“Sleepy Hollow,” which basically self-started in the Monday 9 p.m. time period several weeks ago, quickly emerged as one of the most popular new series of the season with critics and audiences alike. Some were skeptical at the start, because the mythology that is the show's foundation seemed a bit convoluted in the short term and somewhat impossible to continue in the long run. But “Hollow” writers and producers have surprised us all. Creatively, this show has consistently improved from its already impressive pilot, quickly advancing from a quirky curiosity to a must-see supernatural action-adventure. Tom Mison's legendary and time-displaced Ichabod Crane and Nicole Beharie's contemporary police lieutenant Abbie Mills are already one of the coolest crime-fighting duos on television.
Ratings for “Hollow” have grown right along with its popularity in same-day and Live+7 measurements -- this opposite the 18-49 powerhouse “The Voice” on NBC and the still-formidable “Dancing with the Stars” on ABC, which may be stronger with older audiences but also remains one of the most tweeted-about programs on television, suggesting either that old people are secretly tweeting like mad fools or traditional audience measurement for “Stars” is somehow flawed.
Regardless, the combination of “The Voice” and “Dancing with the Stars” would seem all but impossible to launch a quirky new drama against -- but Fox has done exactly that. At first blush, it seems a shame that “Hollow” is a limited series that will have its season finale on January 20 and then go away until next fall. But I think this show will continue to make its presence known even after January, with millions of people who watched it the first time around choosing to enjoy it all over again and millions more who didn’t see it deciding to binge and see what all the fuss was about.
As Fox already proved earlier this year with “The Following,” the idea of integrating shows with shorter seasons into a broadcast network’s schedule seems to be a good one. It prevents viewer fatigue, it allows writers and show runners to intensify their content, and it promotes off-season binge-viewing of the kind that only helps shows to build their audiences. I imagine all of that will happen for “Sleepy Hollow.” I also imagine that the executives in Fox’s marketing, promotion and publicity departments aren’t going to let the public forget about it when it leaves their schedule.
In what turned out to be a wise scheduling play, Fox decided to hold back one of its more promising new fall series -- the science-fiction action-adventure “Almost Human” -- until midway through the November sweeps period, running the always reliable procedural crime drama “Bones” in the Monday 8 p.m. time period since September. “Bones” is now off to Friday (where the crime drama crowd should willingly embrace it, given the success of cop shows that night on CBS at 9 and 10 p.m.) and “Almost Human” has been paired with “Sleepy Hollow,” making Fox’s Monday a dream destination for the millions of genre enthusiasts that are currently holding significant influence over much of television.
Now, premiering an unproven new show in the midst of one of the season’s three most important months is not necessarily a good idea -- especially when that new show is going up against a ratings giant like “The Voice,” as “Almost Human” did last night during its first play in its regular time period. Consider also the bold move Fox made this past Sunday, scheduling the premiere episode of “Human” on a Sunday, one of the most competitive nights of the week (on broadcast, basic cable and pay cable) and a night that most people associate with animated series on the network. It didn’t hurt that the Sunday “Human” had “The OT” as its lead-in, but I wonder how it would have performed there otherwise, opposite a reality series on CBS, football on NBC and the fading “Once Upon a Time” on ABC.
The Monday episode of “Almost Human,” by the way, was quite a bit better than its pilot, even if its subject matter (concerning android sex workers) was significantly more adult. Most reassuringly, Det. John Kennex and android Dorian, the characters played by Karl Urban and Michael Ealy, respectively, were more engaging as individuals and as a law-enforcement duo than in the first episode. (The scene in which Dorian expressed concern for Kennex’s sexual well-being after “scanning” his testicles and Kennex’s expressed discomfort at being “violated” was certainly memorable, if not priceless.) “Human” looks in every scene like a high-tech marvel, but it’s the show’s many small tech touches -- such as the blue energy that pulses through the right side of Dorian’s face when he’s focusing on a task -- that truly stand out.
Come late January, when “Sleepy Hollow” completes its first season, “Almost Human” will find itself paired with the returning thriller “The Following,” another franchise that seemed to benefit from its status as an annual limited series rather than an ongoing drama. (The same is true of NBC’s “Hannibal.”) I wonder how the two will get along. So far, “Human” and “Hollow” have been great fun, a word that doesn’t come to mind in thinking about “The Following,” which is pure horror and anxiety all the time (with brief breaks for twisted sex). I also wonder if “Human” would prove more effective as a limited series. Fox is giving us all a lot to think about as it continues to challenge basic assumptions about broadcast television.