Upfronts 2024: Procedurals, Sitcoms & Missing Persons On 20th Anniversary Of Greatest TV Season

Looking at the crop of new scripted series selected by the broadcast networks for 2024-25, one cannot help but reminisce about the 20th anniversary of what may have been broadcast television’s greatest season ever.

The 2004-05 season introduced several genre-defying series — all but one based on original ideas — whose impact on TV storytelling is still being felt: Lost, Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy, House, The Office and Veronica Mars. Remarkably, one of them, Grey’s Anatomy is still around, having just been renewed by ABC for Season 21, along with another show that premiered that same season, animated comedy American Dad!.

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Aside from the fact that the current economic realities of the TV business will likely never support another drama going to 21 seasons, broadcast networks will also likely never take chances on so many unconventional ideas: a sci-fi drama on a deserted island that set the tone for modern genre fare, a comedy-drama about murderous suburban moms which inspired the Real Housewives reality juggernaut, a medical drama where romantic entanglements among doctors overshadow cases, a medical drama with an antihero protagonist we had only seen on cable in shows like The Sopranos and The Shield, an office mocumentary breaking the fourth wall and a teen noir mystery drama.

Also unlikely to ever happen — broadcast executives being allowed to greenlight a $12M pilot as was the case with Lost, a decision that, according to industry lore, did cost — at least in part — the job of the man who authorized the spend, Lloyd Braun.

As they put emphasis on live viewing, which is linear schedules’ main target, and continue to cut programming costs amid sliding broadcast ratings, networks have been focusing almost exclusively on procedurals and multi-camera sitcoms, which are cheaper to produce, easier to get into for casual viewers and have better repeatability. To limit their risks ever further, nets also often rely on IP and star vehicles when greenlighting new series.

Kathy Bates stars as the brilliant septuagenarian Madeline Matlock in the new drama series, Matlock. Photo: Brooke Palmer/CBS
Kathy Bates stars as the brilliant septuagenarian Madeline Matlock in the new drama series, Matlock. Photo: Brooke Palmer/CBS

CBS’ 2024-25 slate includes prequel NCIS: Origins, a Matlock reboot with Kathy Bates, Sherlock-world medical drama offshoot Watson headlined by Morris Chestnut, Young Sheldon sequel Georgie & Mandy’s First Marriage and the Damon Wayans-Damon Wayans Jr. sitcom Poppa’s House.

ABC has crime procedural High Potential based on a French format, medical drama Doctor Odyssey starring Joshua Jackson and Don Johnson, and two sitcom pilots in contention, at least one of which is expected to get on the 2024-25 schedule, Shifting Gears starring Tim Allen and Kat Dennings and Forgive and Forget starring Ty Burrell.

NBC has medical drama Brilliant Minds starring Zachary Quinto, crime procedural The Hunting Party, the Reba McEntire sitcom Happy’s Place and comedy St. Denis Medical. Fox has medical drama Doc based on an Italian format, lifeguard drama Rescue: HI-Surf and Canadian detective drama Murder In a Small Town.

Back in 2004-05, there were also extensions of top procedural/sitcom franchises among the new series, two — CBS’ CSI: NY and ABC’s Boston Legal — more successful than the other two — NBC’s Law & Order: Trial By Jury and Joey.

But neither of these series, nor another procedural with a respectable run that launched that season, Numb3rs, are still remembered or watched the way the out-of-the-box outliers are, with Grey’s Anatomy and The Office continuing to top streaming rankings.

The Office, a U.S. version of the British comedy which got off to such a shaky ratings start on NBC, it almost didn’t make it to a second season, helped usher in a string of standout single-camera broadcast comedies, from 30 Rock, Parks & Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine to The Good Place, Young Sheldon and Ghosts. It’s not hard to see a lot of The Office DNA in award-winning mocumentary-style comedies like Modern Family and Abbott Elementary.

Viewers’ appetite for single-camera storytelling is still there — Young Sheldon, Ghosts and Abbott Elementary are the top three comedies of the season. Yet, only one of the new broadcast comedy series and prospects for next season is single-camera, St. Denis Medical. As Deadline reported, another single-camera comedy, Going Dutch, has been heating up for a series order at Fox but even that network, which has deep traditions in single-camera comedy with series like the 2000 Malcolm In the Middle and the 2003 Arrested Development, is also exploring multi-cam sitcoms with the Meet the Kumars presentation.

Fox and CBS are trying to make it work financially by filming Animal Control and Ghosts in Canada. But overall, single-camera comedies are in danger of going extinct on broadcast, replaced by their more cost-effective multi-camera counterparts as the broadcast model can no longer fully support them. It’s not a coincidence that the Young Sheldon spinoff, Georgie & Mandy’s First Marriage, will be multi-camera like Young Sheldon’s predecessor, The Big Bang Theory, the last hugely profitable broadcast comedy series.

The trend is expected to continue as I have been hearing that ABC, CBS, NBC — and to some extent Fox — have been soliciting mostly procedurals and multi-camera comedies for development.

Justin Hartley in CBS TV series Tracker

On the procedural front, there has also been an intriguing obsession with series about searching for missing people. We’ve had occasional procedural dramas set in that world in the past, most notably CBS’ Without a Trace, but I don’t think we’ve ever had three at the same time, freshmen Tracker on CBS and Found on NBC and sophomore Alert: Missing Persons Unit on Fox.

The genre seems to be thriving, with all three dramas earning renewals for next season and Tracker, starring Justin Hartley, ranking as the top series of the season after a splashy post-Super Bowl premiere.

Falling into the overall trend are also two dramas focused on chasingr missing criminals, CBS’ FBI: Most Wanted and NBC’s upcoming The Hunting Party.

So, we will have five dramas tracking down innocent or guilty people on broadcast next season but we will likely never have another one about a missing plane like Manifest or a crashed plane like Lost or a real-time anti-terrorist operation like 24 or a constellation of superheroes like the Arrowverse on the CW.

For now, streamers are willing to tackle those out-of-the-box ideas with shows like Netflix’s Stranger Things, Prime Video’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Apple’s Ted Lasso, or revisit some that originated on broadcast, with a new Office series ordered by Peacock and a new Prison Break installment in the works at Hulu.

But with some streamers, led by Netflix, starting to invest more heavily in broadcast-style procedurals as well as multi-cam comedies, the respite may not be for long.

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