Predicting the success of new fall shows is a crapshoot at best, even for TV writers. Last year, we watched the slate of fall pilots and made our best guesses at which shows would lock up viewers (“Prison Break”) and which ones wouldn't celebrate even a month on the air (ahem, “Emily's Reasons Why Not”).
Here's a quick lookback at what we said last fall, and how accurate we were with our predictions.
Shows we got right:
DRAMASGeena Davis played the first female president in “Commander in Chief,” but ABC chose not to elect her to a second term. We said “whether viewers will embrace another White House drama remains to be seen, but ... ‘Commander In Chief’ is surprisingly engaging.” And viewers did seem to agree, for a while. The show was #1 in its timeslot until the juggernaut known as “American Idol” opened its mouth in January. However, “Chief” went through three different show-runners, a hiatus, and being moved up against behemoth “ER” on Thursdays. The show was indeed engaging, but few presidents could stand up to such machinations.
Of NBC's Pentagon drama, “E-Ring,” we said: “[T]he series may go AWOL early,” noting that the show's concept “seems better suited to a slower-paced HBO production.” Our prediction might have seemed easy to make considering the show was originally up against “Lost,” but a time slot move removed that issue. Still, the show was yanked early in 2006 and was eventually cancelled. AWOL indeed.
We loved “Prison Break” from its heart-pounding premiere on, and so did viewers. Our writer compared the show to a fellow serial drama, noting that “if the writers are as good as those on ‘Lost,’ prison could almost be fun,” Fun it was: Even though the eight cons broke out of prison on the show's season finale, they're back roaming the countryside, trying to stay free — and trying to keep their devoted audience interested.
“Pepper Dennis,” the WB drama starring Rebecca Romijn as a Mary Tyler Moore-wannabe, could have used more spice, and we saw this one coming. Our reviewer peppered it with criticism, noting the poor writing and a cast that “can't hack it.” We said: “‘Pepper Dennis’ seems destined for the dramedy trash heap.” The show debuted in April, and was canceled by mid-May, though episodes did continue to air after the cancellation was announced.
COMEDIESOur writer found plenty of reasons why not to watch ABC's “Emily's Reasons Why Not,” which featured Heather Graham as a flighty book editor. It was just one in a long string of supposed comedies about supposedly funny single women. “If you think you’ve seen this plot in one, two, or a hundred comedies in the last 10 years, you’re not wrong,” we wrote. But we had no idea how many reasons there actually were to not tune in to this piece of garbage. “Emily” joined a club no show wants to become a part of: The short list of TV series that were canceled after airing only one episode. , it can take its not-so-proud place among other one-episoders such as “Co-Ed Fever,” “Dot Comedy,” and a stunningly hideous-sounding British show in which Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun live next to a Jewish couple — “Heil Honey I'm Home.”
We loved “Everybody Hates Chris,” calling the comedy about Chris Rock's childhood “smartly written” with an “excellent cast.” The show's UPN premiere beat out NBC's "Joey," and the show continued to do well, winning raves from viewers and critics alike, and easily making the leap to the new CW network when UPN and the WB combined forces. Nobody hates this “Chris,” including us.
We enjoyed “How I Met Your Mother,” especially Allyson Hannigan's engaging performance. We noted “If the rest of the season is as promising as the pilot, audiences would be smart to let this one ‘Mother’ them all year long.” And so they did: Critics and regular viewers alike enjoyed the comedy, which keeps them guessing as to the identity of the “mother” of the title, and it'll return to CBS for a new season.
Shows we got wrong:
DRAMAS“Medium,” “Crossing Over” — how many talking-to-the-dead shows can the American public handle? Apparently, one more than we thought. “Ghost Whisperer” looked haunted to us when it premiered last season; we said “Jennifer Love Hewitt will have to fight to bring anything new to the séance table.” Apparently she did: The show was a bright spot for CBS, and has been renewed for a second season. Spoooooky.
We thought NBC's “Inconceivable,” a drama set in a fertility clinic, had a “Nip/Tuck” vibe. “There's some sharp humor here ... the show is pregnant with good possibilties,” we noted. Conception failed: The drama was canceled after just two episodes.
COMEDIESOur writer enjoyed the antics of a character based on celeb chef Anthony Bourdain in FOX's “Kitchen Confidential.” Although we knocked the show's food-world gaffes and “tired” supporting roles, we kept our burners on hopeful, noting “the writing and concept are solid enough that ‘Confidential’ may survive the leap from real-life frying pan into a fictional fire.” We got burned on that one: “Kitchen Confidential” was torched after just four episodes.
ABC's midseason “Sons and Daughters” didn't make predictions easy. With no laugh track and partially improvised scripts, the show was striking out for new territory. We hedged our bets a bit, noting that similarly styled “Arrested Development” struggled for ratings, but eventually decided that the program “could become a hit.” Maybe it could, but not in this world: The show premiered in March but was gone by the end of April.
FOX's “The War at Home” has become a catchphrase for many TV critics, who are given to saying things like “in a world in which ‘The War at Home’ is still on the air, anything can happen.” We hated this show, and still do. We noted that “all the gags fall flat with ... a deafening thud” and called its sexist sensibilities “as painfully outdated as its jokes.” We're not alone: Time Magazine placed the sitcom in its roundup of The Worst TV of 2005. But the “War” is still being fought. It gets decent ratings. It's coming back for a second season. Still, we're sticking to our guns: This battle needs to end, soon.
Shows we got partially right:
DRAMASOur reviewer didn't really commit on a prediction for “Close to Home,” which stars Jennifer Finnigan as Indianapolis prosecutor Annabeth Chase, who deals with suburban crime (think Laci Peterson, not gang warfare). We said “the biggest challenge for ‘Close to Home’ is being close to believable.” And viewers, unlike Annabeth's juries, still seem to be out on that decision. While the show was renewed for a second season, it was touch-and-go: Annabeth's husband was killed off out of nowhere in the season finale, and the new season reportedly is ignoring the title and will no longer focus on close-to-home type crimes.
Plenty of supernatural dramas filled last year's new-show list, and ABC's “Invasion,” about creepy happenings in a Florida town after a devastating hurricane, was one of the more intriguing ones. Despite its timing — premiering less than a month after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast — the show hooked some viewers. (Its post-“Lost” timeslot surely didn't hurt.) We liked the concept, calling it “an ambitious mystery-fest, with a sprawling cast of characters, taut suspense and plenty of nail-biting moments.” The show did earn loyal viewers, who even hired a plane with a pro-“Invasion” banner to fly over ABC's Burbank headquarters. But the show was indeed canceled, and star William Fitchner escaped over to FOX's hit “Prison Break.”
COMEDIESOur writer didn't mince words when it came to ABC's awful “Freddie,” starring Freddie Prinze, Jr., as a Chicago chef. “Dull, clichéd, and disastrous as either a buddy comedy or a family comedy, ‘Freddie’ richly deserves the early boot from the lineup that it will undoubtedly receive,” we said. We were wrong on one account: “Freddie” did limp through a whole season, but the poorly reviewed show didn't get renewed — no surprise to us or our readers.
We weren't quite willing to commit to “My Name Is Earl,” NBC's goofy comedy about a ne'er do well fighting to restore his karma. We liked its Coen Brothers-esque attention to detail, but were unsure if the concept could keep “Earl” chugging along. Jason Lee's Earl had the chops, apparently — the show was a hit, and a rare bright spot for the still-struggling NBC.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is MSNBC.com's Television Editor.