Until a few years ago, there were only two major television seasons: the fall season, when all the major shows appeared, and the midseason, where networks replaced their failing shows with the backup series they ordered but held on to in case of an emergency.
However, with the advent of a huge slate of cable offerings, entertainment on-demand and an audience that doesn’t like to sit through reruns, television producers have added a new season.
The summer season still primarily consists of reality and competition series, but more original offerings are making their premieres in the summer months. Here is a guide to some of the shows debuting this summer, with a note on what families can expect.
Note: TV content ratings can vary by episode, but generally fall into the range of TV-Y, TV-Y7, TV-PG, TV-14 and TV-MA. For detailed information on individual episode content and ratings, PluggedIn.com is a website from "Focus on the Family" that covers many current television series with detailed content breakdowns, and will likely cover many of these series.
“24: Live Another Day,” Monday, May 5, Fox
With more and more shows getting cancelled and uncanceled (“The Killing” has been canceled twice but will finish out a fourth and final season on Netflix, along with the recently uncanceled “Arrested Development”), it was only a matter of time before Jack Bauer returned to the screen. After an aborted attempt at a feature film, stars Kiefer Sutherland and Mary Lynn Rajskub (as computer-programmer sidekick Chloe) return to television in a 12-episode summer event. With many of the same writers and producers, and still using the real-time format that made the series unique, Fox is banking on Sutherland’s continued appeal to bring big ratings to its summer schedule. Family audiences can expect similar content to the previous series, which had very occasional language and a rather high amount of action and war-related violence.
“Coming Back with Wes Moore,” Tuesday, May 13, PBS
Author and U.S. veteran Wes Moore hosts this three-part documentary series on PBS in which he discusses and witnesses the struggles of soldiers returning home from war. Though the topic has been covered on news networks and outlets like “60 Minutes,” the depth and complexity have likely never been explored as thoroughly and passionately as with Moore, who has special insight after having served himself. Family audiences can expect appropriate but sometimes uncomfortable conversation about war trauma and violence.
“Gang Related,” Tuesday, May 20, Fox
Created by “Fast and Furious” series screenwriter Chris Morgan, “Gang Related” is a police action-drama series revolving around the compromised loyalties of members of the Los Angeles police’s Gang Task Force. With familiar faces such as “Lost” cast member Terry O’Quinn and musician RZA, the series is an L.A.-based take on Martin Scorsese’s cop drama “The Departed.” Family audiences can expect some criminal violence and dark subject matter on the adult-skewing network.
“Labyrinth,” Thursday, May 22, CW
A miniseries that already aired in the U.K. and is finally making its way to American shores, “Labyrinth” is a new fantasy story not to be confused with the Jim Henson film from the 1980s. Combining time travel with an epic journey to find the Holy Grail, the series (produced by director Ridley Scott) boasts some impressive casting, from “Harry Potter” cast members John Hurt and Tom Felton to former “Downton Abbey” actress Jessica Brown Findlay. Family audiences can expect content that has aired on British television, meaning that there may have been language or nudity but it will be censored from the American broadcast.
"Crossbones," Friday, May 30, NBC
Starring John Malkovich in the lead role, NBC's "Crossbones" brings the notorious pirate Blackbeard to the small screen. Centered on an island in the Bahamas, the series chronicles the international mystery and intrigue of the rogue island nation and how the pirate life affected navigation and trade and changed the world forever. Family audiences can expect some unsavory behavior from pirates, which might not be agreeable to younger audiences.
“Halt and Catch Fire,” Sunday, June 1, AMC
Following on the heels of FX’s “The Americans” in portraying America in the early 1980s, AMC’s series takes place in a different (but no less intriguing) world: the high-stakes arena of the PC. Set in the aftermath of IBM’s debut of its personal computer in 1981, the series follows a former IBM employee and his new company attempting to get into the game by using less-than-honest methods to get their own PC to market. Starring Lee Pace (“Pushing Daisies”) and Scoot McNairy (“Argo,” “12 Years a Slave”), the period thriller looks to be AMC’s next hopeful critical darling now that “Breaking Bad” is over and “Mad Men” is starting its final season. Family audiences can expect a typical AMC series, which includes occasional foul language and violence, often with complex moral plot issues.
“Chasing Life,” Tuesday, June 10, ABC Family
After the misstep of the “Pretty Little Liars” spinoff “Ravenswood” (which was recently canceled), ABC Family is steering clear of mystery and intrigue and going back to the arena that fuels most of its hit series: high-concept melodrama. Joining “Switched at Birth” and “The Fosters” as straight drama on ABC Family, “Chasing Life” will chronicle the complications arising when a young newspaper journalist learns that on top of juggling a busy home and work life, she is now dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Family audiences can expect content closer to family-appropriate, with the occasional subject matter concern; best to read up on episodes before watching.
“The Last Ship,” Sunday, June 22, TNT
An epic action series from “Transformers” producer Michael Bay, “The Last Ship” is a military sci-fi series that will pair well with TNT’s current “Falling Skies.” Following a naval destroyer and its crew struggling to survive a worldwide plague outbreak, the series is equal parts gritty action and cutting-edge medical thriller, making it only the second straightforward science-fiction series for the drama-driven network. Family audiences can expect a series similar to "Falling Skies" with its science-fiction action violence and occasional language.
“Young & Hungry,” Wednesday, June 25, ABC Family
The worlds of technology and cuisine collide in ABC Family’s new comedy series “Young & Hungry,” about a food blogger (Emily Osment, of "Hannah Montana" and younger sister to “The Sixth Sense” actor Haley Joel Osment), who is given a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be the personal chef for a wealthy entrepreneur. The series is produced by “High School Musical” actress Ashley Tisdale, and real-life celebrity chef Michael Voltaggio appears as well. Family audiences can expect similar content to other ABC Family series, which can go from fully family-friendly one moment to surprisingly risque the next.
“Extant,” Wednesday, July 2, CBS
After the enormous success CBS had last year with the summer scripted series “Under the Dome” (which returns for a second season June 30), CBS brings actress Halle Berry and producer Steven Spielberg to the network for another huge summer series, “Extant.” A sci-fi drama focusing on astronaut Berry and her life back on Earth after a yearlong mission alone in space, it is another serialized offering from the normally procedural-driven network that hopes to tap into the fantasy-tinged melodrama that made “Under the Dome” a ratings smash last year. Family audiences can expect a sci-fi thriller with some mature subject matter, which might best be read about prior to watching.
"The Quest," Thursday, July 31, ABC
A series from the producers of "The Amazing Race" that promises to be an epic reality adventure, "The Quest" brings players into a fantasy-based competition series created with the help of the Lord of the Rings filmmakers. Twelve contestants will be picked to go through a series of larger-than-life challenges involving magic and mythical creatures. Family audiences can expect a more family-friendly timeslot to appeal to all-age audiences and "Once Upon a Time" fans
“Hatfields & McCoys: White Lightning,” Friday, Aug. 1, History Channel
A reality show following the modern-day descendants of the most well-known feuders in American history, “Hatfields & McCoys: White Lightning” follows the two families in modern-day West Virginia as they attempt to raise themselves out of poverty and keep a tenuous peace between them. Though it is a reality series, the show was picked up in the wake of Kevin Costner’s miniseries “Hatfields & McCoys,” previously a huge hit for History Channel. Family audiences can expect a series about moonshining that premieres late on cable. Likely not a family series.
“Legends,” Friday, Aug. 22, TNT
From the producer of “24” and “Homeland” comes a new spy thriller about a deep cover agent (Sean Bean, Lord of the Rings trilogy) who is so good at his job that he has begun losing track of which identity is truly his. The series will explore not only the intriguing world of black ops but also the emotional toll that secrecy and deceit can take on a human being. Family audiences can expect some heavy action-related violence from TNT, which also allows occasional language.
Chris Vander Kaay is a screenwriter and author who lives in Central Florida with his wife and co-writer, Kathleen.