When it comes to weekdays, Thursday is the best day for television. Everyone wants to buy commercial space for the coming weekend’s events and movies as close to the weekend as possible, meaning networks need shows that attract high ratings in order to lure the best ad buys. In 2014, there are plenty of newcomers and veterans attempting to strike it rich on Thursday, and we’ve got the scoop on what will succeed, falter and surprise.
What There Is To Watch
One of the most intriguing elements of Thursday nights this fall is the addition of Thursday Night Football to CBS. The three-hour games will take up the network’s entire block of Thursday night programming for seven weeks (September 11 through October 23) and has forced “The Big Bang Theory” to move to Mondays despite being the night’s highest-rated show (which should give you an indication of what the NFL is expected to pull in). CBS reinstates its regular lineup on October 30 when “Big Bang” moves back to its old timeslot and “The Millers” and “Two and a Half Men” premiere their new seasons alongside newcomer “The McCarthys.” ABC will try to fight them off with the slowly cooling “Grey’s Anatomy” at 8pm and “Scandal” right after; then, Viola Davis will try to help “How to Get Away With Murder” complete the Shonda Rhimes triumvirate at 10pm (it’s the super producer’s newest show). All three Shonda series return September 25, providing ideal counter-programming for women while the men watch football (at least in most demos, though of course plenty of people will have eyes on both).
NBC is without a veteran comedic performer on Thursday nights for the first time in longer than we can remember: “Parks and Recreation” doesn’t return until midseason, so the Peacock is trying out two new sitcoms until then with “Bad Judge” at 9pm and “A to Z” at 9:30. Following them is the shortened final season of “Parenthood,” completing NBC’s most lackluster lineup of the week. With “Bones” returning to FOX on Thursdays to lead into the British remake “Gracepoint,“ expect the top-ranked network to come in dead last in the ratings on television’s most coveted night.
Veteran of the Night
It’s hard to say no to “Scandal,” a show so lush with drama that even the uninitiated can feel the excitement around it. Season 3 had a few moments which felt like reaching (that wrist-biting scene…), but creator Shonda Rhimes has proven that she knows how to steer her dramas through difficult times. “Grey’s Anatomy” ought to be a much worse show than it is today, after surviving the whole Denny’s ghost/Katherine Heigl fallout of its own third season, but Rhimes in it for the long haul when it comes to her ever-growing television empire. And Kerry Washington is doing a fine job helping her out — she snagged her second Emmy nomination on the show, lending “Scandal” the air of credibility needed to help such *gasp*-heavy surprises get past more discerning viewers. Keep watching. It’s gonna get good.
Best New Bet
“Gracepoint” may be a remake, but it’s one of those remakes that’s so good you won’t mind watching the same story played out again by new actors. That being said, it’s not exactly the same story (a few tweaks have been made to the original) and most of the audience tuning in for FOX’s new drama aren’t doing so because they’ve seen this tale told before. They’re watching because they haven’t (or because they have seen “Breaking Bad” and love Anna Gunn, who co-stars). The new iteration extends the mystery of who killed little Danny Lasseter (as the show must adjust to a longer season), while also bringing back Mr. David Tennant, who originated the role of Detective Inspector Alec Hardy (now Emmett Carver). Bringing Tennant to America isn’t just to a move to appease fans of “Broadchurch” — he’s great. It will be a fun 10-week experiment in adaptation, and one you probably shouldn’t miss.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Kate Walsh after being introduced to her on “Grey’s Anatomy” (she cheated on McDreamy — never forget), but I am excited for her return to Thursday nights in “Bad Judge.” It’s a terrible title, most likely inspired by the success of “Bad Teacher” (the film) but hopefully not mimicking “Bad Teacher” (the show). Still, Walsh is pretty terrific in the pilot, continuing her hot streak after stealing every scene she was in during “Fargo’s” excellent first season on FX. This one will need her best efforts until it evens out, and hopefully her appeal can carry it that far.
First to Get Canceled
“Bad Judge” will have to succeed if it wants its partner on NBC Thursdays to have a shot in hell at surviving. “A to Z” has floundered so far in a mushy marketing campaign too light on laughs and too heavy on “How I Met Your Mother”-esque romance. It’s the wrong time to be coasting on that show’s success given its largely-despised series finale, even if the NBC rom-com does have the “mother” (Cristin Milioti) in a lead role. With strong competition on the other networks, don’t be surprised if NBC is forced to bump one (if not both) of its freshmen from a now limping comedy lineup.
Biggest DVR Conflict
“Thursday Night Football” has created a serious traffic jam for anyone invested in the NFL, dramatic fantasies, and fantasy football. The Thursday night games will cut into “Scandal” at 9pm on ABC and FOX’s short-run TV series “Gracepoint” at the same time, making you choose between experiencing the thrill of live sports or the addiction of live tweeting. It’s no easy choice. Anyone who can take a break from the game for a half hour could still catch “Bad Judge” from 9-9:30pm, but it’s hard to skip a third of a football game for the full hour of “Scandal” or “Gracepoint.” Both rely heavily on twists, meaning you don’t want to show up to work Friday and have them spoiled for you by some loud-mouthed co-worker with no respect for television privacy.
One bright spot? Anyone in the Pacific time zone should be able to avoid the mess entirely, since games will start at 5pm and be over before the 9pm shows start.
Our Top Pick
Leave it to NBC to still be sporting the best show on Thursday nights, even if it will land dead last in the ratings. “Parenthood” is the top pick on Thursdays even if there’s no dead bodies (like on “Gracepoint”) or nationwide governmental conspiracies (like on “The Millers,” er, that is, “Scandal”). It tells personal, relatable stories with a cast enviable by any of the other higher rated programs. Also, Jason Katims (“Friday Night Lights,” “About a Boy”) remains one of the best showrunners in the business, and anyone with the inclination to watch real characters over inflated melodrama should start catching up on “Parenthood” via Netflix before its final season starts Sept. 25.
What are you most excited about on Thursdays this fall? Tell us in the comments or on Twitter using the hashtag #IWatchFallTV.