Neal Justin
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I'm seeing dead people — and there's a good chance you are, too. The fourth-season premiere of ACM's "The Walking Dead" was watched by more than 20 million viewers, making it the most popular non-sports event in cable history. The creepiness continued with the start of Season 3 of "American Horror Story," which became the most watched program in FX history.

Normally, this isn't the season that cable steals the headlines. Fall is supposed to be the broadcast networks' chance to strut their new stuff, but the Big Four have become more and more reluctant to take chances, and when they do conjure up innovative programming — such as "Happy Endings" and "Parenthood" — a significant audience fails to show up.

We're only about a month into the new season, but it's not too early to track triumphs and trouble spots. Here's our preliminary report card:


Grade: D-plus

The network that used to know what women want appears to have lost its touch. "Lucky 7," a ridiculous gamble, became the season's first cancellation, and "Betrayal," whose debut matched the network's lowest-rated Sunday premiere ever, can't be far behind. The network continues to do well on Wednesday with "The Middle" and "Modern Family," but has yet to find quality sitcoms to fill the time between them.

"Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." got off to a super-human start with TV's best dramatic debut in four years, but numbers dropped 34 percent after the big, splashy opening. The most promising news is that "Scandal" continues to grow in its third season with a premiere that topped 10 million viewers, a 71 percent leap from the Season 2 opener.

Comments: Comic-book figures are fine, but ABC needs to get back to delivering tough, sexy, multi-dimensional female characters who are interested in more than super fun nights.


Grade: C

The network's relatively stable schedule means it's offering fewer new programs, which, in the case of the mercifully canceled sitcom "We Are Men," is a good thing.

The network appears to have a winner in Robin Williams' "The Crazy Ones," which is still luring more than 11 million viewers a week, but "Hostages," being presented as a limited series, isn't nearly limited enough.

Comments: Experimental, self-contained dramas are great — in the summer, as we learned from "Under the Dome." CBS' strength is in procedurals, which is exactly why it's wisely developing another "NCIS" spinoff.


Grade: C

The biggest surprise of the season is the breakout success of "Sleepy Hollow," the network's most promising new drama since "24" debuted in 2001. The news isn't so hot on the sitcom side, but "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" has snagged a post-Super Bowl spot, which may give skeptical viewers a chance to see that this sharp show is not just Andy Samberg acting like a 12-year-old.

Comments: This town ain't big enough for both "The X Factor" and "American Idol," a theory backed by dwindling ratings for Fox's two singing contests. Some brave suit is going to have to choose.


Grade: B-minus

The network can be proud as a peacock over the success of "The Blacklist," which is benefiting from following "The Voice" as well as people watching later on their DVRs. It's the first broadcast series to snag 6 million viewers through playback in the first week after the initial airing.

"Chicago Fire" is also holding its own, which is promising news for the anticipated spinoff "Chicago PD," set to debut in mid-season. "Welcome to the Family" and "Ironside" are history. Disappointing efforts "The Michael J. Fox Show" and "Sean Saves the World" are hanging in there in hopes that audiences will remember that Fox and Sean Hayes are beloved figures.

Comments: Big stars, even ones as easy on the eyes as Blair Underwood, don't guarantee success. The network's attempt to turn its once-lauded Thursday lineup over to mostly down-the-middle sitcoms isn't working. Stay classy, NBC! • Twitter: @NealJustin • 612-673-7431