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Fall 2014 TV Preview: Wednesday is Family Night as Steven Spielberg Tries to Dethrone ‘Modern Family’

Fall 2014 TV Preview: Wednesday is Family Night as Steven Spielberg Tries to Dethrone 'Modern Family'

Getting over the mid-week hump is always a bit of a mixed blessing. You’re more than halfway through the work week, but the best shows won’t be on until the following day (or at least the shows which the networks deem their highest ratings draw). Yet fear not! 2014 has plenty to offer for new programming, and some it is actually quite promising. Take a look at our Fall TV preview for Wednesday and get ready to cruise right over the top of that hump. 

READ MORE: The Indiewire Fall 2014 TV Bible: Daily Breakdowns of the Upcoming Season

What There Is To Watch

All the Wednesday night ratings champs are returning for new seasons this fall. “Survivor” will continue its immunity streak when its 29th season starts (fittingly) on September 29. “Modern Family” will attempt to take down another challenger to its crown as Top-Rated Family Program, but Steven Spielberg’s “Red Band Society” will have a week’s head start as it premieres September 17. And CBS’ “Criminal Minds” will see direct cable competition when Sean Bean tries to live through a full season (maybe two!) in TNT’s new thriller “Legends” (premiering Wednesday, August 13). Throw in “Arrow” on The CW (October 8), “The League” on FXX (September 3), “American Horror Story: Freak Show” (October), and the upcoming DirecTV original “Kingdom” (October 8), and Wednesday’s options are shaping up nicely.

Veteran of the Night

“Modern Family” is still the scripted show to beat on Wednesdays. It’s so incredibly dominant that the Pritchetts and Dunphys have been able to prop up a night of family fun at ABC despite little help from lesser programming like “The Middle.” It might not make it five-for-five in the Outstanding Comedy Series category at the Emmys this year, but it’s shown no sign of slacking off when it comes to the coveted 18-49 demo (and hey — it’s still got a pretty good shot at that Emmy).

That being said, I’ll give the slight edge to “Arrow” as the returning show to keep an eye on, if only because everyone is already watching ABC’s comedy and The CW needs some publicity. Both shows even share a few key characteristics, though they appear to be aimed at opposite targets. Both reestablished their respective networks as reputable entertainment sources. Both did so by reinventing the genre their networks used to be best at producing (superhero dramas and family comedies). Both even star a sexy heartthrob singlehandedly (or single chest-edly) responsible for at least a quarter of the viewership. “Arrow” and “Modern Family” are veterans still fighting the good fight on Wednesday night. (“Criminal Minds” is also nothing to sneeze at in the ratings department, and the CBS drama is heading into its tenth season. But the episodic format dates it horribly and leaves little room for creative ingenuity.)

Best New Bets

It’s honestly hard to pick just one new show to check out on Wednesdays, especially when the night’s best show is only 30 minutes long (see above). Lawrence Fishburne and Anthony Anderson on ABC’s thematically promising (but narrator-reliant) “Black-ish” could be the worthy follow-up to “Modern Family” ABC has needed for years. And while “Red Band Society” has some big names behind it, it will need to prove itself adept at balancing comedy and drama before we give it much leeway (when you’re dealing with kids in an hour-long drama, the odds of unbearable acting rise exponentially, and “RBS” has kids in a hospital). TNT’s “Legends” has Sean Bean working for it, but some dated plot devices — like a white ex-husband trying to connect with his distanced wife and kid — are troublesome despite a stellar first trailer.

So what should you check out? “Kingdom” on DirecTV. I know, I know. This isn’t on broadcast TV or even basic cable — you have to subscribe to the popular satellite service provider to gain access to the latest from writer Byron Balasco (“Huff,” “Detroit 1-8-7”). Balasco isn’t exactly a proven talent, but I don’t know what would peak your interest as an entertainment fan if this cast doesn’t do it. Frank Grillo, who most people will know from “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” stars as a veteran MMA fighter alongside Nick Jonas (!), his son who also knows a bit about mixing things up in the ring. It’s quite an odd pairing considering Grillo most recently starred in “The Purge: Anarchy” and Jonas was last seen in “Smash,” “Hawaii Five-0” and crooning sappy love songs to teenagers at Jonas Brothers concerts.

But the cast is rounded out by Jonathan Tucker (Bob Little on “Parenthood”) and Matt Lauria (also on “Parenthood,” but more importantly on Luke Cafferty of “Friday Night Lights” and Jason Clarke’s partner on “The Chicago Code”) — two appealing character actors with proven chops. Most importantly of all, “Kingdom” provides you the opportunity to at least discuss if not relive the greatest sports film since “Rocky” — 2011’s brotherly love drama, “Warrior.” Grillo co-starred as an ex-MMA fighter in Gavin O’Connor’s cult classic, and “Kingdom” allows you to watch the fan fiction of what he was like before he became a trainer. “You talking about Sparta?” Grillo says in “Warrior” to Joel Edgerton’s passionate but aging fighter. “Brendan, please. You got a better chance of starting a boy band.” With “Warrior,” now, those odds aren’t so low either.

Sleeper Pick

We know we just got done ragging on “Red Band Society” a little, but the FOX dramedy still has the most upside of all the new shows premiering on Wednesdays. Having Steven Spielberg as an executive producer has never hurt a show creatively or in the ratings (except maybe for “Extant”), and FOX has been actively looking for a new kid-friendly primetime hit since “Glee” dropped off on every measurable level. Pairing the Spielberg brand with Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer (“The Help”) provides “Red Band Society” with broad appeal even before you factor in the adorable little young ‘uns running around with the affable Dave Annable (“Brothers & Sisters”). It’s the latter part that worries this critic’s brain, but FOX should be feeling pretty positive about the hour-long’s future holdings.

First to Get Canceled

It’s going to be a tight race between “The Mysteries of Laura” and Stalker” for the dishonor of first to be axed from the Wednesday night schedule. Kevin Williamson’s new drama is off to the worst start of any show on television after a spat at the TCAs turned into a nasty Twitter war. The show itself looks far too serious and is based on a premise that’s hard to imagine lasting long term (how many different ways are there to stalk someone?) — but CBS has stuck with other critically reviled shows with totally implausible twists before. Could it outlast Debra Messing’s horrifically titled return to the Peacock? The former “Will & Grace” star knows a thing or two about bad titles, and she should’ve known better than to sign on to this outdated premise: She’s a lady, a cop, and a mother!

One of these two shows is going down, if not both. It will be a tight race to see which one is the first loser (our best guess: “Stalker,” but that may just be me hoping to see Dylan McDermott and Maggie Q freed to do better TV).

Biggest DVR Conflict

Viewer loyalty will decide the fate of many shows airing Wednesdays from 9-10pm. “Modern Family” will continue to hold court for its half-hour block, but will there be room for “Kingdom” on DirecTV, TNT’s “Legends,” and “Red Band Society” on FOX?  All three are hour-long programs, so the key piece in ABC’s strategy to win Wednesdays may be the “Modern Family” follow-up, “Black-ish.” Lawrence Fishburne hasn’t proven to be a big draw on TV (“Hannibal,” “CSI”), but with the help of a powerful lead-in and a likable lead (Anthony Anderson), the family comedy with a progressive kick may solidify ABC’s comedy night finally done right. 

Our Top Pick for Wednesday

Despite a slight dip in consistency, “Modern Family” is still your best bet for all-around quality on Wednesday nights. It’s not the best comedy on TV — “Parks and Recreation,” “Veep,” “Bob’s Burgers” and a few more rank above it — but none of the new programs have proven themselves worthy ascendants to the Wednesday night throne. The cast of “Modern Family” is still on the top of its game, especially Ty Burrell and Ed O’Neill, who were given ample opportunities to shine last season (Burrell had his “Godfather” homage, while O’Neill owned the season finale). They may be in danger of losing the Emmy later this month, but even that will be forgotten by the time Season 6 starts up September 24.

What are you most excited about on Wednesdays this fall? Tell us in the comments or on Twitter using the hashtag #IWatchFallTV

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