I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: network premiere week is better than Christmas. OK, I’ve never actually celebrated Christmas, but I imagine it’s almost the same thing. Waking up in the morning, the sweet smell of apple spice and hope in the air as you walk downstairs in your pajamas, sit down on the couch and turn on the television for some bingeing. Since May, the networks have touted their newest series ad nauseum — at the Upfront presentations, on social media, in magazines and on billboards. Now, they are all finally here, and this column is an attempt to roundup everything you need to know (or maybe everything you never even knew you wanted to know); from “Scandal” to “New Girl,” the highs and lows of network premiere week.

High: Diversity

Heading into the fall season, it was already a banner year for diversity on network television; a record number of series with nonwhite leads were ordered to series, even excluding summer fare like Halle Berry’s “Extant.” Since the skyrocketing success of ABC’s “Scandal,” TV execs have finally started to catch on to the fact that audiences would rather see a more realistic depiction of everyday life than the whitewashed world of make-believe we’ve grown accustomed to being slung. This season, “How to Get Away With Murder,” “Red Band Society” and “Black-ish” have joined the aforementioned “Scandal,” “Sleepy Hollow” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” on the list of shows challenging broadcast television’s status quo.

But at a time when progress for minorities continues to move slowly, the Viola Davis-led “How to Get Away With Murder” shot to number one with a bullet (on the list of television series leading the diversity charge); because ABC’s newest drama is not just diverse in color. “Murder” tells the story of Annalise Keating, a lawyer and professor who invites a select few of her students to come work for her firm. It’s “Damages” — if “Damages” were a crass soap opera and not one of the most well-written, defining series of the decade — one tough-as-nails litigator at the center, young professionals trying to navigate her work environment, a flashback framing device that promises something very bad will soon happen. Like any good primetime soap, the trailer for the ABC series promises sex, lies and murder (not to be confused with ABC’s forthcoming drama “Secrets and Lies,” which I’m pretty sure promises sex, lies, secrets and murder).

That is not to say “Murder” isn’t a good show. If Shonda Rhimes’s other series have proven anything (chiefly “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal,” though at times “Private Practice”), it’s the efficacy of their genre. And while “Murder” is not revolutionary television in narrative or scope, its representations of race, gender and sexuality push network television standards to the brink. For its refusal to moralize or desexualize Keating, and its commitment to breaking down stereotypes of any kind, “Murder” gets the gold star in a year that was already breaking an impressive amount of new ground.

Low: Comedy

In the fall of 2013, it was a great time to be a comedy series — CBS finally made the long-rumored decision to expand its Thursday lineup to two hours of comedy, FOX and NBC remained committed to their respective failing comedy blocks (on Tuesday and Thursday) and ABC continued to expand its comedy presence (now on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday). But just one year after the networks doubled-down on their half-hour series, each has scaled back significantly. (When it was all said and done, ABC, NBC and FOX escaped the 2013-2014 season each with just one new comedy series left standing. CBS led the way with two.)

This year, the comedy failures of the networks still linger like a bad aftertaste, and one look at this year’s schedules proves the lasting effects of last fall. For the first time in years, NBC has diminished its Thursday comedy lineup (once hailed as “Must See TV”) to just one hour, the two series of which — “Bad Judge” and “A to Z” — premiered to disappointing results. ABC’s new Tuesday comedy series also flopped (though was “Selfie” ever really going to be a breakout hit?). On CBS, the network has — at least for now — abandoned comedy entirely in favor of “Thursday Night Football,” save for behemoth “Big Bang Theory.” “Mom” was scheduled to premiere following last week’s new episode of the comedy hit, but the Eye has opted to hold off, rerunning old episodes instead. And as for FOX … well, we’ll get to FOX later.

High: Optimism

Broadcast television ratings have eroded so quickly over the past few years that each premiere week, the only silver lining is that it wasn’t that bad. No, really. It wasn’t that bad. ABC’s “Thank God It’s Thursday” Shondaland-infused lineup brought in huge numbers — including big gains for flagship “Scandal” at a time when veteran series continue to decline. NBC’s “The Blacklist” showed signs that a possible sophomore surge is on its way, while “The Voice” and “Chicago Fire” continued to be reliable players. CBS continued to thrive in the My Grandma loves that show market (three hours of its schedule now have “NCIS” in the title). And even FOX had a few great premieres with “Gotham” and its “Family Guy”/“Simpsons” crossover, even if that’s all that can be said about the network.

Low: FOX

And finally, here we are. While many insiders — and outsiders — were looking at ABC to take the unwanted title of being “the new NBC”, FOX has not only earned the distinction, but forged an entirely new low for networks to fear. For years, the perennially fourth-place NBC was the industry laughing stock. But with Robert Greenblatt (formerly of Showtime) at the helm, NBC has corrected course in an astonishing way, emerging as the No. 1 network last year and holding onto its lead early this fall. But for FOX, the story is an entirely different one. Once No. 1 for many consecutive years, thanks in no small part to “American Idol,” the network is now nearly devoid of bright spots. “New Girl,” still the network’s biggest comedy debut in 13 years, and its companion “The Mindy Project” are now blips on viewers’ radars. New series “Red Band Society,” “Gracepoint” and “Utopia” (the latter of which has already been pulled from both of its nights on the schedule) all premiered to dismal numbers while older series “Sleepy Hollow” and “Bones” have taken year-over-year hits. FOX is going to need a hero to get out of its increasingly desperate situation, but unfortunately, in prequel series “Gotham,” Batman won’t be around to save the day for another 20 years.

Alec Stern can be reached by e-mail at alecs@umich.edu and on Twitter at @AlecHaydenStern

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