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Top Trends of New Network Shows

"Gotham" on Fox fits two new-show trends

The 2014/2015 TV lineup is chock-full of new dramas and comedies the networks hope will be the newest small screen hits. Every year trends emerge in these upcoming series – topics, genres, formats and types of characters you will see across numerous shows. And this year is no different. Though they executed them in diverse ways, the networks often had the same general ideas on which kind of shows or themes audiences would enjoy. We break down the biggest trends of series that will air between now and next summer on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and the CW.

Race Issues
Three networks announced new shows that either highlight minority characters or specifically deal with racial issues. They are definitely not shying away from the topic. In fact, networks are counting on race being a big draw for both dramas and comedies.
"American Crime" on ABC will explore racial divides

ABC leads the way with four new series touching on race. “American Crime,” starring Timothy Hutton and Felicity Huffman, is described as a “story of race in America at a time when nothing is black and white.” When a young white man is killed in his home, the case stirs up tensions across racial lines. On the comedy side, ABC’s “Cristela” focuses on a young Mexican-American woman whose old-culture family doesn’t love her modern career goals. “Fresh off the Boat” deals with a Chinese immigrant family experiencing culture shock upon moving to Orlando. And “Black-ish” plays up the comedy behind a black family who may be out of touch with their identity. In a promo, the dad tells his family, “Listen up. I’m going to need my family to be black, not black-ish.”

Fox and the CW are also exploring race in new series. The main character in the CW’s “Jane the Virgin” is a young Hispanic woman whose traditional and religious family is shocked when she becomes accidentally artificially inseminated. On Fox, “Empire” showcases a black hip-hop artist whose family is fighting to take over his business. And the Seth McFarlane animated comedy “Bordertown” centers on cross-cultural issues with two families living on the U.S./Mexico border.

Four of the five networks are debuting new series based on comic books or stemming from the comic world. “Arrow” has been a hit for the CW, so they are capitalizing on that success and adding two more comic book-based shows to their lineup. On ABC, “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” will be joined by a new Marvel series. And NBC and FOX are now both entering the comic entertainment arena. When you consider the main broadcast networks aired just two shows based on comics last season, it’s a 250% jump to add five new comic-themed shows.

"The Flash" on the CW joins four other new comic-based series

Upcoming shows in this genre include the CW “Arrow” spin-off “The Flash,” which portrays police scientist Barry Allen as the fastest man alive. In the network’s “iZombie,” a medical student turned zombie feeds on human brains in the coroner’s office but suffers a side effect from her diet: The brains give her the corpse’s memories. Both CW shows are based on characters from either DC Comics or the publisher's Vertigo imprint. On Fox, highly-anticipated “Gotham” explores the origins of the DC Comics super-villains along with a young Bruce Wayne and the detective who befriends him. NBC’s “Constantine” is based on the popular DC comic book series “Hellblazer” and follows John Constantine, a seasoned demon hunter. On ABC, “Agent Carter” was inspired by Marvel Entertainment’s “Captain America” films. In the TV series, Captain America’s former girlfriend ends up going on secret missions for Howard Stark.

While shows based in reality always do well because viewers can easily identify with them, fantasy shows have earned a distinguished place in the television audience market. Viewers seem to have a growing appetite for fantasy, supernatural and science fiction genres. And it’s no wonder; these types of shows have become extremely captivating and offer a great escape. It’s fun to get carried away in situations you’d never see in real life and watch the fantastical adventures the industry’s creative minds produce. The new shows in this category will stretch our imaginations. Every network has a new series that fits this genre but they vary greatly from tone to format to content. They offer many options for exploring what interests you most.

Halle Berry's son is a robot and her new baby may be an alien on CBS' "Extant"

In addition to the comic-based series, fantasy prevails in Fox’s “Hieroglyph,” a mystical action-adventures series set in ancient Egypt. And post-apocalyptic times have left only one man standing in the network’s 2015 comedy “The Last Man on Earth.” On ABC, you can see an immortal medical examiner who is always reborn at 35 years old in “Forever.” “Gallivant” is a musical comedy fairytale. And the network also boasts a sci-fi show in “The Whispers,” where an unseen alien force invades Earth and begins speaking to children. On the CW’s “The Messengers,” a female scientist’s heart stops after a mysterious object plummets to earth, connecting her to other strangers who also come back to life. NBC will feature new superheroes with special powers on “Heroes Reborn.” And the drama “Emerald City” is a mystical journey into the Land of Oz. On CBS, the upcoming summer show “Extant” is a science-fiction thriller starring Halle Berry as a solo astronaut who is mysteriously impregnated in space (likely by an alien) and whose son is a robot.

Period Pieces
Shows like “Mad Men” and “Downtown Abbey” prove that viewers love a good period drama. They take us back to a different time and place. In fact, “Mad Men” may have sparked a trend highlighting the ‘60s. Over the next year, major networks are debuting three shows set in the ‘60s. But we will also see settings in the ‘40s, the ‘90s and centuries earlier. And they’re not all dramas. These series will give us a glimpse into the lifestyles, attitudes, clothing and social situations of days past.

ABC will showcase kings, horses & heroes in its medieval musical comedy "Galavant"

“Hieroglyph” on Fox takes place during the time of Egyptian pharaohs while “Galavant” on ABC is set in medieval times. Moving forward many centuries, ABC’s “Agent Carter” begins in 1946 when the female heroine finds herself marginalized with men returning home from war. “The Astronaut Wives Club” on the network is set in the ‘60s and portrays wives who stood beside some of the biggest astronauts of the time. “Fresh Off the Boat” is set in the 1990s, so look for rollerblades and hip hop shirts for the kids. On NBC, “Mission Control” also deals with aerospace in the 1960s, but as a comedy. Krysten Ritter plays a brilliant engineer with her hands full leading a team of all-male NASA scientists. “Aquarius” is a drama set in 1967 where an L.A. police sergeant investigates cult leader Charles Manson. And “A.D.,” the sequel to “The Bible” miniseries, looks at the lives that were altered following the death of Christ.

Limited series
A traditional broadcast network season runs for 22 episodes (and sometimes more). But with shorter cable series dominating many critics’ choices and offering more leeway to actors and creative teams (who don’t have to stretch the season’s storylines so long), the networks are now proposing a large number of limited series themselves. Shorter series offer many benefits. They bridge the gap between regular series, allowing networks to air more original programming instead of lower-performing re-runs. In addition, limited series provide a way for networks to test a show’s ratings without committing to a long, expensive episode order. Sometimes networks call these “event series” in an effort to promote must-see event offerings. But regardless of the name, shows like CBS’ “Under the Dome” are proving limited series can work outside cable.

This year networks announced the most limited series yet. In fact, this is our largest category of new-show trends. Including miniseries (which are a little different because they have a definite end), the number of limited series totals around 20. A limited series can vary in number of episodes, from six to 16. But 10 to 13 is common. Keep in mind that limited series can continue after one season. In fact, networks hope they will. Also note that many (though not all) network limited series air during the mid-season or summer.

"Wayward Pines" characters can't escape in Fox's 10-episode thriller

Fox has five upcoming limited series: “Backstrom,” an offbeat comedic crime drama starring Rainn Wilson; “Gracepoint,” a 10-part “mystery adventure series” that follows a murder investigation of a 12-year-old boy in a small town; “Wayward Pines,” an eerie 10-part “event thriller” from M. Night Shyamalan about a Secret Service agent who ends up in a seemingly perfect town where no one is able to leave; “Mulaney,” a comedy about a rising stand-up comic and his friends and mentors; and “Weird Loners,” a comedy about relationship-phobic 30-somethings in New York. ABC has ordered 10 episodes of “The Astronaut Wives Club” and is working on a limited series called “The Club,” described as an upstairs/downstairs soap centered on a scandal-laden private country club. The CW has two limited series airing this summer: “Backpackers,” about friends backpacking across Europe, and “Seed,” a Canadian sperm donor comedy that is being imported to the states. Meanwhile, NBC boasts nine limited series: “Mr. Robinson,” a comedy about a rock band singer who takes a job as a substitute teacher; “Rosemary’s Baby,” a four-hour miniseries based on the classic horror novel; “The Slap ,” an eight-episode miniseries chronicling the fallout after a man slaps another couple’s child; “Taxi Brooklyn,” a summer dramedy based on the film “Taxi;” “Working the Engels,” a summer comedy about a family who bands together when their dad passes away; and “A. D.;” “Aquarius;” “Emerald City;” and “Heroes Reborn.” In addition, CBS has two upcoming limited series: “Battle Creek,” a drama about two detectives with very different world views, and “Extant.”

Female actresses helm and lead more and more TV series. Long gone are the days when networks felt shows performed better with a male lead. Women are the focal point of successful shows like CBS’ “The Good Wife” and ABC’s “Scandal.” And soon a new list of female-centric series will be hitting the airwaves. Lucky actresses who scored top billing will play everything from an unconventional judge to a CIA analyst to the U.S. Secretary of State. These characters are strong, confident women trying to balance everything in their lives, portraying a combination of vulnerabilities and strengths.

The president and her top CIA analyst are both women in "State of Affairs" on NBC

On NBC’s “The Mysteries of Laura,” Debra Messing plays a New York homicide detective with a crazy family life. The network’s “Bad Judge” stars Kate Walsh as a tough, unorthodox, criminal court judge with a wild side. Ellie Kemper stars in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” about a young woman who decides to conquer New York City after being rescued from a cult. On “State of Affairs,” Katherine Heigl portrays a top CIA analyst who reports to the president (who, incidentally, is also a woman). Over on CBS, Tea Leoni plays a political-wrangling Secretary of State who also tries to balance her complex family in "Madam Secretary." And Patricia Arquette helms the up-and-coming “CSI: Cyber” about a psychologist who heads a cyber crime division of the FBI. It's the first “CSI” series with a female lead. In addition, “Agent Carter,” “The Astronaut Wives Club,” “Cristela,” “iZombie,” “Jane the Virgin,” “Mission Control” and “Extant” also center on a female character.

Based on True Stories
Writers come up with all types of captivating fictitious stories to portray on television. But an impressive amount of new shows will be based on real people and true stories. The shows may take creative license expanding on these stories, but the premises are based on real-life scenarios or people.

Elyes Gabel (at the computer) plays real-life genius Walter O'Brien in CBS' "Scorpion"

“Red Band Society” on Fox follows a group of high school kids in a hospital who are brought together by their illnesses and form close friendships. The series is based on the true story of Spanish teen Albert Espinosa who got bone cancer and spent the better part of a decade in the hospital, meeting some of his best friends. On ABC, “The Astronaut Wives Club” is the real story of the women who stood beside the brave Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronauts. The immigrant comedy “Fresh Off the Boat” is based on the best-selling memoir of Chinese chef Eddie Huang’s funny assimilation stories. NBC has two dramas based on historical figures: “A.D.,” which will look at the lives of Christ’s disciples, his mother and key political religious leaders following the death of Christ; and “Aquarius,” which follows Charles Manson as he begins recruiting women to his cult. The network hopes to build up to the Tate-LaBianca murders (committed by Manson’s followers) in later seasons.

On CBS, the idea for “NCIS: New Orleans” was spawned after an “NCIS” executive producer learned about a real-life, small NCIS office in New Orleans run for 25 years by a larger-than-life agent who only worked with a couple other people. Similarly, “CSI: Cyber” was inspired by the work of Irish cyber psychologist Mary Aiken. Her research analyzes the impact of emerging technology on human behavior. (It is reported she will also be a producer on the show.) And “Scorpion” is also inspired by a true story. The series follows young genius Walter O’Brien and his prodigy friends recruited by Homeland Security to help prevent threats. Real-life Walter O’Brien was a child prodigy with one of the world’s highest IQs of 197. At 13 years old, the young Irishman began programming computers and fixing them for local banks. At the same age, he founded his own computer service company and began hiring his friends to help. He also started a school and worked with child prodigies. The U. S. Department of Homeland Security certified O’Brien as being of national interest to the United States economy. O’Brien will serve as one of the show’s executive producers.

Only two new series are actual remakes of other American shows. But many are remakes of foreign series. It seems Hollywood has its eye overseas when searching for great ideas. Plus, if a foreign show does well in its respective country, network executives already have a gauge on how a similar series might do in the United States. Two series are also imported from Canada and Europe.

CIA thriller "Allegiance" on NBC is based on an Israeli TV series

Fox’s “Red Band Society” is based on an award-winning Spanish television series. “Red Band Society” producer Sergio Aguero reportedly saw the original series and wanted to replicate it in the United States. NBC's "The Mysteries of Laura" is also based on a popular Spanish show. The network's spy thriller "Allegiance," about a CIA analyst who learns his parents were Russian spies, is based on an Israeli series. And the peacock network's summer series "Taxi Brooklyn" was produced by a European company and began airing this spring in France and Belgium (dubbed in French). The original English version will air on NBC. Meanwhile, "The Slap" is based on an Australian TV series. So are ABC's "The Club" and "Secrets and Lies," a thriller mystery about a boy’s murder and the neighbor who finds him. On the CW, “Jane the Virgin” was adapted from a Venezuelan telenovela and “Seed” is a Canadian comedy that will air stateside. As for American remakes, “The Odd Couple” on CBS is a modern take on the classic series about two mismatched roommates. And NBC’s “Heroes Reborn” is a reboot of the original NBC superhero drama with new characters and storylines.

More Movie Stars on TV
This trend continues as more actors and actresses known for movies are making the move to TV (or going back and forth). The television medium has become a much bigger draw for established actors as the quality of TV series has improved. Actors are taking advantage of great opportunities in any form. In some cases, these actors have worked in television before but they have become more well-known for film work. So it’s significant to see them again on the small screen. A couple actors even star in two series.

Among the list of recognizable movie stars you will see in upcoming network shows are Octavia Spencer (“Red Band Society”), Terrence Howard (“Empire,” “Wayward Pines”), Matt Dillon (“Wayward Pines”), Juliette Lewis (“Wayward Pines,” “Secrets and Lies”), Timothy Hutton (“American Crime”), Viola Davis (“How to Get Away with Murder”), Ryan Philippe (“Secrets and Lies”), Alfre Woodard (“State of Affairs”), Tea Leoni (“Madam Secretary”), Josh Duhamel (“Battle Creek”) and Halle Berry (“Extant”).

Which trends interest you most? Are you surprised by any? Which new shows are you most excited to see? Let us know in the comments below.

Check out promos for Fox's new shows.
Check out promos for ABC's new shows.
Check out promos for NBC's new fall shows.
Check out promos for CBS' new fall shows.
Check out promos for the CW's new shows + sizzle reel.

[UPDATE: After initially ordering the series, Fox has since cancelled "Hieroglyph."]

About the Author - Tonya Papanikolas
Tonya Papanikolas is a freelance journalist who loves covering entertainment and television. She spent more than 10 years as a broadcast news anchor and reporter. Now she does everything from hosting to writing. She especially loves writing TV articles and reviews for SpoilerTV.

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