Fall TV 2017: Looking for action

From true crime to superheroes to Shondaland, here are the dramas networks are betting on to get the heart pumping.


This article appears in the Summer 2017 issue of strategy.

By Val Maloney and Bree Rody-Mantha

In the second of a three-part series on this year’s fall TV slate, we look at the shows satisfying viewers’ appetites for true crime, superheroes and military drama. Be sure to also check out parts one and three.

Lawyers, firefighters and superheroes

CTV is betting on more winning content from hit maker Shonda Rhimes, picking up her Grey’s Anatomy firefighter spinoff for midseason. The currently untitled drama is the second spinoff from Grey’s after Private Practice, which ran for six seasons.

Mike Cosentino, SVP, content and programming at Bell Media, says CTV has been on the hunt for a firefighter drama for a while, and that it even had its own show in mind before Global launched Chicago Fire in 2012. They’ve finally landed at the firehall with the upcoming Shondaland show, which Cosentino is banking will see the same success as past and current hits like How to Get Away with Murder and Scandal.

The channel has also picked up Rhimes’ new midseason legal drama For the People. Set in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, the drama follows a group of new lawyers as they handle some of the most high-profile federal cases in the country. Show stars include Ben Rappaport (Outsourced), Susannah Flood (Chicago Fire) and Wesam Keesh (Awkward).

Rhimes and co-exec producer Betsy Beers (Grey’s Anatomy) are on for both shows.

CTV is building on its superhero programming that the channel has become known for, picking up two new Marvel shows this season. Johanna Faigelman, founding partner and CEO, Human Branding, says the hero format is always a goldmine for millennials because it was popular in the ’90s and that heroes appeal to people in times of uncertainty and crisis.

“When you’re dealing with complexity, as a human being, you tend to look for things that have simplicity,” she says. “You clean your house for, example. Superhero shows give the notion of creating a relationship with a hero-based character where I can, for an hour, see problems being solved. I can get a feeling of life not being that difficult.”

First up is Marvel’s The Gifted, from Fox, which is billed by some critics as being the X-Men version of NBC’s Heroes, which ran from 2006 to 2010.

The new show focuses on a suburban family that is forced to flee from a government agency when it discovers that the children have special powers, such as manipulating air and causing mass explosions. Stephen Moyer (True Blood), Amy Acker (Angel) and Natalie Alyn Lind (The Goldbergs) star in the show, which comes from Matt Nix (Burn Notice, The Good Guys) and director Bryan Singer (X-Men).

True patriot(ic) love

At a time of political, economical and environmental uncertainty in the world, Corus’ Barb Williams says some people just want to know someone’s watching over them. “The world is a complicated, insecure place, so you’ll see the heroes theme emerge in the zeitgeist in times like this.”

That’s partly why Corus picked up three distinct military dramas during upfronts season, in a goal to expand on what audiences love about hero shows.

First up is CBS’s SEAL Team, which will air Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. on Global. The series stars David Boreanaz (of Buffy and Angel fame) as the leader of an elite team of officers conducting high-stakes, clandestine missions. SEAL Team will go up against dramas Law & Order: SVU on CTV and Arrow on CTV Two, comedies Modern Family and Black-ish on City, and family drama The Durrells on CBC in early fall.

Maxus’ Lindsey Talbot describes the series as heavy in subject matter, and believes this may make it challenging to attract regular viewers. However, she adds that the starpower of Boreanaz would give it a boost.

Global has also scooped up The Brave from NBC, fronted by Anne Heche (Hung) and Mike Vogel (Under the Dome). The character-driven drama features Heche’s character manning an intelligence team that detects and interprets threats, relaying the information to Vogel’s team in the field. The show will air Monday nights at 10 p.m.

Williams says The Brave is more of a “straight-up action” and procedural show than SEAL Team, and that the former may attract a male audience while the latter is more likely for co-viewing. That will take on another newcomer, CTV’s The Good Doctor, along with City’s Scorpion, in the same slot.

Joining S.W.A.T teams, SEALs and spies this fall is the CW’s Valor, set on a U.S. Army base for a unit of helicopter pilots. It landed on Corus’ specialty W Network.

True crime meets prime time

Thanks to documentaries and anthologies like Netflix’s Making a Murderer and FX’s American Crime Story, as well as investigative podcasts such as Serial and the CBC’s Someone Knows Something, true crime is stepping into mainstream TV.

There’s the CBC’s original docuseries The Detectives, which blends first-person documentary narrative with scripted, reenacted drama. Each episode will follow a different detective telling the story of a real case and the impact it had on Canadian society and law enforcement. Produced by Debbie Travis (Chuck’s Week Off), Jennifer Gatien (Limelight), Hans Rosenstein (The Property Shop) Petro Duszara (Just For Laughs) and Scott Bailey (Headache), The Detectives will air Thursdays at 9 p.m.

bad_blood_2Another piece of Cancon true crime is City’s original series Bad Blood (right). The mini-series, airing Thursday nights at 8 p.m., will peer into the life of Montreal mobster Vito Rizzuto and is based on the book Business or Blood: Mafia Boss Vito Rizzuto’s Last War. The show is from New Metric Media (Letterkenny).

Finally, Global’s Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders is a spin-off produced by Dick Wolfe, following an anthology format that dedicates each season to an infamous crime story. The series will air Tuesdays at 10 p.m. and aims to capture not only 25 to 54 co-viewing audiences that love the original Law & Order franchise, but also millennials who were too young to remember the case, says Corus’s Williams.

Media Experts’ Jennifer Bidwell says the starpower of Edie Falco as famed attorney Leslie Abramson would propel it ahead of another newcomer in the 10 p.m. slot, The Gospel of Kevin on CTV.