Dissecting the Fall Schedules: CBS, ABC and FOX

posted May 23, 2012, 1:33 PM by Terrence Moss   [ updated Oct 20, 2012, 11:11 AM ]

Last week, the four broadcast networks revealed their fall schedules to advertisers and media buyers at the annual upfront presentations in New York.

As always, the networks focus more on the good, less on the bad and even less on the reality. All of them tout growth (or for top-ranked CBS, stability) in whatever metric (A1849, younger viewers, upscale viewers, etc.) makes them look worth allocating millions of ad dollars during the upcoming fiscal year. They all take jabs at their competitors and talk about how their plans for the near future are positioning them for greater success (or in CBS’s case, continued success).

Last week I ripped apart NBC’s schedule until there was barely any meat left on that bone so it would be mean to say anything more about them without turning my eyes over to the other networks. But while there was so much to say about NBC that they required their own article, there isn’t as much to say about CBS, ABC and FOX.


CBS: IN THE BEST SHAPE

Even though there was speculation that one of the CSI spinoffs would be cancelled, I was surprised it actually happened. The three CSIs have all been on the air for so long that there is something off about the fact that all three weren’t on the fall schedule. While that’s no reason to renew a show, it’s still a loss for longtime viewers who have kept CSI: Miami ranked among the Top 30 shows in the ratings for its entire run thus far (this season’s ratings are still TBD).

The most surprising move, however, was uprooting the soon-to-be decade-old Two and a Half Men from the 9pm hour on Monday nights it has called home since its 2003 premiere to Thursdays at 8:30 following The Big Bang Theory. Both shows have averaged more than 14 million viewers this season, so the combination of the two is poised to be the highest rated hour of comedy on television next season in total viewers.

While some see the move as a wasted opportunity to launch a new hit, CBS has been unable to find a suitable companion for The Big Bang Theory since opening up a comedy block on Thursday nights two years ago. Granted, with the poorly-developed S#!t My Dad Says, the thinly-premised How to Be a Gentleman and the wasn’t-bad-but-could-have-been-better Rob!, it doesn’t seem as if CBS was really trying.

There’s an irony to Two and a Half Men leading out of The Big Bang Theory. It was Men that helped Bang become the hit it has when they shared the 9pm hour on Monday nights. However, with Men entering its tenth season, Bang could help the show avoid a possible ratings decline next season. Additionally, the continued strength of Men in the ratings can only benefit Person of Interest, which experienced a ratings growth of its own in the second half of the season.

None of this would be possible, however, had 2 Broke Girls not been the breakout hit it has been this season. Almost immediately, the rookie show out-rated lead-in How I Met Your Mother, which has beautifully anchored CBS’s Monday night for the last several years.

There was speculation that CBS would be opening up a second hour of comedy on Thursday nights and I assumed 2 Broke Girls would be utilized for that but this is better. 2 Broke Girls is only going into its second season, so it is probably too soon to expect it to help build a night of comedy despite its breakout status. Even Two and a Half Men had two seasons behind Everybody Loves Raymond before inheriting its 9pm time slot in 2005. Leaving Girls on Monday nights was a wise move. Giving it the 9pm tentpole is quite the vote of confidence. Marrying it with Mike & Molly and its comparable viewership is potential for growth in the hour.

Fortunately, the ratings growth of Person of Interest made that second hour of comedy on Thursday nights unnecessary. 

Scheduled between How I Met Your Mother and 2 Broke Girls is the very promising new series Partners, which could very well become next season’s breakout. Since Mother and Two and a Half Men are likely to end their runs within the next year or two, CBS is going to need Partners to not only take their places but to also help the network nurture new hits.

Tuesdays at 10 have been a sore spot for CBS since the cancellation of Judging Amy, which held that time slot for its entire six-season run, in 2005. Vegas is the 14th series to inherit that time slot since then and I don’t see it being the last. It (the time slot, not necessarily the show itself) is the only weak spot on another wise strong night for CBS.

The only other problem for CBS is where to properly schedule the female-skewing The Good Wife, which isn’t all that compatible with anything else on the network. It wasn’t a strong enough show for Tuesday nights after the highly-rated NCIS (likely to finally dethrone American Idol for #1 in the annual Nielsen ratings) & NCIS: LA. And football overruns during the first half the season on Sunday nights, where it is currently scheduled, are of no benefit to its somewhat serialized nature.

The Amazing Race is hardly a suitable lead-in for The Good Wife on Sundays. A lighter drama such as Hawaii Five-O would marry better with the reality-competition show than the more cerebral Good Wife and serve as a better companion piece for similarly police-themed The Mentalist.

But The Good Wife can’t cap off a night of broad comedies so Elementary might work better on Mondays at 10. That would open up Thursday nights at 10 following the relatively cerebral Person of Interest. Too bad ABC’s Scandal isn’t on CBS (or CBS’s Good Wife on ABC) because they would be perfect together.

Speaking of ABC…

 

ABC: FOR THE SECOND YEAR IN A ROW, THE HOME OF THE WORST-SOUNDING NEW SERIES 

After last year’s awful Work It, who better to bring us the awful The Neighbors (about a family that moves into a community of aliens) this year? And what NBC reject decided to schedule it in one of the garden spots of the network’s schedule after Modern Family on Wednesday nights? How to Live With Your Parents (for the Rest of Your Life) would make a far more suitable companion piece instead of being held for midseason where it will be paired with The Family Tools on Tuesday nights following the Dancing with the Stars Results Show.

I’m tiring of reality-competition shows – especially singing competitions. Based on this season’s viewer erosion for most of them, I’m not the only one. It’s time for Dancing with the Stars on ABC, The Biggest Loser on NBC and Survivor on CBS to be relegated to either the fall or the spring, but no longer both. As I say that, I’m afraid the networks would just fill that time with more reality-competition programs and less originality.

It’s nice to see Happy Endings and Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23 renewed even though neither retained as much of the Modern Family lead-in as ABC would have liked, thereby dragging down the entire Wednesday night lineup. Perhaps a lead-in from the fall edition of Dancing with the Stars Results Show on Tuesday nights will be a boon for both series.

Often rebounding from a weak Endings and Apt 23 lead-in on Wednesday nights, Revenge was rewarded with the 9pm time slot on Sundays held by Desperate Housewives for the length of its recently-concluded eight-season run. I believe ABC hoped to fill this slot with the prematurely cancelled GCB, which was unfairly tasked with having to prove rather quickly whether or not it could replace the long-in-decline Housewives by airing after it.

The supernatural aspect of new entry 666 Park Avenue will lead-out nicely from the tension of Revenge and the fantasy of Once Upon a Time for a solid Sunday night lineup that begins with the ever-reliable America’s Funniest Home Videos.

Wednesday nights at 10 now belong to the music-themed drama Nashville, which is not a 10pm show and might be better served anchoring Thursday nights at 8 than the Lost-like Last Resort on Thursdays – which itself might be better served closing out Wednesday nights. Like Tuesday nights at 10 for CBS, Thursday nights at 8pm has been a trouble spot for ABC since Ugly Betty achieved early success there in 2006. Since 2009, ABC has tried and failed with no fewer than six new series in the time slot. I anticipate Last Resort to be the seventh and Nashville to be the eighth when the two swap time slots. (That’s not a hint, ABC. Do it.)

After running largely unscripted programming on Friday nights, ABC is trying AGAIN to relaunch the TGIF lineup that was so popular for them TWENTY YEARS AGO but much less so ten years ago.

What made TGIF work in both incarnations was the family-friendliness and younger skew of such comedies as Perfect Strangers, Full House (until it moved to Tuesdays) and Family Matters.

Instead, they’ve scheduled the sophomore Tim Allen series Last Man Standing at 8pm and the return of Reba McIntire with Malibu Country at 8:30pm starting in November following a run of Shark Tank. It’s a ridiculous way to launch a season. You don’t do that. Reality shows should largely be used as filler when scripted shows are cancelled unless they are the caliber of a Dancing with the Stars and Idol as a platform for launching new shows. Shark Tank is not one of them. It will not bring the viewership to the time period that Man and Malibu will need for their own launch. 

Even when Man and Malibu finally premiere, the remainder of the night is unscripted programming. If they really wanted to relaunch TGIF properly, they need to do it whole hog. It worked for them with Wednesday nights in 2009. They could have ordered two more multi-camera comedies and held off Primetime: What Would You Do? to fill a slot on another night in the inevitable event of a cancellation.

Regardless, Last Man and Malibu deserve better time slots, perhaps leading into Grey’s Anatomy on Thursday nights where their older adult skews will survive competition from The Big Bang Theory/Two and a Half Men on CBS and the diluted American Idol on FOX in the spring.

And then there’s FOX…

 

FOX – LOOKS SURPRISING STABLE BUT THEY SHOULD BE WORRIED

FOX’s upfront presentation typically reads like a weekly schedule where this show runs until this time and then is replaced by that show so it can shift time slots to introduce a new show being held back until November.

And that’s just the fall. Then the spring schedule has to be built around the return of American Idol.

This is usually due to postseason baseball and the World Series, which bowling balls its way through FOX’s fall schedule – often at the expense of new series which don’t get the appropriate sampling and opportunity for growth. While baseball is still certain to be a factor this season, FOX has wisely opted out of announcing multiple fall schedules showing how they will accommodate the playoffs and the World Series.

It helps them to have a show like X-Factor airing in the fall. Though heavily-promoted, it didn’t exactly meet all of the expectations be the next Idol. But the competition series is key to the appearance of scheduling stability because it has to air twice a week each week throughout the fall season despite baseball or in this year’s case, Presidential debates.

As expected for several years now, ratings for American Idol have finally fallen, though more sharply than in any previous year. Still, it remains near the top of the ratings and continues to be FOX’s #1 series across the board by far. But FOX really needs to begin considering what how much longer they’re going to milk this show for ratings and what they’re going to do once the bottom falls out because they sure as hell shouldn’t run two editions of their #2 show The X-Factor.

With House no longer in the mix, the ever-reliable Bones returns to the front half of the week after being mired on Thursdays for the last three years. It will serve as lead-in for new series The Mob Doctor in the fall and Kevin Bacon’s The Following in midseason. From the looks of it, this is not for the sake of compatibility as much as to have a solid launching pad for new series to develop into hits since Bones is going into its eighth season with more years behind it than in front of it.

Kudos must be given to FOX for its commitment to half-hour comedies on Tuesday night despite the less-than-middling results of that test earlier this season. Only Raising Hope and last year’s moderately successful New Girl were renewed from that two-hour block but The Mindy Project is highly favored by FOX so there is no reason to believe there won’t be growth for the network on that night.

Should The Mindy Project breakout, where would its midseason replacement The Goodwin Games be scheduled? My guess is that fellow new entry Ben and Kate might want to hope for the best. At the same time, having one or two options is a good thing for FOX in being able to spread out 22 episodes (or less) of a TV sitcom over the course of the official 39-week TV season.

The relocation of Bones to Monday nights left a gaping hole on Thursday nights following the X-Factor results show in the fall and Idol results show in the spring. While two of the half-hour pickups could have used the exposure, Glee was a much better bet. Though declining, it is an established property and still a strong performer for the network. But Glee does not and should not have much more of a shelf life so FOX needs to start considering its options for that time period after next season.

Fridays will be interesting for FOX with the somewhat surprising renewal of Kiefer Sutherland’s Touch and the final 13 episodes of ratings-challenged Fringe. While Touch squandered much of the Idol lead-in, expectations for it will be lower on Fridays. Plus, as FOX’s most-viewed scripted show, Touch can only help those final 13 episodes of Fringe.

But once Fringe concludes, FOX wastes a major opportunity to launch a new series out of Touch by bringing back unscripted utility player Hell’s Kitchen.

Sundays remain intact but viewership for the animation block is in decline. The network’s strength on that night is with the younger demos but those younger demos are going to age right along with those shows if they haven’t already. Hell, even the 22-year-old Simpsons doesn’t seem to be replenishing viewership that ages out of the venerable series as it had been. FOX is going to need a new animated hit for the night very soon.

Each network has at least one show on their fall schedule with breakout potential – Partners on CBS, Nashville on ABC, The New Normal on NBC and The Mindy Project on FOX. With the exception of CBS, there’s no long-term planning evident in the scheduling. ABC needs to better capitalize on their big hits in launching new hits and be a little less tentative with their half-assed TGIF. NBC continues to operate on the same year-to-year basis that has kept it in fourth place for much of the last decade. And FOX is going to have major problem is they don’t make any considerations for the departures of Bones, Glee and American Idol over the next two or three seasons.

What about the CW? Like NBC, they require their own article but I don’t want to be branded a meanypants, so I’ll spare them for now. I’ll say this though; they should have picked up Everwood for a fifth season back in ’06. And I will applaud them for launching their season in October so as to reduce the number of repeats throughout the season.

I’ll offer my thoughts on the new shows closer to the fall to give the networks time to tweak their schedules. The question is – which one will blink first? I’ll bet it’s NBC.