The Oct. 23 premiere of ''Once Upon a Time'' was just one stellar debut among an eclectic crop of new shows that truly offered something for everyone

By James Hibberd
December 16, 2011 at 12:00 PM EST

What new TV shows were you excited about this time last year? There was AMC’s The Walking Dead (all six episodes of it), HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, and, uh…yeah. That’s about it. This fall, the question ”What’s your favorite new show?” actually sparked debate. Many were enchanted by ABC’s fairy-tale epic Once Upon a Time. A comedy fan might push for CBS’ 2 Broke Girls, and another could fight for the branded quirkiness of Zooey Deschanel on Fox’s New Girl or even ABC’s satiric Suburgatory. Soap addicts were hooked on the Hamptons backstabbing of ABC’s Revenge, while Ryan Murphy again proved he can make a hit in any genre with FX’s American Horror Story. And then there was Showtime’s gripping Homeland, with Claire Danes’ kinetic crazy-sexy performance as a CIA agent trying to stop a terrorist attack making Jack Bauer look positively narcoleptic.

When was the last time so many shows made such a splash? You need to go back to the prime-time renaissance of post-millennial TV seasons, 2004-05, to find a more impressive surge of hit-making cross-genre creativity (Desperate Housewives, Boston Legal, Grey’s Anatomy, House, The Office, and, yes, Lost, all debuted within months of one another — did TV fans even go outside that season?). It’s too early to say if the class of 2011 will have a similar lasting impact, and one genre — reality TV — remains overdue for an original idea, since most hits are at least four years old. Next thing you know, NBC will revive Fear Factor. Oh, wait…