Of The Upcoming TV Season


From NPR News it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish. What you'll be seeing on the big networks this fall was revealed this week to advertisers. It's a big event known in the industry as the upfronts - as in buy some commercial time upfront, before the next TV season. It's a $9 billion business and TV critics also get a peek at the new TV schedules and that includes our very own Eric Deggans. Hey there, Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hey. How's it going?

CORNISH: All right, Eric. So I'm jealous because you kind of get this, like, heads-up on what to watch. What's catching your interest, though, this time around?

DEGGANS: Well, it's been an interesting upfront season. CBS today revealed its fall schedule and the big news is that they have football on Thursday nights. For CBS it means they have to take the "Big Bang Theory" which is a really popular show, the most popular non-sports show on television, and move it to Mondays for a while until football ends in October.

For ABC, they responded by handing Thursday nights to "Grey's Anatomy" creator Shonda Rimes. So now she's got "Grey's Anatomy," "Scandal" and a new show called "How to Get Away with Murder" all airing on Thursday nights. And Shonda Rimes knows how to create shows that are popular with women, so that's a very natural reaction.

And then NBC decided to blow up its comedy block on Thursdays by moving "The Biggest Loser" to 8:00 p.m., another show that's also popular with women.

CORNISH: You know, we're talking about the fall TV season which feels a little weird and outdated, given that there are so many shows on cable and Netflix and streaming that you can watch any time. I mean why does it make sense for broadcasters to stick to this tradition of the upfronts?

DEGGANS: Well, you know, every network has talked about trying to get out of this traditional pattern of television where things slow down in December and shows go into repeats in the summer. At CBS, the executives there said their highest rated new show this past season was the series that was inspired by Stephen King's book "Under the Dome," which aired during the summer.

So every network wants to take that quality programming and kind of spread it into summer. Fox has a "24" reboot airing now that's going to air into summer and CBS will have a second season of "Under the Dome" along with Halle Berry's first TV series as a star, "Extant." They're also ordering shows in smaller batches of episodes and they're trying to turn them into events so people talk about them on social media and they're less likely to record them and fast forward through the commercials.

CORNISH: You know, the other thing, though, when you talk about Halle Berry it does make me think about diversity as well. What's it like on this fall schedule? How would you grade them this time around?

DEGGANS: Well, I'd give them a B-plus with special mention for ABC. Because that's the network that seems to have the most ethnic and cultural diversity in all the shows they planned for next year, both in on air character and the people behind the scenes who are making these shows.

So they handed Thursdays to Shonda Rimes and they've given a night of TV to the most successful black woman in scripted television and her new show, "How to Get Away with Murder," is the second to star a black woman, Viola Davis. They've also got a show called "Black-ish" about a wealthy black man trying to raise his kids with a connection to his culture.

"American Crime" is coming from "12 Years a Slave" screenwriter and NPR contributor John Ridley, and show about a Latina in law school called "Cristela" and a comedy about the son of Chinese immigrants in Orlando called "Fresh off the Boat."

Now, NBC has got a comedy show with "The Office" alum Craig Robinson called "Mr. Robinson" and Fox has "Empire," which is a drama set in the world of hip hop from "The Butler" director Lee Daniels. And I remember hearing ABC entertain head Paul Lee say that ABC was inspired by the success of "Scandal" and "Modern Family," saying that each show reflects the face of the new America.

But, you know, those of us who have been talking about these diversity issues a while say America's been this diverse for a while and we're just kind of glad to see the networks finally catch up.

CORNISH: That's Eric Deggans, NPR's TV critic. Eric, thanks so much.

DEGGANS: Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.
Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.