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Fall TV: The Good, The Bad And The Inexplicable

Critics have been hard on Ken Jeong's new sitcom, <em>Dr. Ken</em>, but ratings are solid and ABC has ordered a full season.
Danny Feld
Critics have been hard on Ken Jeong's new sitcom, Dr. Ken, but ratings are solid and ABC has ordered a full season.

Six weeks into the new fall TV season, and I'm typing a sentence I never expected to write as a professional TV critic: ABC's Dr. Ken is one of the most successful new sitcoms on TV this fall.

And it managed that feat thanks to scenes like this one — featuring the wife of Ken Jeong's character, Dr. Ken Park, asking her husband to handle a problem with their credit card.

"I need you to actually take care of it," Allison Park says.

"Why wouldn't I?" says Jeong's Dr. Ken, indignantly.

"Because you didn't actually take care of our taxes or our mortgage payment or the life insurance," Allison adds.

"OK, the life insurance thing would have been a big deal had one of us died," Dr. Ken says. "But we didn't."

Dialogue like that is ample proof why Jeong's formulaic sitcom got some of the harshest reviews of any new network TV show this fall.

Still, ABC recently ordered a full season. The reason: Dr. Ken draws solid ratings on Fridays, when people don't watch as much television. And it's not the only new fall show panned by critics that's doing well.

Rosewood, Fox's drama about a crime-solving pathologist in Miami, also got a full season order from Fox. This success came despite criticism of the show for being too predictable, too unrealistic and too superficial.

Which proves something important about 2015's fall season: Even in the age of on-demand viewing, time slots still matter. Rosewoodfeatures an African-American and a Latina as co-leads. It airs right before Fox's successful black-centered drama Empire. ABC's Dr. Ken comes right after Tim Allen's solid comedy Last Man Standing. Both of these new shows benefit from audiences drawn to bigger, more established programs.

So far, the networks' new shows for the 2015-16 season haven't sparkled much. There's no Empire-level hit among them, and even a show that seemed like a sure thing, ABC's The Muppets, has struggled.

Another example of a new show attached to a big name that hasn't soared is Fox's TV continuation of the Tom Cruise movie Minority Report. It's struggled so much, the network cut back its episode order from 13 to 10.

One bright spot: Strong female-centric shows like <em>Supergirl</em>, <em>Quantico</em> and <em>Blindspot</em> are doing well.
Darren Michaels / Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc
Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc
One bright spot: Strong female-centric shows like Supergirl, Quantico and Blindspot are doing well.

This seems to be the new face of failure on network TV. Rather than cancel shows outright, networks cut back episode orders. This has also happened for Wesley Snipes' action drama on NBC, The Player, and Don Johnson's nighttime soap for ABC, Blood and Oil. I expect all those shows to vanish with the New Year.

Still there's one welcome trend amid all this mediocrity: CBS' Supergirl.

Though its ratings this week dipped a bit from its super-strong debut Oct. 26, Supergirl remains one of several new shows featuring a powerful female hero that have found success in the fall. NBC's Blindspotand ABC's Quantico are also in that club.

Supergirl, in particular, offers a comic book-inspired tale of a young woman finding her place in a challenging, often threatening world.

At a time when gender equality is a major subject in politics and business, it's a pleasure to see shows centered on smart, powerful women make a difference in network television.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.