The 2013 Broadcast Network Upfronts: Tearing Apart the CBS, NBC, ABC & FOX Fall Schedules

posted May 19, 2013, 2:26 PM by Terrence Moss   [ updated May 19, 2013, 2:35 PM ]

One of my favorite things to do as a commentarian is to rip apart the broadcast network’s fall schedules that are presented at the May upfronts. Every year, network executives prove time and again that a) their heads are up their asses and b) program development is head-slappingly derivative, limited in premise, too broad in scope and/or just plain BAD.                                                         

Last week, the broadcast networks unveiled their fall primetime schedules for advertisers. CBS, ABC, NBC and FOX touted how wonderful their seasons have been (whether this has been the case or not), how proud they are of their current slate of shows (whether they actually are or not), how excited they are about their new programs (in most cases there’s no reason to be) and how their poised for greater success next season (which remains to be seen).

Now they’ve been announced and no changes have been made as of yet, instead of analyzing these schedules as I have in the past, this year will just be a listing of what the networks did right and what they did wrong. Guess what? At first glance, the latter lists are going to be a lot longer than the former.

We’ll start off with CBS because they’re in the best position. They’re #1 in total viewers and even their long-running running comedies such as The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, CSI and Criminal Minds are averaging well above 10 million viewers. Relative newcomers Blue Bloods and Person of Interest are also doing the same.

However, they’re also in the unenviable position of suffering the greatest fall from grace within the next few seasons because of their continued reliance on those programs. Two and a Half Men is losing the “Half”. Criminal Minds had to endure down-to-the-wire negotiations before a last-minute renewal. How I Met Your Mother is finally going into its last season. And CSI is turning FOURTEEN.

While I maintain they should have renewed CSI:NY for one final season (those dumb demo numbers be damned), should have let Mother go out with less aggravation this year than they will next year and end Men after the first Kutcher season, they’ve made the fewest mistakes with regard to series pickups and cancellations.

However, they’ve made the most unfortunate mistakes with their scheduling. In fact, only thing I can see they actually did RIGHT was moving Hawaii Five-O from Mondays and even that is only half-right because they moved it to Fridays as a lead-in to the darker-toned Blue Bloods instead of to Sundays with other lighter dramas such as The Mentalist as I would have done.

The biggest mistake is leaving their catch-all Sunday night lineup intact. There are two unscripted hours (a newsmagazine and a reality competition show) followed by two scripted hours (a lighter police procedural and a more cerebral legal drama). The Mentalist didn’t benefit AT ALL moving from Thursdays, but that series is already in syndication so these additional seasons are just more money for the network. The Good Wife may be headed there, but it’s more serialized nature requires more stable scheduling – which takes a hit in the fall with regular football overruns.

Their second biggest mistake leads into their third biggest mistake. Had Person of Interest not been doing as well as it has been, moving it from Thursdays at 9 to Tuesdays at 10 after the top-rated NCIS and NCIS: LA would have made more sense. Granted, Tuesdays at 10 has been a troublesome time slot for the last 7 years, but another new drama should have been given the opportunity to benefit from such solid lead-ins – even if Golden Boy (which could have been renewed and moved to Fridays) couldn’t hold on to it. Besides, even with the troublesome time slot, CBS is consistently #1 for the night by far just on the strength of NCIS and NCIS: LA. So Person of Interest is just being used to shore up an already strong night for the network, which is STUPID.

Person of Interest was moved to unnecessarily expand CBS’s Thursday comedy block to two hours. Once again, had Person of Interest not been doing so well at 9, this would have made more sense. Instead, this is just the network doing what they have been wanting to do just because they want to do it.    

This brings us to their fourth mistake: keeping Elementary in the 10pm slot on Thursdays instead of moving it to Fridays with Blue Bloods and another drama. Whatever post-Super Bowl growth there may have been was stunted by the surging Scandal on ABC, which is poised for further breakout next season after such great press and exposure this season (last week the cast anchored Good Morning America and co-hosted The View).

That second hour of comedy on Thursdays would be better served on Wednesdays in the 8pm hour. Granted, CBS’s Wednesday lineup has been a consistently solid ratings performer for several years, but I am of the opinion that these reality competition shows need to be reduced from two cycles to ONE. Survivor could join The Amazing Race and Undercover Boss for a night of reality opposite football that could better absorb overruns. And if there needed to be a preemption, Boss at 10pm could be held for other weeks.

Where forth The Good Wife and The Mentalist? The former could have either gone to Fridays sandwiched between Elementary and Blue Bloods or closing out Monday nights. The latter could have been held off for midseason after football to lead-out of 60 Minutes and into another lighter drama followed by Hawaii Five-O.

It’s a shame CSI: NY and Golden Boy were cancelled. Again, demos be damned. There was room for both. And none of the new dramas I “picked up” on my suggested schedule back in February made it to theirs. In fact, the only series that appear on both is pilot season’s foregone conclusion – the multicam Mom, which was scheduled in the post-2 Broke Girls slot at 9:30 on Mondays. I don’t consider this a mistake, I just would have scheduled it for the post-How I Met Your Mother slot at 8:30 since it’s likely going to be the Fall 2014 replacement for that departing series.

On a similar note, bookending its two new Thursday night comedies with The Big Bang Theory at 8pm and Two and a Half Men at 9pm instead of one leading off the night and the other tentpoling the night is just more strange than anything else because it goes against traditional scheduling “rules”.

With Mike & Molly held off for midseason and Rules of Engagement cancelled after seven benchwarming seasons, is the former the new latter?

Overall, I give the schedule a C.

This was my suggested fall schedule for ABC that I put together in February (with some shows that were in contention then but didn’t get picked up):

Conversely, NBC has nothing to lose. They’re in last place despite a first place demo finish back in November that they and everyone else touted as a resurgence for the network despite the fact that it was driven by The Voice and Revolution (whose on ratings were driven by The Voice). But that demo finish was with a laughable 2.8 rating, which tells you the state of television where that outdated demo is concerned. 

While NBC is in much need of a comedy overhaul, cancelling ALL of them except Parks & Recreation (which makes sense due to critical acclaim and awards potential) and Community (which does not due to limited, but passionate appeal at best) was DUMB. I didn’t see enough in their comedy pilots to justify such a radical move. Guys with Kids, Go On and The New Normal had enough creative juice to warrant a second season renewal and aid in the TRANSITIONAL rebuilding of the network (this shit doesn’t happen in one season as they clearly want it to). And given the pedigree behind all three shows (network golden boy Jimmy Fallon, sitcom veteran Matthew Perry and super-producer Ryan Murphy, respectively), those cancellations are surprising despite their ratings.

I don’t see how much of anything else they’ve picked up could do any better. And cancelling Rock Center with Brian Williams was just unnecessary – especially since it did better on Fridays than it did on Thursdays, which speaks more to NBC’s weakness on that night than anything else. It and Dateline could be used to fill weekend programming holes.

What NBC did RIGHT:

- Moving Chicago Fire from Wednesdays at 10 to Tuesdays at 10. It’s a reasonable vote of confidence for the series but it’s not an impossibility that there could be growth season-to-season.

- Scheduling only ONE edition of The Biggest Loser this season.

- Staggering their new comedy launches between the fall and midseason.

- While I have long advocated moving Grimm to a better night and leaving NBC Fridays to unscripted programming, marrying it with a similarly fantastical Dracula makes sense.

What NBC did WRONG:

- I don’t care how well The Voice does. I will never be on board with two editions per season and will always recommend against it. Pick fall or spring and schedule around it. I suggest fall to get a ratings jump going into winter and to help promote midseason premieres.

- Moving Revolution from its protected lead-out time slot after The Voice to lead off Wednesdays. WHAT? The show is only going into its second season and hasn’t established itself as capable of standing on its own like Castle was EVENTUALLY able to do whether or not Dancing with the Stars was in-cycle. Memo to NBC: rebuilding DOES NOT HAPPEN IN ONE SEASON. You have to give shows a chance to establish themselves. Or, as I suggested on my proposed fall schedule back in February, split the season between Revolution after The Voice in the fall and then turn Monday nights to all-scripted programming in the winter/spring with Blacklist closing out the night with other established, well-promoted programming.

- Two new programs starring marquee names should not air on the same night when you’re trying to rebuild. Sean Hayes and Michael J. Fox have enough of a fan base, will generate enough buzz and can garner solid initial sampling to help build/rebuild their own nights. Tuesdays and Thursdays used to be great comedy nights for the network. Why not go back to that? Had they not cancelled so many bubble shows, there would have been plenty to marry them with on both nights.

- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is much better as a 10pm show to lead in to the affiliates’ local newscasts. Given the problems the network has had with programming Thursdays at 10pm since ER went off the air in 2009, the veteran cop procedural would be better served shoring up that time slot than leading into new series Ironside on Wednesdays.

- It’s a great vote of confidence to Parenthood for NBC to have them take over that troublesome Thursday 10pm time slot, but its look and feel is better suited as a lead-in to Chicago Fire on Tuesdays out of an hour of comedies. While I understand the night of family comedies on Thursdays, I expected better of the network in cleaning up the mess that is their Thursday night line-up. It’s a lot of new for the marginally-rated Parks and Recreation and Parenthood, a newcomer to the night, to have to support.

- There’s a lot going on after football on Sundays. Between football and cable’s strength on the night, all four networks are struggling on Sundays. For now, NBC would be better off rebuilding their Monday thru Thursday before trying to shore up their Friday thru Sunday. Turn Sunday nights over to unscripted programming with The Biggest Loser, Betty White’s Off Their Rockers, Celebrity Apprentice and whatever else they have in the pipeline. Believe could air with Grimm and Dracula/Crossbones as part of a night of fantasy dramas on Fridays (in place of Dateline Friday). Crisis could air Wednesdays at 9 going into Ironside.

- Not having a scheduling plan for Undateable, Chicago PD and The Night Shift is concerning because by the time they air, they’re usually destined to be seen as burn-off filler and that’s how viewers will see them.

Overall I give this schedule a B-. FOUR of my February “pick-ups made it to NBC’s fall schedule – Sean Saves the World, Welcome to the Family, The Michael J. Fox Show and Ironside.

This was my suggested fall schedule for NBC that I put together in February (with some shows that were in contention then but didn’t get picked up):

While the pre-upfront bloodbath wasn’t as devastating at ABC, cancelling their Last Man Standing companion piece Malibu Country was a BIG mistake. I don’t give a flying damn about the demo, anything generating an average of over 6 million viewers on a Friday night (with 7 million viewers for the March 22 finale) is not cancel-worthy. And in not going forward with John Leguizamo’s King John, they don’t have another multi-camera comedy to marry with the Last Man. I’m generally a purist in that regard. How to Live With Your Parents (for the Rest of Your Life) had potential, but a March launch amidst repeats is a tall order. Like GCB last year, whatever they needed/wanted/expected of the series could have been actualized with more time next season. While Body of Proof had three inconsistent seasons to earn a fourth, whatever female-centered thriller they may or may not be planning to replace it probably won’t do any better.

What ABC did RIGHT:

- Well, half-right: reducing Dancing with the Stars to one night was a step in the right direction, but reducing the show to one CYCLE with two nights would have been better. Besides, reducing the show to one night won’t stem the ratings decline, but reducing the show to one cycle per season will maintain demand. CBS should follow suit with Survivor and Amazing Race and NBC should do the same with The Voice.

- Not making any unnecessary or ill-advised scheduling moves with their established programs. As should generally be the case, the schedule has been crafted so that new shows are the mortar, while the existing shows are the bricks.

What ABC did WRONG:

- Launching an ENTIRE night of new shows on Tuesdays. Granted, this wound up working well for them in 2009 with four new comedies and one new drama but only The Middle and Modern Family remain. This time there is a comic book adaptation, two family comedies and then a drama. I liked what I saw of The Goldbergs and Trophy Wife and “picked up” Lucky 7 back in February on my suggested fall schedule, but it’s a tall order and ABC will need to exercise a lot of patience.

- If Rebel Wilson hadn’t been such a hot commodity right now, Super Fun Night would never have gotten the coveted slot as the Modern Family lead-out that should have gone to Trophy Wife. It’s completely out of place amongst a night of family comedies and a drama with strong familial themes. Super Fun Night would be better served airing in the Thursday 8pm time slot with the similarly-themed Mixology leading into the solid one-two punch of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. It seems like a no-brainer to me – especially given ABC’s claim of making Thursday a “powerful night of empowered women” (by scheduling Once Upon a Time in Wonderland in that slot instead). Either way, the time slot would be better of with those two comedies than a spinoff of a two-year-old fantasy drama that lost a lot of ratings luster in its second season.

- Had Malibu Country been renewed as it should have been, Last Man Standing would still have a more sensible companion piece. The Neighbors, which was renewed over the worthy How to Live with Your Parents (for the Rest of Your Life), could be better married with The Goldbergs (or better yet, How to Live with Your Parents had it not also been erroneously cancelled).

- Regarding Fridays, either go full-on TGIF or don’t at all. That’s my stance. I generally hate the mix of reality and scripted (20/20 notwithstanding) when there are alternatives. The same goes for CBS, NBC and FOX. I’m a segregationist and when it comes to single-cams and multi-cams. I would rather see Friday nights go 100% unscripted than mixed – especially when the other nights of the week need work. And I would rather shift as much reality to the weekends as possible.

- As with NBC, there are several programs that were picked up but weren’t announced for the fall or scheduled for midseason. For the same reason of being thought of as burn-off filler, I am concerned for those shows. See Family Tools and How to Live with Your Parents (for the Rest of Your Life).

Three of my February “pick-ups” (Trophy Wife, Lucky 7 and Back in the Game) are on the fall schedule, which I give a B+ 

This was my suggested fall schedule for ABC that I put together in February (with some shows that were in contention then that didn’t get picked up):

This brings us to FOX, which cancelled the fewest shows – four – and only two new series, including Ben & Kate (Of The Premature Demise). Given the gluttony of renewals and series pickups, FOX looks to wisely be positioning itself for survival after American Idol -- which really should have just been put out of its misery this year with a finale special in the fall. But money talks and nobody walks. 

However, their continued reliance on Gordon Ramsay to fill year-long programming holes is concerning and makes for lazy programming.

And why they renewed Glee for two more seasons (or even one) and haven’t set an end date for American Idol (like May 16, 2013) is beyond me. Put all this shit out of their misery (and ours). But at least we still have Raising Hope and The Mindy Project.

I’ve pretty ambivalent about the schedule itself so there isn’t anything specific I feel they did RIGHT. And there isn’t anything they did particularly WRONG, I just don’t like what they did – which is different than some of the things CBS, NBC and ABC did. Some of that shit was just WRONG.

- This fall/late fall scheduling has got to go. It reeks of inconsistency, which they need despite baseball. If they have to hold back new shows until after baseball to so that there aren’t so many reschedulings and preemptions, hold them back and premiere your veteran series before baseball. The veteran series can better absorb such breaks. And if they’re not big hits now, they’re probably not going to be. So they need to preserve those audiences they have while they can and give the new series the best chance at survival as possible by avoiding baseball altogether.

- A Sleepy Hollow encore on Friday nights? It’s lazy programming and a waste of a time slot – even if for just the “early fall”.

- Like ABC, FOX is going all-comedy on Tuesday nights. This is the second consecutive year for FOX and half the lineup is the same, but they have two new male-skewing comedies (Dads and Brooklyn Nine-Nine) leading into two returning female-skewing comedies (New Girl and The Mindy Project), each with respective audiences that won’t overlap much. The latter two series would be better served leading into a female-skewing drama or a drama with female appeal (like Rake with Greg Kinnear, which has been held until midseason because of the number of episodes he committed to). The former two series would be better served leading out of the Thursday edition The X-Factor in the fall and American Idol in the winter/spring, where they can’t do any worse than anything that airs out of either.

- Bones is the most reliable program on FOX’s schedule. Wherever they air it, it performs. This season, they’re starting it on Mondays in the “early fall” before shifting it to Fridays for the “late fall” and spring. But it can’t be bounced around forever. Stick it on Friday nights because nothing else works there and launch a new show behind it. Simple as that. It’s going into its ninth season and FOX needs to have something in its stead to replace it within the next couple of years, but star vehicles with movie stars deigning to do television on a limited basis are not going to cut it.

- That leaves Raising Hope, which remains creatively strong but deserves better than to be shunted off to Friday nights. Though it’s leading into out of Bones and into a male-skewing comedy (Enlisted) in “late fall”, Friday nights should be drama/drama. The other nights should be comedy/comedy/drama wherever possible.

- And Gordon Ramsey can’t be the programming go-to forever – especially with reality one show after another. It’s just LAZY programming.

- For some reason, I'm not as concerned about the as-of-yet unscheduled Surviving Jack, Gang Related, Us and Them and Murder Police seeing the light of day with the appropriate promotion and scheduling because holding these back should, as I hope they will, keeping the Gordon Ramsey dependency to a necessary minimum throughout the broadcast season. 

Five of my February “pick-ups” (Surviving Jack, Gang Related, Dads, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Rake) made it to FOX’s fall schedule, which I give a C+.

This was my suggested fall schedule for FOX that I put together in February (with some shows that were in contention then but didn’t get picked up):