Now that all five of the broadcast networks have had their upfronts and announced their new and returning series, here is a brief encapsulation of the upcoming 2011-2012 season from the sci-fi/fantasy perspective.
The main story is the crowded Friday night schedule: NBC has done no favors by scheduling its new monster series, Grimm, opposite both Fringe and Supernatural. The overall field is pleasingly varied: we have time travel to the dinosaur era, vampires, witches, our favorite superspy, fairy tale creatures (crime division), fairy tale creatures (situational drama division), a ghostly ex-wife, alternate realities, an autistic boy dipping into the future, and the brothers Winchester.
More surprising than what made it onto the schedule is what didn't. Several much-talked-about, high-profile projects from brand-name producers didn't get sold -- not just the risable Wonder Woman reboot, but Ron Moore's supernatural crime drama 17th Precinct and the angel/lawyer series Heavenly from Richard Hatem.
Fox is leading off Mondays with the freshman series Terra Nova, about the human colonization of prehistoric Earth. It's being paired with House, which is an interesting choice: regular House viewers may tune in early to see what the fuss has been about. (Or they may be hinting that both shows feature dinosaurs. Just kidding!) NBC and ABC both have reality shows opposite Terra Nova, and CBS's Monday lead-in is How I Met Your Mother, making Terra Nova a stand-out alternative for those hungry for scripted drama. Terra Nova is on the schedule for a half season only; it'll be replaced by Alcatraz in the spring.
Though it's not really a paranormal show, the premise CBS's Unforgettable, a crime drama about a woman with a medical condition that causes her to vividly reexperience everything she's had happen to her, will appeal to some paranormal fans.
Thursday is the CW's traditional stomping ground for fantasy series, and this fall season 3 of The Vampire Diaries will be joined by The Secret Circle, about a young girl who loses her mother, moves to a new town and discovers that she is not only a witch, but the key to a battle between good and evil. Circle, like Diaries based on an L.J. Smith novel and developed by Diaries co-creator Kevin Williamson, with a high school setting and Thomas Dekker as a co-star, is pretty much guaranteed to succeed despite a tough time-slot (it's opposite Bones, The Office, and the new CBS crime drama Person of Interest with Jim Caviezel, all of which are high-profile but geared toward a slightly older audience).
Opposite Chuck on CBS is a new paranormal series, A Gifted Man, a medical drama about a doctor whose wife dies and then begins teaching him about life from the hereafter. It's not really straight competition for Chuck and is more in the tradition of past Friday CBS stalwarts Ghost Whisperer and Medium, so the two shows may not have much impact on each other.
On the other hand, opposite Grimm are two direct competitors: cult favorite Fringe on Fox, and season 7 of Supernatural itself. Fringe will be keeping its relatively new Friday slot for its fourth season, and is stronger than ever; and despite predictions that the post-Kripke Supernatural would degrade in quality and audience, its Castiel-as-God storyline is bound to keep the fanbase involved for the near future at least (even though Misha Collins, in a cagey move by the show's producers, is being dropped back down from regular to guest star for season 7).
It's true that Fridays have been rife with genre series in head-to-head time slots the last few years, but unless Grimm generates enough buzz to get Fringe and Supernatural fans to DVR the competition as well (and fans of all three may not have the equipment to record them all), it'll be tough for the new series to survive.
ABC's fairy tale dramedy, Once Upon a Time, a fantasy about a woman attracted to a town where fairy tales seem to be real, is set for Sundays at 8 p.m. At least Robert Carlyle (Rumplestiltskin) found a new home.
MIDSEASON, SLOT TBD
NBC has Awake, the Jason Isaacs dual-reality series, waiting in the wings. It's quite possible Awake will finish out the Friday slot occupied by Chuck once that series completes its run in December.
Fox has another series, Touch starring Kiefer Sutherland as a father whose connection to his autistic son has paranormal overtones, in development with an eye toward a midseason debut; production awaits the completion of Sutherland's commitments on Broadway this summer.