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A time traveling fall TV schedule might not have a bright future

One noticeable trend in the coming season of broadcast television programs is time travel.

NBC’s fall series “This is Us” and “Timeless,” ABC’s midseason series “Time After Time” and the CW’s “Frequency” all go back in time to try and change the future or at least to understand it better.

The networks likely wish they could go back to the 1980s and 1990s, too, before cable and streaming programs stole their Emmy and buzz thunder and made it so much harder to successfully launch new shows.

It almost seems a quaint idea to focus an entire column on new network programs when the networks have so few of the award-winning series. Indeed, many millennials seem proud to say, “I don’t watch any network shows.”

The networks haven’t given up on them, as evidenced by another noticeable trend: How many programs have such strange premises that they seem designed to lure millennials away from Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO and other pay choices.

After watching most new series, it is safe to predict that the strategy has as much chance of working as time travelers have of stopping the Hindenburg from catching fire in “Timeless.”

The networks certainly need to find new hits. The notable 2015 survivors were ABC’s “Quantico” and “The Real O’Neals,” NBC’s “Blindspot” and “Superstore,” Fox’s “Rosewood,” “Lucifer” and “Scream Queens,” and CBS’ “Code Black” and “Supergirl” (which moved to the CW). And many of them would have been canceled under old ratings and quality guidelines.

Here is my timeless annual look at the new season of broadcast programs in a night-by-night rundown with one caveat: Unlike cable and streaming shows, the networks send only one episode to preview so it is more difficult to see if the shows have a future beyond the pilot.


“Son of Zorn,” 8:30 p.m. Fox: An animated 7-foot-tall warrior voiced by Jason Sudeikis returns to the California suburbs to bond with his embarrassed teenage son, Alan, and deal with modern inconveniences in an offbeat comedy that co-stars Cheryl Hines as the warrior’s ex-wife and Tim Meadows as her new man. The pitch to the network had to be funnier than one of the season’s weirder shows. ≈≈ out of 4 stars


“Kevin Can Wait,” 8:30 p.m., CBS, moves to 8 p.m. in October: Kevin James plays a briefly retired cop who still acts like a child playing paintball with his buddies to the sometimes amusement of his wife. As usual, you wonder how James got such an attractive wife. You also wonder how James got this lemon on the air. He should have waited for a better script. ≈≈

“Man with a Plan,” 8:30 p.m., CBS, Oct. 24: Matt LeBlanc (“Friends”) plays a married contractor with three children who thinks it will be easy taking care of them when his wife goes back to work. It doesn’t work. Nor do the jokes about whether jackass is one word or two. ≈≈

“Conviction,” 10 p.m., ABC: Hayley Atwell (“Agent Carter”) plays the renegade daughter of a former president who is blackmailed by the head of a unit that re-examines cold cases looking for wrongful convictions. Eddie Cahill co-stars. It should be convicted of having the most ridiculous premise of the season. ≈½

“Timeless,” 10 p.m., NBC: A history professor (Abigail Spencer), a scientist (Malcolm Barrett) and a handsome soldier (Matt Lanter) team up to try and combat a “mysterious criminal” (Goran Visnjic) who has stolen a time machine and wants to destroy America by changing the past. I cared so little about the characters that by pilot’s end, I was hoping everyone would go down with the air ship. ≈≈


“American Housewife,” 8:30 p.m., ABC: Katy Mixon stars as a woman who declares herself “the second fattest housewife” in Westport, Conn., where almost all other of the rich women are obsessed with their toned bodies. The best compliment they can give her is “you are so real.” It may be real of TV to have so many real looking women this season, but it isn’t really funny. ≈≈ out of 4 stars

“This is Us,” 9 p.m., NBC: It is for us in the “Parenthood” crowd. I’m in. The pilot is well cast and sweet and has somewhat of a surprise ending that should lead to many more poignant stories about family. Mandy Moore stars as an expectant mother of triplets with a supportive husband (Milo Ventimiglia). Sterling K. Brown, who excelled as Christopher Darden in “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” plays a successful man who tries to come to terms with an absentee father. One of my favorite pilots. ≈≈≈½

“Bull,” 9 p.m., CBS: Michael Weatherly left “NCIS” and puts on eyeglasses to star as Dr. Jason Bull in this legal series about a divorced jury consultant who uses analytics to see through the bull and tell what prospective jurors are thinking in a murder case with a rich teen as the defendant. In Bull’s world, “93 percent of communication is nonverbal.” Weatherly is pretty lifeless in a dull role. For all of it high-tech elements, it still has elements of “Perry Mason.” I give it a 50 percent shot at succeeding, primarily because it follows Weatherly’s old show. ≈≈½

“No Tomorrow,” 9 p.m., CW: Canadian actress Tori Anderson and British actor Joshua Sasse (“Galavant”) star in a funny, romantic, silly comedy that is one of my favorite new programs. Unfortunately, it airs opposite “This Is Us.” Sasse plays a guy who has a list of things to do before he believes the world ends in eight months and tries to convince Anderson’s character to live for no tomorrow. Western New Yorkers rarely watch CW shows, but please put this one down on your list to watch. Anderson is on my list of potential breakout stars. ≈≈≈½


“Lethal Weapon,” 8 p.m., Fox: Based on the buddy cop movies starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, it is a fast-moving hour with some risqué situations. Clayne Crawford plays a risk-taking detective who has a nice chemistry with the family man, played by Damon Wayans. I didn’t expect much, but Crawford has a nice swagger about him and could be the season’s breakout star. ≈≈≈

“Frequency,” 9 p.m., CW: Another time travel series in which a 2016 female detective somehow connects with her father in 1996. She is determined to prove that her dad wasn’t a bad cop when he was undercover. You’ve seen shows like this frequently. ≈≈

“Speechless,” 8:30 p.m., ABC: Minnie Driver plays a fast-driving and somewhat abrasive mother of three who even scares the police and will do anything to get the best care for a son with special needs who uses a computer to communicate. It has its heart in the right place, but should be called “Laughless.” ≈≈

“Designated Survivor,” 10 p.m., ABC: Kiefer Sutherland stars as a Cabinet member who is drinking beer in a bunker during the State of the Union address when the Capitol building is bombed. Totally unprepared, he becomes president and his beautiful wife (Natascha McElhone of “Californication”) becomes first lady. The new president not only has to calm down America, but also keep a power-hungry general and a troubled teenage son under control. The pilot is one of the season’s best, though it is hard to see if the quality can continue. ≈≈≈½


“The Good Place,” premieres at 10 p.m. Monday before moving to a regular 8:30 p.m. Thursday regular slot, NBC: Kristen Bell (“Veronica Mars”) is mistakenly sent to a heavenly “good place” that bans cursing, ends hangovers and has the best frozen yogurt. Teamed with an ethical soul mate by spiritual leader Ted Danson, she is essentially a terrible human being surrounded by saints. She stuffs her undergarments with free shrimp and defrauds the sick and elderly. One of several new gimmick series, Bell and Danson sell a pilot that is as inoffensive as vanilla yogurt. ≈≈

“The Great Indoors,” 8:30 p.m., Oct. 27, CBS: Joel McHale (“Community”) plays a writer for an outdoor magazine who loses his travel privileges when sales of the print edition are down and is forced to operate in the digital world looking for hits for articles like “Five Things to Do if You Are Attacked by a Bear.” He and the publisher’s young daughter don’t see eye to eye and a young millennial worker is upset that she hasn’t been promoted after eight weeks. Any journalist would sympathize with McHale’s character, but I’d rather be attacked by a bear than watch a second episode. ≈≈

“Notorious,” 9 p.m., ABC: Daniel Sunjata (“Rescue Me”) is a powerful, unscrupulous attorney who makes deals with a TV show producer and manipulates the media to benefit his clients in an overstuffed pilot. The murder mystery that ensues is preposterous in this would-be guilty pleasure. No deal with me. ≈≈

“The Pitch,” 9 p.m., Fox: Canadian actress Kylie Bunbury stars as a female pitching prodigy taught by her father (Michael Beach) to break gender barriers and pitch in the major leagues. Mark-Paul Gosselaar co-stars as the catcher. Bunbury looks like a star and the pilot has a sweet, angelic quality. But since Steven Bochco couldn’t make his baseball series “Bay City Blues” work, I can’t see this one lasting more than a few innings. ≈≈½

“Pure Genius,” 10 p.m., Oct. 27, CBS: Dermot Mulroney plays a gifted surgeon trying to redeem himself from a fatal mistake; he is hired by a Silicon Valley billionaire (Augustus Prew), who tries to save the lives of people with unusual diseases in the hospital of the future he has founded. Take away all the technical stuff, it is a typical medical show with its heart in the right place. But at least it is more interesting than “Code Black.” ≈≈½


“MacGyver,” 8 p.m., Sept. 23, CBS: I haven’t seen CBS attempt to time travel back to 1985, when the first of the 139 episodes starring Richard Dean Anderson aired up until 1992. But I feel like I have. ≈≈

“The Exorcist,” 9 p.m., Fox: Geena Davis is the star of this series based on the 1973 horror film. I think the fact Fox put it on a low-viewing night says it all. I don’t know what would possess anyone to watch the routine pilot instead of renting the movie. ≈≈

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