In the not-very-distant past, you would hardly ever hear about a midseason TV show without the word “replacement” entering the conversation. The connotation was that the shows that came along at the season’s midpoint were the leftovers, plugged in to play out the season when one of the first-stringers on the fall lineup went down.
That mentality persists to some degree among TV fans, but it shouldn’t. Fall TV will always be a big deal, since that’s when the officially measured season begins, but it’s not the best part of the season anymore. The first quarter of this year will feature more buzzed-about, highly anticipated premieres than the fall or any other time of year, and it’s not a new phenomenon.
The sheer volume of quality TV arriving in the next three months is staggering. Zap2it is looking forward to a good two dozen series and season premieres in first three months of the year, and that’s just an arbitrary cutoff — “Mad Men,” “Orphan Black” and others returning a little later in the year are just as exciting.
Part of that glut, obviously, is made up of shows that were on in the fall. In addition to everything premiering in the next few months, fans will still be able to see plenty of “The Big Bang Theory,” “Arrow,” “The Blacklist” and “Scandal.” Provided, that is, that the nation’s DVRs don’t go on strike against overuse.
What’s more, the midseason lineup offers a niche for just about everyone. Complex drama with big stars? HBO’s “True Detective” and Season 2 of “House of Cards” on Netflix fit the bill. Rule-bending comedy? “Community,” “Girls,” “House of Lies.” Escapist, so-bad-it’s-good reality fare? Hello, “The Bachelor.” And, oh yeah, it’s a Winter Olympics year.
Even an old warhorse like “American Idol” is generating positive vibes again, thanks to a refreshed set of judges and what looks to be a pretty good crop of contestants. “Idol” is one of the biggest reasons, in fact, for the sea change in scheduling over the past decade or so.
When cable channels were first starting to program original shows in the late ’90s and early ’00s, they staked out the midseason and summer months, times when the dominant networks were more likely to be resting their shows. It worked, often spectacularly well: “Sex and the City” (premiere date: June 6, 1998), “The Sopranos” (Jan. 10, 1999) and “Six Feet Under” (June 3, 2001) were all great shows, but scheduling them in places where they could really get noticed helped an awful lot.
Others, including FX and USA, followed suit, and soon the broadcast networks noticed too. After a low-risk, high-reward first season of “American Idol” in the summer of 2002, FOX moved the show to January the following year and created a juggernaut that dominated the ratings for close to a decade.
A couple years later, FOX moved “24” to midseason, eliminating reruns and better serving viewers trying to keep up with the real-time action series. Other networks have used similar strategies occasionally too — ABC did it with the last three seasons of “Lost,” and NBC has done it with several shows ranging from “Chuck” to “Community.”
To be sure, there will be some stinkers on the midseason schedule, or shows that networks just don’t have confidence in (beware any broadcast show, especially a comedy, that debuts between April 1 and the end of the regular season in May). But the idea that “midseason” somehow means lesser? Pack that away with your VHS tapes and rabbit ears, because that’s not how TV works anymore.
Which midseason shows are you most looking forward to seeing?