Can the season's rookie shows unseat last year's MVPs?

By James Hibberd
Updated October 10, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT

It’s on: More than a dozen new fall shows have been pushed into the rough prime-time seas to sink or swim amid circling returning sharks like CBS’ The Big Bang Theory and NBC’s The Voice. Some are slipping under the waves already — like Fox’s Glee-meets-The Fault in Our Stars dramedy Red Band Society (who would have guessed sickly kids in a hospital wouldn’t be a big draw?) — while others show some promise, such as ABC’s family comedy black-ish (that a broadcast network finally made a black family comedy for the first time in nearly a decade might have something to do with it). Yet apart from black-ish, first-blush numbers signal that TV’s new comedy crop isn’t clicking with viewers. Twitter has made sport of ABC’s social-media-themed Selfie, but it’s not even the weakest new sitcom out of the gate. ABC’s what’s-that-show-called-again Manhattan Love Story and NBC’s what’s-that-show-about-again A to Z both fared worse, while stand-up comic John Mulaney bombed the hardest in his self-titled Fox sitcom debut with a meager audience of 2.3 million. Brand-new dramas are performing better, yet some early surprises were from returning shows — like ABC’s Once Upon a Time having its hottest ratings in two years courtesy of its Frozen-inspired story line, Fox’s Family Guy posting its biggest ratings in four years due to its Simpsons crossover, and NBC’s Chicago Fire matching last year’s unexpectedly strong debut thanks to, we assume, firefighters in tank tops. Below, we’ve pitted five new shows against their creative elders to see which is coming out on top — at least for now…

Gotham Vs. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
It’s a DC-vs.-Marvel showdown, with Fox unveiling its Batman-without-Batman crime epic and ABC rolling out the second season of its Avengers-without-the-Avengers sci-fi drama. Gotham has bam-powed S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s performance so far, as Agent Coulson’s jet has gone into a ratings nosedive compared with last fall. The big question is whether Gotham viewers will continue to find a cops-and-robbers tale intriguing without the Caped Crusader.

Scorpion Vs. CSI
It’s a promising start for TV’s newest high-tech crime-fighting team with the curiously insectoid name. The Big Bang Theory-without-jokes-plus-crimes drama appears to be helping CBS crack Nielsen’s ratings code, while genre granddad CSI may finally be starting to short-circuit after 14 years on the air.

Forever Vs. Sleepy Hollow
Both are about sexy 200-year-old British men who solve crimes, but one is currently more likely to live another year. ABC’s new drama about a medical examiner cursed with the high-class problem of not dying has struggled to find an audience, though at least it is doing impressively on DVR. Ichabod Crane isn’t having an easy ride either, with Sleepy‘s audience dropping sharply, yet the show won’t lose its head anytime soon.

Madam Secretary Vs. The Blacklist
High-stakes D.C. drama continues to be a sure thing. Even with a diminished Voice lead-in, NBC’s James Spader-led Blacklist returned to its second-highest ratings ever. While Madam Secretary‘s Téa Leoni is drawing plenty of viewers as secretary of state, it’s nearly the oldest-skewing drama on TV, with a median audience age of 63. (Congrats, Blue Bloods, you win at 64.) In the coveted 18-49 demo, Spader’s still tops.

How To Get Away With Murder Vs. Scandal
With the launch of Murder, Shonda Rhimes became one of the few exec producers in TV history to have three dramas airing back-to-back-to-back on one night (Grey’s Anatomy kicks off her Thursday block). The new Viola Davis legal thriller actually topped the fourth-season premiere of Scandal, catapulting Murder to TV’s best drama debut in two years with 14.3 million viewers. Still, Scandal returned to its biggest ratings ever. Maybe ABC can give Rhimes Monday through Wednesday, too?

(Re)making Movie Magic
Size does matter — at least when it comes to re-creating the poster for 1988’s Twins. As part of its 40th-anniversary issue, EW sister publication People reenacted famous movie moments from the past four decades, pairing 7’1” Shaquille O’Neal and 5’4” Kevin Hart in an homage to the Arnold Schwarzenegger-Danny DeVito classic. If they actually remade the movie? ”It’d make $300 million,” says O’Neal. Adds Hart, ”And that’s just in the first week!”