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Fall TV preview: What’s old is new again, and expect plenty more of the same

Squeezed by competition from streaming services (including those owned by their parent companies), the major broadcasters unveiled revised fall lineups this week largely built around the notion that sticking with the schedule you know is safer than trying a whole bunch of unproven series.

So after some high-profile cancellations, the networks will add relatively few new programs in the fall, and in many instances will make what’s old new again, relying on spinoffs and reboots with built-in name identification. As for genres, sitcoms have lost ground to drama and reality shows, with CBS and ABC each dropping hours of comedy.

The clear embodiment of the comfort-food strategy unveiled during this week’s upfront presentations, designed to secure billions of dollars in advertising commitments for the coming season, can be seen on CBS and NBC: The former will continue airing three “FBI” shows on Tuesday, while NBC counters with a trio of “Chicago”-branded shows Wednesdays and “Law & Order” series Thursdays.

All nine of those series, incidentally, come from producer Dick Wolf, accounting for nearly 200 hours of primetime programming.

The trend extended beyond those networks to ABC, which touted a fall lineup of “unprecedented stability” with just three newcomers — “new,” in this case, the label being applied to “Celebrity Jeopardy!” and a spinoff of its cop drama “The Rookie.”

In another sign of the times, NBC looks determined to party like its 1989, with a pair of its new shows built around titles from that era: “Night Court,” with Melissa Rauch (“The Big Bang Theory”) as the daughter of the Harry Anderson character and John Larroquette reprising his role; and “Quantum Leap,” featuring Raymond Lee as a time traveler building off the work of the original character played by Scott Bakula.
CBS' 'True Lies' stars Steve Howey and Ginger Gonzaga in a series based on the James Cameron movie.
CBS reaches back even further, bringing “The Love Boat” out of dry dock, only here as a reality show, “The Real Love Boat,” on an all-reality Wednesday with “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race.” The network’s drama orders also include a midseason series based on the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie “True Lies.”
Expanding to seven nights, the CW was also bitten by the spinoff bug, adding a prequel to its since-departed drama “Supernatural,” “The Winchesters,” about the brothers’ parents; and reaching farther back with “Walker: Independence,” a western set in the 1800s (like the “Yellowstone” spinoff “1883”) positioned as a prequel to “Walker” — that series, of course, already being a reboot.

The networks’ collective play-it-safe approach prompted their comedy stars to mock them during their presentations, with an “SNL” spoof at NBCUniversal’s upfront joking about the network’s next spinoff being “Chicago H.R.,” “a two-hour Zoom about respect in the workplace.”

Similarly, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel said of NBC’s addition of “Quantum Leap” and “Night Court” revivals, “That isn’t a fall schedule. Those are the tapes you find in your dead uncle’s VCR.”

As the Hollywood Reporter noted in crunching the numbers, the networks are following a pattern that has entailed adding fewer shows in recent years, recognizing the challenges of a TV landscape filled with streaming options.

Admittedly, “more of the same” isn’t the most exciting sales pitch, and the networks’ lineups aren’t doing much to shake their dinosaur images, while streaming and premium channels gobble up much of the media oxygen.

For now, though, the networks appear content to play the tortoise to those hares, plodding along as they hope that slow and steady will keep them in the ratings race.

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