Beholding Patterns

We seek — and find — trends in fall’s voluminous TV lineup

September 13, 2012

The glut of channels clogging the airwaves seems impossibly diverse. So we ran the fall TV lineup through a sophisticated neural network (our addled brains) to find clumps of coherency in this fractured landscape. We discovered a few patterns, illuminated here. Our analysis captures but a fraction of autumn offerings. Want more? Sorry.


Sound of Music

Music sales and TV ratings are decreasing, yet music-centric TV shows are as popular as ever. The best is one most people haven’t been watching. “Treme” (Sept. 20, 10 p.m., HBO) can be bleak — it IS a David “The Wire” Simon production — but the post-Katrina drama’s best moments are the musical ones, courtesy of real New Orleans talent. “Nashville” (Oct. 10, 10 p.m., ABC) stars Connie Britton as a struggling country icon who tries to restart her career by opening for a youthful crossover star (Hayden Panettiere). “Glee” (Thu., 9 p.m., Fox) takes on NYC (with guest appearances by Sarah Jessica Parker and Kate Hudson) and a new McKinley class, while NBC’s Broadway-set “Smash” is being held for a mid-season revamp.

Political Animals

Leslie Knope is coming to Washington! While “Parks and Recreation” (Sept. 20, 9:30 p.m., NBC) is still set in the fictional Pawnee, Ind., season 5 will feature a D.C. detour, as Leslie and Andy visit their respective better halves, Ben and April, who are working on a congressional campaign. Speaking of campaigns, psychological thriller “Homeland” (Sept. 30, 10 p.m., Showtime) returns with suspected sleeper-cell operative Nicholas Brody eyeing a seat in Congress. Shonda Rhimes’ mid-season surprise hit “Scandal” (Sept. 27, 10 p.m., ABC), which follows a D.C. crisis management team, takes place in a world where the president sleeps with women who are not his wife, which is so Clinton-era it hurts. And, of course, politics will be on the agenda for “Saturday Night Live” (Sept. 15, 11:30 p.m., NBC) as the presidential election hits its home stretch.

Dearly Departing

Perhaps as an excuse to persuade Steve Carell to be Michael Scott one last time (or just a convenient way to set up the forthcoming Dwight Schrute spin-off), NBC will shut down Dunder Mifflin and “The Office” (Sept. 20, 9 p.m.) for good. “30 Rock” (Oct. 4, 8 p.m., NBC) wraps with a promising-sounding seventh season, with the debut of Bryan Cranston as Kenneth’s dad and maybe, finally, a baby for Liz Lemon. High-class melodrama “Gossip Girl” (Oct. 8, 9 p.m., CW) and sci-fi drama “Fringe” (Sept. 28, 9 p.m., Fox) also settle in for final seasons, which should prompt a crossover episode where the “Fringe” crew time-travels to New York City and prevents “Gossip Girl” from ever existing.


Scare Tactics

If the title of a show includes the words “horror” or “dead” or the number “666,” you know you’re in for an hour of family-friendly entertainment. Just kidding! Children should be nowhere near the TV set for “American Horror Story” (Oct. 17, 10 p.m., FX), “666 Park Avenue” (Sept. 30, 10 p.m., ABC) or “The Walking Dead” (Oct. 14, 9 p.m., AMC). “American Horror Story” takes place at an insane asylum (the events and characters from season 1 have no bearing on this season), which gives creator Ryan Murphy an excuse to bludgeon viewers with aliens, Bloody Face the serial killer and Adam Levine’s attempts to act (see right). “666 Park Avenue” is about a Manhattan apartment building where residents move in but don’t move out. Because 666 = evil. As for “The Walking Dead”: A non-undead baddie and a chick with killer swordsmanship hop onboard the zombie deathfest train.

Name & Name

X + & + Y = show title. It’s so easy even a TV executive can do it! And did it, these eight times. A man and a woman become roommates in “Ben & Kate” (Sept. 25, 8:30 p.m., Fox) with no sexual tension. We hope, because they are brother and sister. “Mike & Molly” (Sept. 24, 9:30 p.m., CBS) consider homeownership and having children. “T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle” (Mon., 9 p.m., VH1) sees the rapper return to his wife and kids after serving time. “Giuliana & Bill” (Oct. 2., 8 p.m., Style) experience more baby-related trials ’n’ triumphs. “Keyshia & Daniel: Family First” (Oct. 9., 10 p.m., BET) follows the R&B singer; her husband, nicknamed “Boobie”; and assorted family. “Tamar & Vince” (Sept. 20., 9 p.m., WEtv) stars Toni Braxton’s sister Tamar. “Key & Peele” (Sept. 26, 10:30 p.m., Comedy Central) is a sketch show that needs a better title. “Rizzoli & Isles” (Nov. 27, 9 p.m., TNT) are a hot lady detective and a hot lady medical examiner, respectively.

Bring the Noisy

Reality shows this season tend toward behind-the-scenes explorations of loud activities. In “Fast N’ Loud” (Mon., 10 p.m., Discovery), dudes fix up old cars in Texas and auction them off. If “American Choppers” has a market, this must, too. In contrast, in “Texas Car Wars” (Thu., 10 p.m., Discovery, above), dudes buy old cars at auction and fix them up. “Cheer” (Fri., 10 p.m., CMT) centers on a competitive cheerleading team and the pressures its members face. “Broadway or Bust” (Sun., 8 p.m., PBS) targets the lucrative theater-nerd demographic with other theater nerds vying for National High School Musical Theater awards. Every week on “Hot Set” (Sept. 18, 10 p.m., SyFy), two teams of production designers build original movie sets. “Making Monsters” (Sept. 30, 8 p.m., Travel) looks at the animatronics industry.


Made in Elsewhere

“Downton Abbey” isn’t back until January. Here are some consolation-prize programs in order of their “Downton Abbey”-ness: The “Upstairs, Downstairs” reboot (Oct. 7, 9 p.m., PBS) enters its second and final season; it remains as “Downton”-like as copyright law allows. Expect a spunky new maid and many evening gowns. “Call the Midwife (Sept. 30, 8 p.m., PBS, above), is a drama we like to call “Birth-Control Abbey,” because it takes place at a convent (both abbeys and convents house monks or nuns) and will make viewers never, ever want to give birth. “Bomb Girls” (Tue., 10 p.m., Reelz) is a Canadian show in which a fancypants socialite slums it at a World War II munitions factory. Shades of Lady Sybil?

Non-Traditional Parenting Situations

Utah does not support “The New Normal” (Tue., 9:30 p.m., NBC), even though the sitcom celebrates family (in this case, two would-be daddies; a single mom who’s their surrogate; and a bigoted, single grandma). We do not support the producers’ decision to cast “Real Housewives of Atlanta” nonactress Nene Leakes as a personal assistant. “Guys With Kids” (Sept. 26, 8:30 p.m., NBC) is exactly what it says on the tin. (Guys, with kids.) That it seemed natural to put a show about men trying to be responsible fathers under “Non-Traditional Parenting Situations” should definitely be the subject of an Atlantic article soon. On “Raising Hope” (Oct. 2, 8 p.m., Fox), single dad Jimmy (Lucas Neff, center) continues bringing up his daughter, Hope, with the help of his mom (Martha Plimpton, to left of Neff) and grandmom (Cloris Leachman, far right.)

Written by Rudi Greenberg, Holly J. Morris and Lori McCue (Express)

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