An annual right of passage is the presentation of Network presentations of their Fall schedules each May. That right of passage was interrupted, like so many other things, in 2020 due to Covid, but it has returned for 2021. This week NBC, ABC, CBS and FOX all unveiled their Fall Schedules and new shows. The CW will make its own announcement on Tuesday, May 25, but for the time being there’s plenty to consider as we look ahead to the Fall.
The biggest trend in looking at these new schedules is the expansion of popular franchises and the death of the sitcom. NBC, once synonymous with sitcoms, unveiled a Fall schedule that doesn’t have a single comedy on it. While the Peacock promises to add some mid-season, it’s a weird new world this Fall on NBC.
Other networks have scaled back. FOX also doesn’t have a single sitcom on the Fall schedule, though it does promise to set some for mid-season. ABC went from two nights of family comedy blocks to just one, on Wednesdays, cancelling several sitcoms to get that done. And CBS has just three hours and six sitcoms but is by far the leader in that category for the Fall.
Meanwhile, Law & Order is getting another installment, as is FBI. Dick Wolf has expanded his empire to include a solid three-hour block of programming on Tuesdays for CBS and Wednesday and Thursday nights for NBC. In addition, NCIS is getting another new installment while the once-popular franchise CSI is getting a re-boot!
So, those are the overall trends, but let’s consider what each network is doing individually!
ABC has pretty good stability, but also leans heavily into unscripted series. The network has Dancing With the Stars on Mondays, The Bachelorette on Tuesdays and three hours of unscripted series and news magazines on Fridays and early on Sundays. It will also welcome a pair of new shows this Fall, one comedy and one hour-long series. The first of those is Queens, an hour-long series about four members of a girls’ group who come back together for a reunion tour after several years apart. It stars Eve and Brandy, among others, and launches at 10 p.m. on Tuesdays following The Bachelorette, creating a block of female-focused entertainment on the night.
The other new show is a re-boot of the classic series The Wonder Years. This one focuses on an African American family in the 1960s in Alabama. Don Cheadle serves as the narrator, while Dule Hill is among the cast. This will slot in on Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. between The Goldbergs and The Connors. Of the two new ABC series, this is the one I’m most excited about. I think it should be a great fit in the family-comedy block.
The only other big change for ABC is the switch up of its Thursday night block. A Million Little Things is swinging to Wednesdays, following the comedy block, while the drama Big Sky, one of the few new hits for ABC this season, is going from Tuesdays to Thursdays at 10 p.m. behind Grey’s Anatomy.
CBS has four new Fall series, including three crime dramas and one sitcom. That makes it the network with the most new series. But its biggest change comes on Mondays, where NCIS moves from its long-time home on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. to a new home on Mondays at 9 p.m. It moves there to help launch a new spin-off, NCIS: Hawai’i, which will air Mondays at 10 p.m. The move also paves the way for Wolf’s expansion of his FBI franchise, adding FBI: International on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. sandwiched between FBI at 8 p.m. and FBI: Most Wanted at 10 p.m. That gives him a full three-hour block on Tuesdays on CBS.
In addition to NCIS and FBI each getting a new installment, CBS is bringing back the CSI franchise with CSI: Vegas, which will set up in the city where the original debuted in 2000. This one comes complete with returning cast members William Peterson and Jorja Fox, who were part of the original series. This caps a night that leads off with unscripted series Survivor and Tough As Nails.
The other new CBS series is a sitcom, Ghosts, which debuts Thursdays at 9 p.m. It slots between The United States of Al and B-Positive, two new sitcoms from this season that earned pickups. This one follows a young couple that inherits a potential bed and breakfast property and the ghosts that come with it. Let’s just say I’m skeptical at this point.
There isn’t a lot of meat on the FOX schedule, which has NFL games on Thursday nights and The WWE on Friday nights. That joins Animation Domination on Sunday nights and a pair of unscripted series, led by The Masked Singer, on Wednesday nights. So, its scripted offerings are limited to Mondays and Tuesdays, where it is using a veteran series to lead into a new drama on each night.
On Mondays, following 9-1-1, FOX is launching The Big Leap. The series, which comes from the producing team behind Friday Night Lights, focuses on adults who look for a second chance by auditioning for a dance reality series that culminates with a performance of Swan Lake. The cast includes Scott Foley, Piper Perabo and Teri Polo, and it looks kind of inspiring and heart-warming. The other new show is Tuesdays, following The Resident. FOX will debut Our Kind of People, a Prime-Time soap opera based on Lawrence Otis Graham’s book Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class.
The Peacock, as mentioned above, goes comedy free this Fall, but has a lot of stability in its lineup. It has Sunday Night Football back, with The Blacklist and Dateline holding down Friday nights. Meanwhile, Wolf now has two full nights of franchise programming on Wednesdays and Thursdays. On Wednesday, NBC has its Chicago trio intact, while Thursdays are now fully devoted to Law & Order with the addition of Law & Order: For the Defense at 8 p.m. followed by SVU at 9 p.m. and Organized Crime at 10 p.m. Expect plenty of crossovers.
NBC is also using Mondays and Tuesdays to launch a pair of new dramas. On Mondays, following The Voice, NBC will debut Ordinary Joe. It’s a good lead-in, but the series is a big swing. It follows a man who is at a crossroads following college. His decision will change his path, and the lives of those around him. Spring forward, and three parallel stories show how that decision could have played out. Yeah, I know, it seems like a lot.
On Tuesdays, NBC picked up This Is Us for a final season, but it won’t air until 2022. In the Fall, between The Voice at 8 p.m. and returning New Amsterdam at 10 p.m. comes the new drama La Brea. This one is about a sink hole opening up in Los Angeles and dropping a number of people into a secret primeval world. Does that sound crazy? It sure does, but I can’t wait to see it. It also doesn’t seem to flow between its lead-in and lead-out, which might make it even crazier.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.