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Who will be the big "winner" in this fall TV season's waiting game to see which new series is canceled first? It's a contest no one wants to win, of course, but after studying the list of primetime rejects who've been the first to get picked off across the past decade, we've noticed some trends.
Here are some clues that might help predict which of this year's new crop of wannabe becomes the first casualty of the 2014-15 season:
1. Don't put the name of a place in your series title
Yes, yes, Dallas, Boston Legal, WKRP in Cincinnati, L.A. Law, and plenty of other hit network shows have featured the name of a location in their titles. But in the past 10 years, Made in Jersey (2012), Lone Star (2010), Viva Laughlin (2007), and Hawaii (2004) all became the first new shows to get canceled during their respective seasons. Why? Maybe the titles sparked an impression that made viewers think the shows were going to be about the locations or that the locations were going to flavor the show to a degree that turned viewers off?
For instance, we've all gotten some laughs out of Jersey Shore (and The Sopranos, based in New Jersey, remains one of the greatest TV shows of all time), but if you see "Jersey" in a series title, it does immediately bring to mind a certain tone, accent, and style that could be a draw — or a deterrent.
Fall 2014-15 new series with the name of a place in the title: NCIS: New Orleans, Gracepoint, Manhattan Love Story, and Gotham. Despite the fact that it's a Batman show without a Batman, Gotham is one of the buzziest new shows of the season, so it's a safe bet that the series will not be the first premiere on the chopping block. Gracepoint is a 10-episode series with a definite ending, so unless it really brings down Fox's Thursday-night lineup in terms of ratings, it would also appear to be pretty safe from the First Cancellation Monster. NCIS: New Orleans features a great cast led by Scott Bakula (though, see the next category), it's a spinoff of a still hugely popular CBS hit, and it wisely uses all the charms of the city of New Orleans in the storylines, so, again, this is not a likely candidate.
Here's a first look clip of NCIS: New Orleans:
Now, Manhattan Love Story… it's not a terrible show, the leads are likable, and in the pilot's plot, the city is a factor. But in the long history of network comedies that you ultimately don't remember once existed, this will probably be one of them.
Watch a preview of Manhattan Love Story:
2. Don't be a show relying on a star turn to make you a primetime hit
Viva Laughlin (which boasted Hugh Jackman as a recurring guest star), Smith (the 2006 CBS drama starring Ray Liotta), and Head Cases (the 2005 Fox dramedy starring Chris O'Donnell) are examples of shows that relied too heavily on their leading men to carry them through their freshmen seasons, which were all cut short when they became the first new series to be dropped in their debut seasons. And people really, really love Hugh Jackman… but that did not prevent the New York Times from nominating Viva Laughlin as one of the worst shows in the history of television.
Star power alone cannot always cover deficiencies in other areas of a show, and that's a lesson several of this season's new series could learn the hard way.
Bad Judge, NBC's comedy starring Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice alumna Kate Walsh, does not fall into that category. Walsh's comedic skills were on display in her small but memorable role in FX's Fargo, and Bad Judge, one of the most promising new comedies of the season, really makes you wonder why she wasn't participating in funny business all along.
See the Bad Judge trailer:
But as for the rest: The presence of Maggie Q and Dylan McDermott probably isn't enough to overcome the creep-of-the-week vibe of CBS's Stalker. And State of Affairs, the NBC drama that's Katherine Heigl's comeback attempt, is a dull dud. The NBC cop series The Mysteries of Laura, starring Debra Messing, isn't a good comedy or drama, and definitely isn't a good dramedy. And ABC's Cristela, starring comedian Cristela Alonzo, is a tepid knockoff of every sitcom trope ever, so much so that the actors literally pause to wait for the laughs after they deliver some of their lines.
And then there's Mulaney, the show that may break the most hearts this season. Comedian John Mulaney is one of the funniest comedians and writers around, from his obsessions with Law & Order and Tom Jones's "It's Not Unusual" to the fact that, as a Saturday Night Live writer, he co-created with Bill Hader the pure joy that is Stefon. But Mulaney, the comedy originally set up at NBC and now at Fox, is painfully unfunny so far. It lacks any of its star's charms, the writing is stilted, and the chemistry among the cast members is nonexistent (making those Seinfeld comparisons the one thing about the show that's laughable). In the episode first presented to critics for review, even the always, always, always-funny Martin Short couldn't bring down the level of awkwardness swirling around Mulaney. We love the titular star so much that we'd still give him at least a whole season to try to work it out, but we doubt viewers, or the network, will be so generous.
Watch the Mulaney trailer:
3. Don't be a high-concept show without great writing to back it up
Fox put a big red X through Hieroglyph, its Egyptian fantasy/action drama, before it even premiered. But it went ahead with Red Band Society, the drama that revolves around a group of teen patients, some with potentially terminal diseases, who live in a hospital. Oscar winner Octavia Spencer is the group's firm but loving nurse, the teen cast is likable enough, and the concept isn't ridiculous, but it remains a question whether any demographic will want to tune in to see storylines that might hit all too close to home on a weekly basis.
Selfie, the My Fair Lady-ish ABC comedy about a self-obsessed woman who asks her uptight co-worker to make her over, also isn't a ridiculous concept, but Karen Gillan's Eliza and John Cho's Henry are so brittle that viewers may not stick around to find out if they become better people or how their will-they-won't-they vibe plays out.
Watch the full pilot episode of Selfie now:
And Forever, the ABC drama starring Ioan Gruffudd as a medical examiner examining his own immortality, well… it's got a high concept, too much reliance on its star's appeal, and the title is completely forgettable (unless it's the title of a classic Judy Blume novel). It does make us wish we'd watched New Amsterdam, the similarly-themed 2008 Fox drama that starred a pre-Game of Thrones Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.
The biggest high-concept series of the season, the one that shouldn't work but so does, is The CW's Jane the Virgin. The dramedy revolves around a virgin who becomes pregnant when she gets artificially inseminated by accident. We know, you're doing a Liz Lemon-grade eye roll on that plot, but thanks to lead Gina Rodriguez (the breakout star of the season), clever writing, a tongue-in-cheek nod to the show's telenovela origins, and the setup of a will-they-won't-they relationship we do care about, Jane the Virgin is not only not cancelworthy, it's a top pick for must-see new show of the season.
Check out an extended trailer for Jane the Virgin:
4. Don't be a show with no buzz
We know, duh; shows need buzz. But with TV-viewing options ever more widely spread across many channels, let alone platforms, the chances of an under-the-radar new series lasting long enough to find an audience are slimmer than ever.
And according to a recent study of fall TV's buzziest new shows conducted by Adobe, only five debuting series are making a social media impact on viewers: NBC's Constantine, Gotham, and The CW's The Flash (all comic book series), as well as NCIS: New Orleans, and ABC's latest Shonda Rhimes drama, How to Get Away With Murder.
More than 75 percent of the other new series are getting fewer than 100 social media mentions per day, an Adobe analyst told Deadline, while the five aforementioned series have scored not just with higher quantities of mentions, but higher quality mentions: the "positive sentiment" for each is running above 60 percent, reports Deadline.
Quiz time: Do you remember the name of the series that was the first to be canceled during the 2013-14 fall season? No? It was ABC's Lucky 7, and its social media impact was as unimpressive as its ratings.
The lesson we TV lovers should take from this study: If you see something (you like on TV), say something (about it on social media), lest your potential new favorite series go the way of the very unlucky Lucky 7.
Watch The Flash's extended trailer: