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TV analysts: Broadcast's midseason programming can connect with viewers

The New Year is about to dawn and the broadcast networks will usher in 2017 with a host of new shows and event series.

The first half of the 2016-17 TV season was highlighted by the debuts and solid ratings performances from "This Is Us," the multigenerational family drama on Comcast Corp.'s NBC (US); ABC (US)’s political series, "Designated Survivor," starring Kiefer Sutherland; and a pair of other familiar faces leading new entries on CBS Corp.'s CBS (US), such as Kevin James in sitcom "Kevin Can Wait," and Michael Weatherly, as a trial consultant in "Bull."

The season to date has also seen 21st Century Fox Inc.'s FOX (US) connect with the TV adaptation of "Lethal Weapon" and the epic seven-game World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians. The network will receive a giant audience bump from its coverage of Super Bowl LI on Feb. 5, when the NFL championship game will serve as a lead-in for spinoff of the serial, action thriller, "24: Legacy."

The final regular season week of pro football, which has been rebounding in recent weeks from a double-digit audience decline before the presidential election, will set the immediate stage Jan. 1 for new entries "The Mick," starring Kaitlin Olson from "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" as a hustler who becomes the parental guardian of her estranged and wealthy sister’s children, on FOX, and "Ransom," which follows an expert crisis and hostage negotiator, on CBS. The shows migrate to their regular time slots Wednesday and Saturday, respectively, later in the week. FOX, which provided a preview of its latest musical drama on Dec. 14, moves "Star" to its regular Wednesday time slot Jan. 4.

NBC is also taking new shots right out of the gate in 2017, with Arnold Schwarzenegger succeeding President-elect Donald Trump as the host of "The New Celebrity Apprentice" on Monday, Jan. 2, while "Emerald City," the limited series reimagining of "The Wizard of Oz," lands Friday, Jan. 6.

Bill Carroll, senior vice president and director of content strategy at Katz Television Group, said that while the broadcast networks still largely put their best shows forward in the fall season, "midseason shows and replacements can offer buzz and a little needed energy."

"The broadcast networks are really offering almost year-round schedules now with the midseason replacements and summer shows," he said.

Marc Berman, TV analyst at programminginsider.com, said the "new entries can gain some attention and traction” in January, February and March, depending on whether their scheduling affords them "a three- or four-week runway." Those windows exist because shows like CBS' reality stalwart "Survivor" and FOX’s hip-hop prime-time soap "Empire" are going on lengthy hiatuses, not returning until March.

"Fans of 'Empire' are being told to go away for three months. The show was too much too soon," he argued. "The only way it could have gone was down, which it has."

He believes reality competition series "Hunted," which follows nine teams of two in a manhunt that combines state-of-the-art tracking methods and traditional investigation methods, "has a chance" because of the team aspect and it’s running in the Wednesday night time slot held by "Survivor."

The proliferation of big-screen sequels is influencing TV production in a big way also.

"You can lament lack of originality if you want, but Hollywood movies may have have conditioned TV viewers that franchises can work," said media historian and consultant Tim Brooks, noting that in the past many TV reboots were often doomed to failure, but CBS’s "Hawaii Five-0" and TNT (US)'s reboot of "Dallas" have bucked that trend.

"There is initial tune-in, a curiosity factor with viewers interested in seeing how the new show stacks up with the older version," he said, pointing to his own predilection to check out "24: Legacy," even though the original character Jack Bauer will not appear on screen. "The opportunity is there, but there are no guarantees viewers stick around after the first couple of episodes."

Surveying the upcoming midseason entries as having potential to find solid audiences, Carroll, who has seen the NBC series pilot, highlighted another adaptation from the "Taken" trilogy, as well as "Star."

Although he mentioned CBS' "Training Day" and NBC's spinoff, "Blacklist Redemption" as shows that figure to garner attention with their February debuts, Berman does not see anything that "he’s all that excited about." Still, he has curiosity for The CW (US)’s "Riverdale," a darker look at the behind-the-scenes lives of Archie and his comic book friends, and is interested to see how people react to "Shots Fired," FOX’s event series that tracks a racially charged shooting in a fictional town in North Carolina.

For his part, Brooks wonders whether "Empire" creator Lee Daniels can strike lightning twice with "Star."

“FOX certainly hopes so. There is no more 'American Idol,'" he reminded.

Brooks noted that FOX introduced the hit singing competition show and "Empire" in midseason, as did NBC with Steve Harvey’s "Little Big Shots," with the kids’ talent program emerging as "a workhorse last year."