It's that part of the TV season that giveth and taketh away. Basic cable networks have announced their 2016-2017 schedules, wounding fans of low-rated series with their cancellations but also promoting a new crop of pilots. The networks have released trailers, plot details, and casting for some of the shows that will be competing for your attention and DVR slots come the fall. And while many of those freshmen series look promising (fingers crossed for that "Star Trek" reboot), others are harder to wrap your head around.
What makes a TV show suitable for prime time? If networks and creators had that recipe down, no series would ever crash and burn in its time slot. The fall season is traditionally a period of trial and error, and if past ratios of success-to-flop are any indication, there will be blood. Time will tell if these five new series make it, but right now, their inclusion on the prime-time schedule is ever so slightly baffling.
'The Exorcist' (FOX)
Can a horror series thrive under the strictures of basic cable censors? If "The Exorcist" employs creative horror similar to the three-season run of NBC's "Hannibal," maybe. Still, the Fox serialization of the chilling 1973 movie looks like it could get more mileage out of its demonic possession plot if it could have the content freedom that comes with a premium cable home.
'Imaginary Mary' (ABC)
With a plot reminiscent of the 1991 movie comedy "Drop Dead Fred," the ABC pilot "Imaginary Mary" feels like a relic of that era. Jenna Elfman plays a single woman who starts a relationship with a single dad (Stephen Schneider) against the advice of the furry little companion she dreamed up in her childhood (voiced by Rachel Dratch). Cue the realizations about stunted growth and metaphorical security blankets. If two "Ted" movies weren't enough for you, you might be into this late-bloomer comedy.
'Designated Survivor' (ABC)
In every television season, there are a few shows with concepts that sound like actual "30 Rock" jokes -- never forget "MILF Island," "God Cop," or "Black Frasier." In the 2016-2017 season, the award for the series Jack Donaghy would be most likely to green-light is ABC's "Designated Survivor." It stars erstwhile tough guy Kiefer Sutherland as the only member of the president's cabinet not to be killed by an explosion, thus making him acting Commander-in-Chief. The political safeguard is real; but what are the odds that the man to inherit the most powerful office in the world would be the same guy who's made a career out of punching terrorists in the face on "24"?
'This Is Us' (NBC)
An ensemble dramedy with interlocking stories, "This Is Us" shows us the ordinary and extraordinary lives of several individuals who were born on the same day. Despite an interesting cast that includes Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia, and Sterling K. Brown (Christopher Darden on "American Crime Story"), the NBC series is a little too reminiscent of those joyless, overstuffed, holiday-themed movies of the last few years to inspire much confidence.
'Kevin Can Wait' (CBS)
Kevin James is a proven quantity on television and a not unfunny guy, so it's disappointing that his return to series comedy comes in a carbon-copy of his first CBS sitcom vehicle. The beautiful wife has been swapped out and the kids are older, but James is playing the same lazy-but-loving "regular-guy" in "Kevin Can Wait" as he did for over 200 episodes of "The King of Queens."