The Fall TV Season Has Arrived
In a year unlike any other, here’s what we know about the new shows
For the first time anyone can remember, there will be no “normal” fall TV season in 2020. As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic has halted or delayed productions at every level. But somehow, new shows are indeed launching this fall, although instead of all at once, they’re popping up one by one. Some of them look very intriguing, indeed. Here’s what we know at this point about (and can look forward to) the fall TV season — but bear in mind that schedules will keep shifting, so check this page to keep up with what’s coming up.
7 likely hits get firm air dates
Enslaved: The Lost History of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (Epix, Sept. 14)
In a six-episode docuseries, Samuel L. Jackson, 71, makes a pilgrimage to his ancestral home, Gabon, and the National Association of Black Scuba Divers and others find sunken slave ships on three continents — plus the first-ever-found “freedom ship” that ferried runaways to Canada.
A Wilderness of Error (FX, Sept. 25)
Oscar-winner Errol Morris, whose documentary The Thin Blue Line famously freed a falsely convicted man days from his wrongful execution, hopes to do it again with this fascinating documentary series, casting doubt on the conviction of Green Beret doctor Jeffrey MacDonald for killing his wife and children, and interviewing an alleged eyewitness to the crime.
Fargo, Season 4 (FX, Sept. 27)
Chris Rock, 55, gets the greatest role of his career as a visionary financial genius and gangster who strikes a shaky alliance with an Italian gang lord (Jason Schwartzman) whose mistress is a serial-killer nurse (rising star Jessie Buckley) in 1950 Kansas City, pursued by a lawman (Justified’s Timothy Olyphant, 52). It’s the most epic-scaled season of Fargo yet.
The Comey Rule (Showtime, Sept. 27)
Jeff Daniels, 65, plays former FBI director James Comey to Brendan Gleeson’s (65) President Trump in a high-profile show that families will still be arguing about over Thanksgiving dinners.
The Good Lord Bird (Showtime, Oct. 4)
Ethan Hawke, who turns 50 on Nov. 6, plays abolitionist John Brown, whose raid on Harper’s Ferry sparked the Civil War.
The Right Stuff (Disney+, Oct. 9)
National Geographic presents an adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s blockbuster about America’s first astronauts, starring Patrick J. Adams (Suits) and Jake McDorman (Limitless) and produced by Leonardo DiCaprio.
The Crown, Season 4 (Netflix, Nov. 15)
At last, the smash hit show about Queen Elizabeth II gets to the 1980s, with new characters like Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson, 52) and unlucky princess-to-be Diana (Emma Corrin).
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Meanwhile, Amazon and Netflix continue to roll out new shows
Truth Seekers (Amazon Prime, Oct. 30)
A new original comedy series starring and written by Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) and Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz) about paranormal investigators in the United Kingdom. It also stars pop star Kate Nash (Glow) and Malcolm McDowell, 77 (A Clockwork Orange).
Utopia (Amazon Prime, Sept. 25)
A thriller about young comic book fans who follow a graphic novel’s conspiracy theories down a rabbit hole is an adaptation of the 2013 UK series by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl). John Cusack (High Fidelity) and Rainn Wilson (The Office), both 54, star.
Ratched (Netflix, Sept. 18)
Ryan Murphy amasses a typically amazing cast — including Cynthia Nixon, 54; Judy Davis, 65; Sharon Stone, 62; and Amanda Plummer, 63 — in a series that stars Sarah Paulson as the formidable asylum nurse played by Louise Fletcher in 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Social Distance (Netflix, Oct. 15)
The newest project from Jenji Kohan (Weeds, Orange Is the New Black) is a scripted anthology series whose stories reflect our new normal, looking at how the pandemic has affected people from a wide range of backgrounds.
The first Netflix project from Shonda Rhimes, 50, and Betsy Beers, 62 (Grey’s Anatomy, How to Get Away with Murder), an adaptation of Julia Quinn’s best-selling series of novels, is set in the high society world of Regency London. At 84, Julie Andrews leads the cast.
RELATED: Julie Andrews talks to AARP about humor, whistling and new beginnings. Read more, here: Julie Andrews: What I Know Now
Hitmaker David E. Kelley launches two new series
The Undoing (HBO, Oct. 25)
The TV writer behind such ‘90s hits as Chicago Hope, The Practice and Ally McBeal, David E. Kelley, 64, roared back to the spotlight in 2017 with HBO’s Big Little Lies. Nicole Kidman, 53, a star and coproducer of that Emmy winner, returns on his next HBO project, about a professional woman whose home life (with Hugh Grant, 60) begins to crumble. Donald Sutherland, 85, also stars. Directed by Emmy winner Susanne Bier (The Night Manager).
Big Sky (ABC, Nov. 17)
Just about the only new broadcast drama scheduled for the fall also comes from Kelley. An adaptation of the 2013 thriller The Highway, by C.J. Box, it stars Kylie Bunbury (Pitch) and Katheryn Winnick (Vikings) as an ex-rodeo rider turned private detective and an ex-cop looking for a pair of girls kidnapped by a truck driver on a remote Montana highway.
RELATED: You won’t believe the movies that are making their way to certain big screens and your home screens this fall. We’ve got the latest on what’s opening, plus where, when and why you should watch: Fall Movie Preview: 20 Must-See Movies
Familiar titles return as reboots
The Equalizer (CBS)
The 1980s crime drama that also became a movie franchise for Denzel Washington has Queen Latifah, 50, as the former secret agent using skills to help those with nowhere else to turn. The new version also stars Chris Noth, 65 (Law & Order), and Lorraine Toussaint, 60 (Rosewood).
Supermarket Sweep (ABC, Oct. 18)
The game show, which first ran on ABC in the mid-1960s and was revived on cable in the 1990s, is back for a new incarnation reflecting modern shopping methods, with Saturday Night Live comedian Leslie Jones, 53, hosting.
Jared Padalecki of Supernatural turns Texas Ranger in a reboot of the old Chuck Norris series, set in Austin; with Lindsey Morgan (The 100), Jeff Pierre (The Rookie) and Mitch Pileggi, 68 (The X-Files).
Weakest Link (NBC, Sept. 29)
The British hit, which played the U.S. in 2001 and was canceled the following year, returns with Hollywood Game Night host Jane Lynch, 60, taking over stern hosting duties, replacing the snippy original British host Anne Robinson, 75.
A pair of comedies feature familiar faces
B Positive (CBS)
The latest sitcom from Chuck Lorre (The Big Bang Theory, Mom) stars Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley) as a newly divorced therapist who gets a kidney donation from a wild woman played by Broadway’s Annaleigh Ashford (Masters of Sex). Sara Rue (Less Than Perfect) and Kether Donahue (You’re the Worst) are also featured in the one new show where a pilot was actually shot before the production shutdown.
Call Your Mother (ABC)
Kyra Sedgwick, 55 (The Closer), stars as an empty nest mom who wants to go live with her kids in a new comedy from Kari Lizer (The New Adventures of Old Christine). Also starring comedian Rachel Sennott (High Maintenance) and Joey Bragg (Liv and Maddie).
Transplants come to Fox
L.A.’s Finest (Fox, Sept. 21)
The offshoot of the Bad Boys movie franchise — focusing on two female cops played by Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba — ran as the first original series from the Spectrum cable system. Its second season will start there later; the first season, which ran March–June 2019, will replay on Fox. Among its cast is Ernie Hudson, 74 (Ghostbusters).
Cosmos: Possible Worlds (Fox, Sept. 22)
The latest extension of the 1980s Carl Sagan science series, produced in part by his widow Ann Druyan and Seth MacFarlane, ran on National Geographic in April and May, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, 61.
3 paused midseason shows get their moment
Filthy Rich (Fox, Sept. 21)
Kim Cattrall, 64, stars as an heiress of a big televangelist empire in a soap that was originally announced to be a midseason show for the 2019–2020 season. It also features Gerald McRaney (Major Dad), 73; Aubrey Dollar (Women’s Murder Club); and Corey Cott (The Good Fight).
NeXt (Fox, Oct. 6)
A thriller about artificial intelligence gone bad stars John Slattery, 58 (Mad Men), as a tech inventor trying to prevent an impending robot takeover. It was created by Manny Coto, 59 (24, Dexter). With the series having been held back half a year, it will be interesting to see if the AI portrayals feel dated or not.
The Amazing Race (CBS, Oct. 14)
Season 32 of the popular reality competition wrapped production way back in 2018, and was to have premiered this spring. But with Season 33 suspended and no green light for a fall edition of Survivor, CBS is saving its last complete season of a reality series for the fall.
Plus, 7 programming trends on the (still fuzzy) horizon
While TV series shake themselves out and figure out how and when to film, keep an eye on these trends emerging from the pandemic-driven entertainment landscape:
Given the speed and intensity of events this year, there may be a need to slot more regular news reporting in prime time; the troubled spring was a ratings bonanza for cable news outlets.
Earlier late night
Late-night talk shows, initially rattled by a lack of audience and regular studios, have more recently found their footing in home-produced shows by mixing potent political commentary with more intimate celebrity interviews. There’s no reason not to put the shows on earlier at 10 p.m. (except that when Jay Leno tried it in 2009, it fizzled).
Networks may borrow from their streaming services
Shows on CBS All Access are arguably of better quality than those on the broadcast network. How long before the broadcast network gets to share hailed dramas devised for the streaming service, from The Good Fight to Star Trek: Picard? Though CBS did share the first season of The Good Fight last summer, there are no plans to do so again, even to fill possible CBS fall schedule vacancies.
More creativity and cartoons
When the lockdown shut down The Blacklist this spring, producers filled in with an animated episode. Others adapted the familiar formats of Zoom calls. Shows will be forced to think even further outside those boxes should the pandemic preclude production.
Sports, sports, sports
A pent-up desire to watch TV sports may be blunted by truncated seasons played in quarantined stadiums minus fans. But there may also be a willingness to try some other sport, no matter how unusual. Ultimate Tag, anybody?
Talking over the reruns
One growing trend has been repurposing existing shows by having celebrities get together to talk about what they’re seeing, as on Fox’s Celebrity Watch Party, a ploy also used on HGTV’s House Hunters and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,
Hope upon hope
Fox is scheduling Season 4 of The Masked Singer, assuming it can get into the studio. If not, they may consider socially distanced performances (though by definition the participants will already be wearing masks).
Editor's note: This article was originally published on July 23, 2020. It has been updated with additional fall TV shows to watch and the latest announced release dates.