The 2023-24 fall television season has launched, and amid the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, the broadcasters’ lineups are anything but typical. In an average year, network writers’ rooms usually open in late spring, enabling shows to go into production by midsummer for a late September launch. This schedule allows enough episodes to be completed leading up to the holidays. However, as the dual strikes press on, the networks have had to get creative with their fall schedules.
Following weeks of tweaking that will likely continue, networks are fully leaning into a folly of game shows, unscripted series and a slew of reruns. Though ABC has its “Bachelor” Nation franchises, including “Bachelor in Paradise” and “The Golden Bachelor” on its slate, the network is also adding Monday Night Football to its lineup, a throwback to the early 2000s. For its part, CBS is mining content from its cable sibling, Paramount Network, and airing the megahit, “Yellowstone” from the pilot episode forward, as well as the Australian-set “NCIS: Sydney.” The network has also beefed up its reality returners, “Survivor” and the “Amazing Race,” to 90-minute episodes. Fox will air new episodes of its animated series, like decades-long staple “The Simpsons” and newcomer “Krapopolis,” along with returning unscripted shows. Meanwhile, The CW, which is already undergoing a massive overhaul, is relying solely on imports like “F-Boy Island” and the Canadian-produced “Sullivan’s Crossing” where fans of “One Tree Hill,” “Gilmore Girls” and “Virgin River” will spot some recognizable faces.
NBC is the only network, through both luck and quick-thinking, that has a slate with some semblance of normalcy. Deciding to hold its midseason 2022-23 slate until the fall, NBC is launching three new shows, the John Cryer and Donald Faison led-comedy, “Extended Family” and two dramas: “The Irrational” based on Dan Ariely’s book “Predictably Irrational,” and showrunner Nkechi Okoro Carroll’s “Found” which is produced by Greg Berlanti. Interestingly, both “The Irrational” and “Found” have Black leads and diverse casts, an intriguing tidbit considering both series were supposed to find their place amid the sheer dominance of the “One Chicago” and “Law & Order” franchises this past winter and through the spring.
NBC may be the only primetime network with fresh scripted juice, but are “The Irrational” and “Found” worth the squeeze?
Returning to his “Law & Order” roots, Jesse L. Martin is back to solving murders and other mysteries through a more nuanced lens. Set in Washington D.C., “The Irrational” stars Martin as Professor Alec Mercer, a behavioral scientist expert who lends his expertise to desperately understaffed (and oft-confused) law enforcement. With high-profile cases, the FBI (which happens to be the workplace of Alec’s ex-wife, Marisa (Maahra Hill), hires him to take a deep dive into the facts, uncovering any clues or inconsistencies they may have missed.
Like the short-lived “Lie To Me” starring Tim Roth, with which “The Irrational” shares some DNA, the Martin show is a procedural drama (with some serialized elements) in which each episode centers on one case. The first few episodes offer everything from a mysterious plane crash to a murdered fashion influencer. Alec and his enthusiastic assistants work on looking beyond the evidence to unpack the human emotion at the heart of their cases. While the true culprits of the crimes are usually glaringly obvious, a few stunners here and there make “The Irrational” enjoyable primetime viewing. It’s a classic drama that viewers can dive in and out of without missing a beat.
In addition to the cases, Alec also has an intriguing past. A survivor of a church bombing some 20 years ago, he’s struggling to remember the event’s details while living with his tech-savvy sister Kylie (Travina Springer) in the aftermath of his divorce. As the episodes revolve around the various cases, Alec’s trauma acts as an anchor for the season. Seven episodes of “The Irrational” were completed before the dual strikes shut down filming. Therefore, the true culprit behind the bombing is still shrouded in mystery, and will likely remain that way for a while.
While “The Irrational” is standard network fare, “Found,” which is also D.C.-set, offers something more unique. The show follows public relations specialist, Gabi Mosely (Shanola Hampton), who was held captive when she was 16 for just over a year. Two decades later, Gabi runs a crisis management firm, Mosley & Associates, where her colleagues have their own intense connections to missing persons.
While the rest of the world often uses its resources toward white girls and women, Gabi and her team are dedicated to finding missing people, namely people of color, who have been ignored and fallen through the system’s cracks. The constant back-and-forth between Mosely and the police highlights the lack of resources and care given when certain people and groups aren’t seen as “valuable” in society.
In “Found,” intricate flashbacks that showcase 16-year-old Gabi (Azaria Carter) and her captor, Sir (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), elevate the series to a “Scandal”-level of intrigue. There is even a major twist in the pilot that I won’t give away here, but NBC haphazardly spoiled in the show’s trailer.
Extremely binge-able with an incredibly strong Hampton leading the charge as an Olivia Pope for the missing, “Found” is a series that likely would have soared anyway and never needed to be slotted in midseason, especially if the twist had been kept under wraps.
Unlike “The Irrational,” “Foud” has a completed 13-episode season ready to roll out, and NBC has already ordered additional scripts. Still, if the strikes aren’t resolved by the end of the year, NBC will undoubtedly be shuffling things around just like its competitors. Though these work stoppages are different from the 100-day WGA strike that lasted from late 2007 through early 2008, the networks are not strangers to jumbled schedules. Amid the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, TV production was halted for months, but during that time, writers were still able to get work done remotely.
When the strikes inevitably end, viewers can expect the broadcast networks to be affected, possibly for the next year, as productions scramble to get back on track. In fact, at the rate that the prolonged strikes are going, network television will likely never be the same, and fall TV could well be a thing of the past. Moving forward, television networks may choose to continue mining content from their sister cable stations or even filming their seasons in one chunk, following the format used by streamers.
But, for now, fans can examine Professor Mercer and Gabi Mosely’s cases before settling into (however unwillingly) the certain bizarreness of reality shows like “Deal or No Deal Island,” which is apparently a version of the original game show with a “Survivor”-like twist.
“The Irrational” will premiere Sept. 25 on NBC, with new episodes airing weekly on Mondays.
“Found” will premiere on Oct. 3 on NBC, with new episodes airing weekly on Tuesdays.
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