Welcome back: What's returning to prime time

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Kyla Brewer / TV Media
Mariska Hargitay stars in "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"

Mariska Hargitay stars in "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"

After months of uncertainty, it's almost time to welcome some old friends back into our homes. TV fans are hoping to see lots of their favorite characters in the upcoming fall season, even though premiere dates haven't been nailed down quite yet.

The major networks and popular cable channels are banking on established hits to get them through the fall and winter, much to the delight of fans who haven't been able to enjoy new content for a while due to the industry-wide shutdown caused by COVID-19. ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, along with cablers such as HBO, AMC and FX, have announced a range of offerings that include comedy, drama, reality TV, horror and more.

Even with all the resources the networks and cable giants have, the fall season will be a challenge. Industry pundit and former Fox and NBC executive Preston Beckman was quoted in a May article as saying: "It will be an opportunity to redefine a lot of television."

Stability is the name of the game at NBC. With only one new series, the spinoff "Law & Order: Organized Crime," starring Christopher Meloni ("Oz") as Elliot Stabler, the network's fall schedule is banking on its predecessor, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," starring Mariska Hargitay ("ER"). For 22 seasons, Hargitay has played Olivia Benson, who's now the commanding officer of an elite squad of detectives who investigate crimes such as sexual assault and child abuse. The show is one of the longest-running prime-time dramas ever and is the longest-running U.S. live-action series currently on television.

In July, NBC released its new lineup, which optimistically includes "The Voice," "This Is Us," "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" and the Chicago franchise: "Chicago Med," "Chicago P.D." and "Chicago Fire," though it's unclear whether some of these might be pushed to midseason premieres.

ABC has been forced to break with tradition and bring "The Bachelorette" to the fall schedule, but otherwise, things seem to be pretty up in the air. Police procedural "The Rookie" has been renewed for Season 3 after a Season 2 cliffhanger that saw John Nolan (Nathan Fillion, "Firefly") framed as an LAPD mole, but no premiere date has been confirmed. Other ABC network shows due to return include "Dancing With the Stars," "Grey's Anatomy," "The Goldbergs" and "America's Funniest Home Videos," among many others.

In May, CBS announced its 2020-21 lineup, chock-full of returning shows -- 23 of them in fact. Not all of them will debut in the fall, of course, but network executive Kelly Kahl was optimistic the network would be able to deliver some programming, though dates have yet to be confirmed.

"We're excited to come off another season as America's Most Watched Network and, despite the obvious challenges around us, put together another winning lineup," Kahl said in an official release.

Nathan Fillion stars in "The Rookie"

Nathan Fillion stars in "The Rookie"

However, in a May interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Kahl admitted that the shows wouldn't likely be ready for their typical late-September, early-October debuts. While filming of traditional broadcast dramas and comedies will hopefully resume this summer, CBS at least has one full series ready to go. Phil Keoghan ("Tough as Nails") hosts the 32nd season of the reality TV series "The Amazing Race," which follows teams of two as they race across the globe, completing challenges along the way. The entirety of the season was filmed in the fall of 2018. However, unfortunately for fans of the reality TV genre, it doesn't look as if ratings juggernaut "Survivor" will be returning this fall, as production of its 41st season has been delayed for obvious reasons.

Plans are still a go for many other CBS series, such as the top-rated network television show "NCIS." It is on the schedule for sometime this fall, along with its two spinoffs, "NCIS: Los Angeles" and "NCIS: New Orleans." "FBI: Most Wanted," "60 Minutes" and the comedy "Bob Hearts Abishola" are on the docket as well.

The Fox network has come up with what is being called a "corona-proof" fall schedule, thanks to its reliance on acquisitions, animated series and shows that were already in the can. As for what's coming back to Fox, fans won't see any returning live-action series. Instead, animated shows take center stage with the return of "The Simpsons," "Bob's Burgers," "Bless the Hearts" and "Family Guy" on Sunday evenings. Unlike almost every other mainstream television series, such animated programs can continue to produce new episodes -- albeit a bit more slowly -- as animators, writers and voice actors work from home.

Fox also plans to bring viewers a new season of the hit reality TV show "MasterChef Junior" with chefs Gordon Ramsay, Aarón Sánchez and new judge Daphne Oz, a nutrition expert and author. The network has announced fall plans for Season 4 of "The Masked Singer" as well.

As for the big cable channels, HBO's schedule is still fairly up in the air and fans are likely looking for news about hits such as "Euphoria," "Gentleman Jack" and "His Dark Materials." Unfortunately, the wait continues as not much has been confirmed. AMC has announced that the Season 10 finale of "The Walking Dead" will air on Sunday, Oct. 4, and Season 6 of "Fear the Walking Dead" will air Sunday, Oct. 11. Over on FX, the fourth season of the hit series "Fargo" has been scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 27.

While things may be uncertain right now, it's nice to know that there are at least plans to bring some of TV's biggest hits back to prime time this fall. Keep an eye on the TV listings to catch all your favorite shows.