Sunday means one thing to most of America: Sunday Night Football. The ratings from America’s Game of the Week helped NBC somewhat shockingly reclaim the title for Most Watched Network during the 2013-2014 season, and led to CBS instituting its own Football Night in America on Thursdays (more on that in Thursday’s Fall TV Preview). While we’re not immune to the sport’s charms (Super Bears Super Bowl 2015!), there are plenty of other options to consider on the most-watched night of the week.
What There is To Watch
The best of the best on Sundays in the fall may not compare to the spring calendar this year, when "Game of Thrones" matched up with "Mad Men" and "Penny Dreadful." But there are plenty of quality shows coming up. First and foremost, the final season of HBO’s "Boardwalk Empire" premieres on September 7, marking the end of Martin Scorsese’s television vision as well as the illegitimate practices of Nucky Thompson.
Joining him are the cops of the "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," in a new time slot wedged between "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy." The Golden Globe-winning comedy has its sights set high, competing against football, the sport that helped give it a boost last season. Andy Samberg’s sitcom aired after Super Bowl XLVIII in early 2014, but now it’s going to have to beat each week’s game of the week, arguably the same demographic who enjoyed the show on Tuesdays last season.
Also going head to head with the NFL is AMC’s ratings juggernaut "The Walking Dead," which returns for another twisted season of horror October 12. Don’t expect things to slow down at all, though, especially considering the response to the new Season 5 trailer. Last but certainly not least is the CBS drama "The Good Wife," which has never been hotter after an epic fifth season.
Veteran of the Night
It’s hard to argue against "The Walking Dead." Like it or not, the zombie series is incredibly popular and helped to redefine television by rebooting the now trendy horror genre. It’s the standout veteran, and one least likely to lose any steam in its fifth year.
That being said, "The Good Wife" has proven time and time again it’s better than the network brand associated with it, narrowly missing out on an Emmy nod for Outstanding Drama this year — despite a brilliant campaign strategy — for one of the series’ best seasons. It outclasses "The Walking Dead" on every level but make-up, yet it can’t get the buzz or viewership of its basic cable competitor. While fans make do with a brand new season, everyone else should consider jumping on board.
Best New Bet
Our money for best new program is on Showtime’s drama "The Affair," starring Dominic West, Maura Tierney, and Joshua Jackson. The story revolves around members of two couples who embark on an unexpected but passionate affair (obviously), but its the show’s structure that makes it stand out. Co-creators Hagai Levi ("In Treatment) and Sarah Treem ("House of Cards") tell the story via flashback from both participants’ points of view: That means we’ll hear McNulty’s take on things as well as his partner’s, and the differences in opinion are often considerable and dramatic. An exciting premise with very capable actors makes "The Affair" worth having, even on a busy night.
An Emmy winner for Outstanding Drama isn’t normally considered a sleeper pick, but when you’re dealing with "Homeland," nothing is what it seems. Fan interest has waned since the thrilling first season, with Season 3’s somewhat convoluted premise and often-absent second lead (Brody) further dampening excitement. Yet Season 4 is basically a reboot: CIA agent Carrie will be off on her own, heading a foreign ops office and forging new friendships (read: lovers) while trying to keep herself from getting killed (read: putting herself in extreme danger). We know Claire Danes can handle any twist thrown her way, and everyone’s favorite father figure is back, as well — please let Saul (Mandy Patinkin) remain a happy pappy. Season 4 will either mark the end of Showtime’s once-promising series or a new beginning. Here’s hoping for the latter.
Biggest DVR Conflict
Sunday Night at 9pm is insanely overbooked, as usual. First and foremost, you’ve got "The Walking Dead" on AMC, a show with so many deaths and twists it’s hard to postpone viewing. Then again, "The Good Wife" delivered one of the biggest shocks of any TV show last season, so you can’t take it for granted and wait on that one either, and "Boardwalk Empire" needs to be given its due during its final season.
"The Walking Dead" and "Boardwalk Empire" probably have far more viewer overlap, but then "Good Wife" fans might also want to watch "Homeland," another 9pm contender. Finally, competing with all four of these fine scripted programs is the behemoth "Sunday Night Football," which demands live viewing considering that the second half will be well underway by 9pm. Good luck, TV fans. Hopefully, you don’t like football.
First to Get Canceled
CBS is quick with the axe, and so don’t expect "Madam Secretary" to survive very long on the demanding network. In theory, it makes for a good pairing with "The Good Wife," but it doesn’t have the name brand draw of the Eye’s other hits (unless executive producer Morgan Freeman were to step in front of the camera). It will also have a difficult time drawing women from "Once Upon a Time" on ABC, especially when they start pushing their new live-action "Frozen" characters. "Mulaney" on FOX is also on shaky ground, mainly because it’s a network sitcom without a built-in audience, but it could get some play with a solid lead-in lineup.
Our Top Pick for Sunday
You can take your dramas, put them in a Never Feta Burgerno and eat it while you watch "Bob’s Burgers,", the best of Sunday night’s many, many options. Loren Bouchard’s animated family comedy has improved every year, shifting focus from the titular Bob to his bizarrely engaging children and adding some fantastic musical numbers. No story is off limits, which isn’t surprising considering the show was originally envisioned as a family of cannibals who served human flesh in their burger shop. It may be hard to imagine that becoming the go-to family comedy on television, but here we are. Don’t look back.
What are you most excited about on Sundays this fall? Tell us in the comments or on Twitter using the hashtag #IWatchFallTV.