With the holidays out of the way and new episodes of TV starting back up again, it’s time for the networks to start their second round of premieres. The first is of course in the fall, when Premiere Week means a fresh start to all of the returning series and highly anticipated launches for the new kids in town. After the frenzy of new programming, the networks play the waiting game, while some shows succeed, some peter out, and others fail to find an audience. (New) TV practically stops for the last few weeks of December and the beginning of January, and then it’s midseason, and time to try again.
There is always the risk, when a show is held for midseason, that it won’t make it to air. Should the fall premieres hit, there will be little space on the schedule and networks will always go with a modest success over the potential for failure from a new series. Episodes may get burned off during the summer, get a brief “trial” run, or not air at all. If they do make it to air, however, being a midseason replacement can be quite a boon. Some of the most acclaimed series in television history started as midseason replacements, from All in the Family to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as did several of the most popular and acclaimed series on the air now, from Parks and Rec to Grey’s Anatomy.
Another advantage is that midseason series often have smaller season one episode orders. For a show still finding itself (most series take at least a season to find their voice), this shorter run can function as a type of workshopping, allowing creators to see what works and what doesn’t without overly committing. The first season of Parks and Rec gave us a very different Leslie Knope than the rest of the series. The PTB at the series hadn’t quite found her voice, or the tone of the series, but they were able to see this and adjust between seasons, and because the first season was so short (only 6 episodes), it wasn’t as jarring a tonal shift as if they’d had a full 22 episode run. Similarly, Happy Endings initially focused heavily on their Left-at-the-Altar premise, by far the weakest element of the show, but they made a similar tonal adjustment between seasons, making the earlier misstep a blip on the radar.
Finally, there is less competition at midseason. Yes, there is usually less promotion than in the fall, and midseason series premiere against already established shows, which can be a challenge, but compared to Fall Premiere Week’s multi-network Viewer Grab, it’s not hard to separate oneself or attract viewers who’ve lost interest in the shows they tried out in the fall. For shows with a more complicated premise or individual tone, at midseason they can be a breath of fresh air while in the fall they’d be too demanding or otherwise lost in the shuffle. This appears to be the tack taken with Alcatraz, Touch, and Awake, three (semi-) serialized genre dramas premiering at midseason.
Many of the series with midseason premieres won’t succeed. Many have already premiered with less than stellar reviews (listen to the latest episode of Sound on Sight’s TV podcast, The Televerse, to hear about the first batch of disappointments). However, for the few with potential, with a good premise or a talented cast and crew, it can be a great place to start.