The 10 Most Promising New TV Shows of Fall 2009

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CHICAGO – Satire (“Glee”), family comedy (“The Middle”), animation (“The Cleveland Show”), a remake of a soap classic (“Melrose Place”), and three medical dramas (“Mercy,” “Trauma,” “Three Rivers”) - this Fall TV season attempts to offer something for everyone. But is any of it worth watching? Is there another “Lost,” “Pushing Daisies,” or even a “Grey’s Anatomy”? Let us guide the way.

For the first time in years, there’s some excitement surrounding the new Fall TV season. We’ve been under the shadow of the writer’s strike for the last few seasons with very few breakout hits after Fall 2007 was cut short by the strike and Fall 2008 was underdeveloped because of its fallout.

The new comedy for the aspiring underdog in all of us premieres Wednesday, Sept. 9 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. Pictured Top row L-R: Chris Colfer, Jenna Ushkowitz, Kevin McHale, Matthew Morrison, Lea Michele, Cory Monteith and Amber Riley. Bottom L-R: Jessalyn Gilsig, Dianna Agron, Mark Salling, Jane Lynch and Jayma Mays.
The new comedy for the aspiring underdog in all of us premieres Wednesday, Sept. 9 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. Pictured Top row L-R: Chris Colfer, Jenna Ushkowitz, Kevin McHale, Matthew Morrison, Lea Michele, Cory Monteith and Amber Riley. Bottom L-R: Jessalyn Gilsig, Dianna Agron, Mark Salling, Jane Lynch and Jayma Mays.
Photo credit: Matthias Clamer/FOX

Some TV watchers even theorized that the strike would end up killing broadcast television, sending people away to other options for their entertainment, never to return, a theory that seems bolstered by the increasing presence of shows like “Dexter,” “Mad Men,” “Damages,” “Big Love,” and “Flight of the Conchords” in the annual Emmy nominations, indicating that perhaps viewers came back but not to the old guard of broadcast TV.

This is the first Fall season where that theory will be truly tested. There are twenty new scripted programs debuting on the five broadcast networks. The good news is that at least one of them is already great and several others have the potential to be so.

Here’s the best way to express the potential of Fall 2009 - this feature/list was originally conceived as a top five based on how many promising pilots we’ve seen in recent years, but there were enough interesting programs green-lit by the networks that we expanded it to a top ten. For the first time since 2004 - when the pilots for “Lost,” “House,” “Desperate Housewives,” and “Veronica Mars” premiered and “Grey’s Anatomy” was to come in mid-season - there’s a reason to think that broadcast TV may not be dead quite yet.

We have seen several final versions or at least rough cuts of most of the new fall shows (only a clip reel of “The Forgotten” was available and “NCIS: Los Angeles” was not available at all yet) and these are the ten that show the most potential.

Note: Some of the pilots were rough cuts and they may see major changes before they debut. Just because a show is NOT on the list, doesn’t mean it can’t be tinkered with enough to make it a quality program by the time we review the finished pilot and we suppose it’s possible that what works about some of these could be mangled before airing but that seems unlikely. Expect to see full-length reviews of every new show at HollywoodChicago.com in the month of September.

10. “Modern Family”
Network: ABC
Premieres: Wednesday, September 23rd, 8pm CST

ABC's
ABC’s “Modern Family” stars Rico Rodriguez as Manny, Sofia Vergara as Gloria and Ed O’Neill as Jay.
Photo credit: Bob D’Amico/ABC

The ten spot could have also gone to ABC’s “The Forgotten” (Slater is always interesting) or CBS’ “The Good Wife” (which is much better than the non-stop promos are making it out to be), but, for some reason, we really want “Modern Family” to work. With a slate of TV veterans including Ed O’Neill, Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell, Sofia Vergara, and more, “Modern Family” feels like a good lead-out for “The Middle” (which you’ll find higher up this list).

We won’t get into the start of the night, Kelsey Grammer’s “Hank,” or the lead-out for this show, Courtney Cox’s “Cougar Town,” until we’ve seen final versions that we can review, but let’s just say that there’s a reason they’re not in the top ten when it comes to the potential of what we’ve seen so far. They need some work as they are now. “Modern Family” may still have a ways to go but is much closer to greatness.

“Modern Family” is a single-camera show about three couples in different stages of “family”. A gay couple has just adopted a child, an older man is dealing with his hot young bride and his new stepson, and a traditional family is anything but. Of course, all of these mini-families happen to be on the same larger family tree.

There’s enough edgy potential in the premise and ensemble of “Modern Family” to give it a chance to find its legs. It could devolve into predictable sitcom scenarios, but we think the concept is strong enough to warrant a look in week two, which is the only real test of a pilot’s potential - will you tune in for the next one.

9. “The Cleveland Show”
Network: FOX
Premieres: September 27th, 2009, 7:30pm CST

THE CLEVELAND SHOW is a new animated series that follows everyone’s favorite soft-spoken neighbor, CLEVELAND BROWN, to his hometown in Virginia as he settles down with his high school sweetheart, her unruly kids and his own 14-year-old son on the series premiere of THE CLEVELAND SHOW Sunday, Sept 27 (8:30-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.
THE CLEVELAND SHOW is a new animated series that follows everyone’s favorite soft-spoken neighbor, CLEVELAND BROWN, to his hometown in Virginia as he settles down with his high school sweetheart, her unruly kids and his own 14-year-old son on the series premiere of THE CLEVELAND SHOW Sunday, Sept 27 (8:30-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.
Photo credit: FOX

This one’s just too easy, right? Being a fan of “Family Guy,” how could “The Cleveland Show” NOT have potential? With three shows on one night in 2009, we’re convinced that by 2020, we’ll be watching a Sunday night that consists of six Seth MacFarlane creations from “Quagmire Knows Best” to “Stewie Goes to School”. Why not?

The only question to ask yourself is if the MacFarlane brand of humor has grown a little stale by being spread so thin. “American Dad!” still doesn’t quite live up to the Best Comedy-nominated “Family Guy” (even if it does entertain more often than we once thought it would) and we expect that “The Cleveland Show” will be a similar program, one that doesn’t ever threaten to overtake its TV ancestor on the “Family” tree, but can be consistently entertaining.

What we’ve seen of “The Cleveland Show” is undeniably funny but also undeniably familiar. A crazy child, a talking animal, wacky references - “The Cleveland Show” takes the idea of not fixing what isn’t broken to extremes. The show will need to find its own identity outside of “Family Guy” or “American Dad!” to really register as anything more than a spin-off. The potential is there to do so, but the potential is also there for the show to always stay in Peter Griffin’s over-sized shadow. Only time will tell.

8. “Accidentally on Purpose”
Network: CBS
Premieres: September 21st, 2009, 7:30pm CST

Jon Foster, Grant Show, Nicolas Wright, Ashley Jensen, Jenna Elfman and Lennon Parham star in the new comedy series ACCIDENTALLY ON PURPOSE on the CBS Television Network.
Jon Foster, Grant Show, Nicolas Wright, Ashley Jensen, Jenna Elfman and Lennon Parham star in the new comedy series ACCIDENTALLY ON PURPOSE on the CBS Television Network.
Photo credit: Art Streiber/CBS

We’re as stunned by this one as you are. We thought for sure that another Jenna Elfman comedy would be like sticking “Dharma & Greg” collectible pins under our fingernails and, for every great show like “The Big Bang Theory” on CBS, there’s a “Rules of Engagement” or “The New Adventures of Old Christine” that makes us think that it’s not exactly the home for comedy. And the premise of “Accidentally on Purpose” - the older woman and the younger, irresponsible man forced to be together after one night of passion produces a child - sounded like absolute torture, the kind of thing that a hack writer would pitch in an episode of “Entourage” before getting bitch-slapped by Ari Gold.

And yet here we are telling you that “Accidentally” has potential. Elfman may have gotten a bit over-exposed in her “Dharma” days, but she has undeniably expert comic timing. And even better than Elfman is the fantastic Ashley Jensen (“Extras”) as her best friend. Watching these two comediennes do what they do so well makes for a more enjoyable 22 minutes than you might expect.

Tighten up the show by not focusing so much on the age or gender gaps and just let the talented cast do their thing. Despite the dumbest name of the new year (a challenge considering there’s a program called “Cougar Town” on the air) and a premise that once made our collective skin crawl, “Accidentally” could surprise.

7. “Community”
Network: NBC
Premieres: September 17th, 2009, 8:30pm CST

Chevy Chase as Pierce.
Chevy Chase as Pierce.
Photo credit: Jardin Althaus/NBC

If we had placed odds before watching any of the new Fall offerings, we would have guessed that “Community” would have been the most promising new show of the season based on the pedigree of the cast and the show’s creators. Joel McHale is hysterically deadpan on “The Soup” and Chevy Chase’s return to television has to be one of the more notable star stories of the new season. NBC clearly thinks the show is a good fit for fans of “The Office” and “30 Rock” (scheduling it on Thursday nights) and there’s a chance that it will be, but it’s not quite there in the premiere.

What I keep coming back to with “Community” is the fact that the first few episodes of “30 Rock” were sketchy at best but they displayed the potential that the show eventually clicked with after about a half-dozen episodes. “Community” may not be perfect (although, like I said, it could be tinkered with before premiere and we’ll run a full review once we receive a copy to do so), but there’s enough potential there to stay tuned.

From Emmy Award-winning directors Joe and Anthony Russo (“Arrested Development”) and Dan Harmon (“The Sarah Silverman Program”), “Community” is about a group of misfits at Greendale Community College. McHale plays the put-upon lead, but this feels like a program that will be driven by the supporting cast (a la the way Jason Bateman played straight man to the lunacy of the rest of the cast on “AD”). Chase is the highlight of the premiere, proving that he should have gone back to television years ago.

So, why not higher on the list? Comic timing in a pilot is a tough thing and “Community” just isn’t quite funny enough. The writers and directors have to introduce you to their style, pace, and a whole cast of characters in only 22 minutes. There’s potential in “Community” for something great, but it may take a little time for it to come to the head of the class.

Anonymous's picture

Modern Family is my favorite

Modern Family is my favorite one and only love.

Anonymous's picture

You missed “V”!

You missed “V”!

BrianTT's picture

Yes and No

I should have mentioned that I wasn’t including it because it debuts later (November) and all the shows I considered debut in September. We’ll cover V. Wouldn’t miss it.

Mark's picture

TV Series

How about the Vampire Diaries?

momsen123's picture

I like American Dad. Really

I like American Dad. Really one of the best Animated series. I’ve seen its all episodes. what do you think about American Dad episodes?

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