LOS ANGELES — TV this fall will have an emphasis on fantasy and fun.
Of the 28 new shows joining the five networks on their 2013-14 schedules, seven have science fiction or fantasy themes, while 14 are new comedies.
When it comes to fantasy fare, new programming joins seven returning shows that deal with everything from vampires to an electricity-free world and a billionaire archer. That means one out of every six shows on this fall's lineup fall into the sci-fi/fantasy genre.
The CW — that targets younger viewers — has the most sci-fi and fantasy fare with six of 10 shows in the category. It's seven if you want to look at the historical drama "Reign," the series about the teen life of Mary Queen of Scots, as a real contender for the genre.
"We've said very much since I've been here that we're looking to expand and broaden the adult 18-34, which would be more inclusive to men and women. When 'Smallville' went off the air a couple of years ago, we had lost a lot of men. And then with 'Arrow' coming back and 'Supernatural' being combined to it, men came back," says Mark Pedowitz, network president. "We took a shot at 'Reign' — high concept, very different, historical fiction. We felt that going with 'Reign,' we attract women of all ages."
No network is counting on sci-fi and fantasy fans more than ABC.
"Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," based on characters from the Marvel Comics universe, is an expensive series to produce. It will need good ratings or even the Hulk won't be able to save it.
The series picks up after the blockbuster theatrical juggernaut "The Avengers," with Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) in charge of the evil-fighting unit. Yes, it looked like Coulson died in the movie, but as Gregg explains, it's a comic book world where anything can happen.
The other link to the movie is Joss Whedon, the man who directed the film, as one of the executive producers.
"ABC and Marvel have been very active in making sure the show is what they want for their company and their network and their audiences and, at the same time, very supportive of the vision that we first laid out to them," Whedon says.
ABC's two new offerings in the sci-fi/fantasy genre — "S.H.I.E.L.D." and "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland" — have been getting huge attention from the international TV market, a place where these types of shows perform well.
"Wonderland" — a dark version of the Lewis Carroll tales — had originally been planned as a summer series to bridge seasons of "Once Upon a Time." The reaction to the dark look at Alice was so good, ABC executives moved to bringing it as a fall series.
If your favorite sci-fi/fantasy stories feature creatures that go blood- sucking in the night, this will be a full fall for you. Not only is "The Vampires Diaries" returning to the CW, but the spinoff series "The Originals" focuses on Klaus, Elijah and Rebekah, the original family of vampires who have been tormenting the residents of Mystic Falls.
The action moves to New Orleans, where vampires and witches try to live in harmony. Executive producer Julie Plec explains that "The Originals" is designed to entertain the young viewers who have grown up with "The Vampire Diaries."
"That show is more of a coming-of-age story. It was cemented in the idea of first love and the struggles of being a vampire. And this is a show that is not about struggling to be a vampire. It's about embracing vampirism. It's about reveling in it. Some of these vampires are a thousand years old," Plec says. "It's about the power of the family community and the power struggle over the family community and the supernatural community of an entire city."
Also looking to take a bite out of the ratings will be NBC's "Dracula" with Jonathan Rhys Meyers playing the iconic bat man.
FOX goes classic with an updated version of Washington Irving's tale of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman in "Sleepy Hollow." The network also will add the futuristic "Almost Human," the story of a burned-out cop (Karl Urban) and his mechanical partner (Michael Ealy).
Urban, who has done his share of future traveling with two "Star Trek" movies and a stint as "Judge Dredd," likes that "Almost Human" takes a time leap but remains anchored in a reality of today.
"We're not presenting a dystopian vision of the future. This is a future that is immediately accessible.
"We've still got mortgages. Mom and dad still take the kids to soccer. It's just that, in this slightly futuristic vision, society is dealing with elements and difficulties that are just a little bit beyond the curve for us, and I find that's interesting," Urban says. "And we play characters who are really at the front line of protecting the society against the misapplication of, whether it be genetics or robotics, or anything like that."
Rounding out the new offerings in the genre is the CW series "The Tomorrow People," a look at a group of people who possess the superhuman powers of telepathy, telekinesis and teleportation.
As for laughs, there are 14 new comedy shows going live.
The big news is the return of two TV comedy icons: Robin Williams on the CBS series "The Crazy Ones" and Michael J. Fox on NBC's "The Michael J. Fox Show."
It's a bit of surprise that both have agreed to star in a new TV comedy. Williams has been steadily working in films since he exploded on the scene with the late '70s comedy "Mork & Mindy."
Fox has appeared as a guest star in recent years because of his battle with Parkinson's disease.
It was the chance to work with executive producer David E. Kelley that lured Williams back to TV.
He's getting the same freedoms to improvise that he used to make Mork a breakout character.
"Literally, they would put in the script 'Mork does his thing here,' which was just like 'Riff, riff little white boy, here we go.' So, in a weird way, that's kind of the same thing here," Williams says. "But the idea now is that there's a lot more to talk about just in terms of products, the world, the technology."
Fox wants to be able to show that people dealing with Parkinson's can still have a sense of humor.
"The way I look at life, the way I look at the reality of Parkinson's, that sometimes it's frustrating and sometimes it's funny," Fox says. "I need to look at it that way and I think other people will look at it that way."
The important thing for the 28 new shows is whether enough people watch to make any — heavy on the fantasy or the comedy — a hit.
"Hostages" (CBS): Watching Toni Collette and Dylan McDermott work together is like watching master chess players. B+
"The Crazy Ones" (CBS): Robin Williams proves he's truly a mad man. B+
"Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." (ABC): Marvel Comics-inspired series should get a hulk of viewers. B+
"Almost Human" (FOX): "Robocop" meets "Star Trek." Great combination. B+
"Sleepy Hollow" (FOX): Modern Ichabod Crane tale has classic feel. B
"The Blacklist" (NBC): James Spader's at his creepiest best. B
"The Michael J. Fox Show" (NBC): Solid comedy return for Michael J. Fox. B-
"The Originals" (CW): "Vampire Diaries" spinoff has some bite. B-
"Sean Saves the World" (NBC): Sean Hayes saves so-so comedy. B-
"The Goldbergs" (ABC): This "Wonder Years" on acid could be surprise hit. B-
"Once Upon a Time in Wonderland" (ABC): Starts strong but ratings will drop like Alice through the looking glass. C
"Ironside" (NBC): Remake feels a little dated. C
"Betrayal" (ABC): Will survive because of hunger by soap fans for such schlock. C
"Junior MasterChef" (FOX): Kids can cook. Big deal. Ever been to a fast food restaurant? C
"The Tomorrow People" (CW): Their telepathic powers should tell them the future looks bad. C-
"Dracula" (NBC): Drive a stake in it. C-
"Back in the Game" (ABC): The comedy starring Maggie Lawson strikes out. C-
"Mom" (CBS): Comedy is relative in series starring Anna Faris and Allison Janney. C-
"Dads" (FOX): Comedy is also relative with the FOX series. C-
"The Millers" (CBS): Will Arnett's TV career has become arrested development. C-
"Enlisted" (FOX): Most intelligent military comedy since "Gomer Pyle, USMC." C-
"Reign" (CW): If you see only one network drama about Mary, Queen of Scots ... why would you? C-
"Trophy Wife" (ABC): This comedy starring Malin Åkerman is no prize. D
"Welcome to the Family" (NBC): High school grad gets pregnant. Anyone seen "Teen Mom?" D
"Lucky 7" (ABC): It seems life after winning the lottery is really dull. D
"Brooklyn Nine-Nine" (FOX): It's criminal how unfunny this comedy is. D
"We Are Men" (CBS): Obviously. It stinks like a men's locker room. D-
"Super Fun Night" (ABC): Rebel Wilson's wasted in the laughless comedy. F
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.