The fall television season has, so far, included one smash hit, one scene involving exploding bags of vomit, and no cancellations. So lots of generally good news for the TV industry. Shonda Rhimes is winning, obviously. People are saying lots of nice things about black-ish. And The CW just aired the best pilot that only 1.61 million people watched. (Fox is, in every way but one, losing.) But that's the simplest analysis. Let's look deeper.
- Non-white people! Verily: The Rhimes-produced How to Get Away with Murder is the season's No. 1 new show (where it matters, with the 18-49 demo); and network sibling black-ish made a major splash with its debut, while Cristela is proving—as predicted—to be a bizarrely solid companion to its lead-in, Last Man Standing. The aforementioned Jane the Virgin, though no break-out, is critical catnip, perhaps The CW's first creatively successful alt-brand property, after years of scheduling Hart of Dixie and Emily Owens, M.D. alongside Supernatural and Arrow. Absolutely nothing really links these shows—except their diversity.
- Queer people. A corollary to the above: Some of HTGAWM's steamiest sex scenes involve men, including no less than two explicit references to rimming. "I knew I wanted to push the envelope, especially with the gay sex," creator/showrunner Pete Nowalk told E! Things are also not bad for the ladies, especially those named Kalinda and Montoya.
- Debra Messing. The Mysteries of Laura may be awful, and it is, but people are watching. They may be old and they may not be worth much money to the network, but they are watching. More people than the fractional horde that clung to Messing's Smash.
- Greg Berlanti. The funny thing is to try and remember a time when Berlanti was a burgeoning writer/producer, just running Everwood on The WB, earning lots of fond, if minor, critical notices. Now he's a brand: In the shadow of a stalled feature film career, Berlanti-as-producer has launched both Arrow and The Flash on The CW, almost immediately making them the network's staples, and he's one of the hands in Laura, too.
- Talking about comic books. Soon, every one of the five major networks may be airing a TV show based on a comic book: Arrow and The Flash and iZombie on The CW; S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter on ABC; Constantine on NBC; Gotham on Fox; and maybe Supergirl on CBS. The plurality opens up a new front in popular discussion, lots of strange little debates made mainstream. Would you like to talk about how The Flash proves wrong everything Gotham is trying to prove right? What about the sexual politics of demon hunters? It'd be like if, in two years, every network discovered Jane Austen.
- Gwen Stefani/The Voice. Formerly a failed makeup artist, Stefani saw her life changed when she was chosen as one of the new judges for the singing competition's seventh season. And it's the other way 'round: Ratings are steady and the chemistry is tight.
- New romantic comedies. And returning romantic comedies. NBC* and ABC's double-shot debut of A to Z and Manhattan Love Story, despite or because of their complete lack of offense or quality, are non-starters; as is ABC's Selfie, which we love. (We also love Marry Me, which America is actually divorcing.) These compound the dimming fortune's of Fox's The Mindy Project and New Girl, whose ratings keep sliding in disproportion to the think pieces being written about their genre.
- Kate Walsh is great—and she's having a blast on NBC's Bad Judge, which is less a show than a series of sparklers spinning around Walsh's performance. But no one is watching Bad Judge and very few people are talking about Kate Walsh and does anyone else think her character's van is kind of racist?
- Kevin Williamson is not quite who you think he is, and neither is his new show Stalker quite what it appears, despite what you may have heard. Unfortunately that worthy murk can't cut through the messaging, or however you would label America's apathy for his CBS procedural. Stalker's no flop (CBS doesn't produce flops), but it has steadily declining chances at a second season.
- NCIS spin-offs that do not star Scott Bakula. To make room behind flagship NCIS for the Bakula-starrer NCIS: New Orleans, CBS bumped NCIS: Los Angeles to a different time and day. Sound moves, it sounds like. Except that the switch has depressed L.A.'s ratings, proving there are very real, if invisible, limits to the network's spin-off machine.
- John Mulaney is a fondly regarded stand-up who made a fondly regarded sitcom pilot for NBC, produced by Lorne Michaels, that went nowhere and that no one saw and so generated lots of back-room buzz. Fox jumped on it, alas: Mulaney's resulting Mulaney is a notch worse than the Seth MacFarlane sitcom it replaced. Ratings are anemic, but times are tough across the network: Fox has cut the episode order, effectively ending production, but hasn't dropped the ax.
Winner and loser:
- Saturday Night Live. The long-running sketch stalwart recently notched its lowest ratings in history (and opened with one of its worst premieres in years), all while juggling a number of cast additions, departures, and changes. But debating if SNL has finally ended its interminable slide toward terrible/greatness is sport, not reality—and Pete Davidson, The Good Neighbor guys, and Leslie Jones have already proved their watchability, if not yet their staying power.