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MBPT Spotlight: Broadcast Networks Announcing Fall Start Dates Earlier Could Help Audiences Better Map Out Their Viewing

In an attempt to be top of mind to audiences in this increasingly cluttered and fragmented TV viewing world, the five English-language broadcast networks all announced the dates and times for their fall primetime programming before July 1 — three of them several weeks earlier than last year.

ABC announced its fall show premiere dates on June 10 this year, more than a month earlier than last year's July 15 date. Fox released its fall premiere dates on June 25 this year, more than 2 weeks earlier than the July 10 date last summer. While CBS announced its fall premiere dates on June 9 this year, two weeks earlier than last year.

Moving up those announcements by several weeks may seem insignificant on the surface, but the networks are looking for any edge they can get both against one another and also against cable and the online TV services.

With so much delayed viewing today, more viewers seem to be into planning what shows they are going to watch once the broadcast TV season begins in September. So not only are the broadcasters announcing their specific premiere dates and times earlier, but they are also promoting those dates and times to engrain them in viewers minds.  They continue on a more expansive basis to make the pilot episodes of new shows more available online prior to the start of the season.

“I’m sure the networks every year try to think of ways to break through the clutter during premiere week,” says Billie Gold, VP, director of TV programming research at Carat. “In recent years, there certainly has been more staggered starts, and more instances of shows not premiering in their regularly-scheduled time periods, but rather behind a high-rated show in order to give it an initial boost before moving into its normal time period.”

Gold says the broadcast networks are increasing making their fall shows available online before the season begins but says that can be a double-edge sword.

“While premiering shows early can get some viewer sampling outside the clutter and create some positive feelings and buzz, it sometimes can have a negative impact. If a viewer sees a first episode online and it doesn’t strike a chord initially, they may not tune in again once the series starts airing on TV,” Gold says. “The buzz can sometimes be negative and then the series is doomed before the season even starts.”

However, with viewers now in the habit of recording so many shows during premiere week and throughout the season to watch in delayed viewing mode, the networks are still trying to get viewers to watch live. “The ability to have a new show break out of the pack early on is still key for the networks,” Gold says.

By announcing specific dates and times earlier for new shows rather than simply saying they will premiere “this fall,” the networks can promote that in the commercials throughout the summer and drum those start dates in viewers’ heads. They can also promote those start dates and times via social networks and create their own pages on Facebook and Twitter. And more networks are using billboards in various markets to promote dates and times of fall premieres.

And more broadcasters are bringing their new series premiere episodes to display at convention venues during the summer like Comic-Con, although most of those series usually have some sort of tie-ins to action heroes, supernatural or horror. Still, those are the types of shows favored by millennials and that is both an elusive TV audience and one desired by marketers.

While broadcasters are premiering more of their fall shows in October, The CW is the only network that has been premiering its entire primetime schedule in October and will do so again this fall.

Gold says there’s not much more the broadcast networks can do to get their new fall programming attention. “The road is just going to get tougher and tougher as viewer options to watch programming on different venues continue to grow.”

This fall the five broadcast networks will air new season episodes of 46 shows during premiere week, 35 returning series and 11 new. They will hold back 31 series to air outside premiere week and throughout October and a few in November, including 13 new shows.

Last season, the five networks also premiered 46 shows during premiere week, 39 returning series and 7 new shows. And they held back 33 series, including 14 new shows to premiere them in October and November.

Early premieres did not help Fox last season. The network introduced new reality series Utopia on Sept. 7 and the show was pretty much DOA in the ratings by the time premiere week rolled around. Fox also premiered new drama Red Band Society a week early last season and the series eventually failed.

So while the way the networks roll out their shows doesn’t seem to make much difference in how well they ultimately do in the ratings, the networks are hoping that promoting the series earlier and letting the viewers know sooner when they will be premiering might help get some more eyeballs.

Here’s a look at how the five broadcast networks will roll out their primetime entertainment schedules this fall.

ABC is pretty much mimicking its 2015 fall rollout pattern from 2014. The network will premiere one show early, 16 shows (13 returning and 3 new) during premiere week, along with 2 shows the following week and three shows (2 new) in October.

ABC will again premiere Dancing with the Stars the week before the official premiere week – on Monday, Sept. 14 at 8 p.m.

During premiere week returning drama Castle will join DWTS on Monday night, Sept. 21 at 10 p.m. On Tuesday, Sept. 22, ABC will premiere its new series The Muppets at 8, followed by returning comedy Fresh Off the Boat at 8:30 p.m. It will then air a special DWTS results show from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.

The following Tuesday, Sept. 29, Marvel’s Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns at 9 p.m. and returning Beyond the Tank fills the 10 p.m. time period.

ABC returns all five series on Wednesday, Sept. 23 — comedies The Middle, The Goldbergs, Modern Family and Black-ish, along with drama Nashville.

It also returns its entire Thursday schedule on Sept 24 — dramas Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. Last Man Standing and Shark Tank return on Friday, Sept 25. On Sunday, Sept. 27, ABC will return drama Once Upon a Time at 8 p.m. along with new dramas Blood & Oil at 9 and Quantico at 10.

New sitcom Dr. Ken premieres at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 2 leading out of Last Man Standing.

America’s Funniest Home Videos returns on Sunday Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. and new drama Wicked City premieres on Tuesday, Oct. 27 at 10, when Beyond the Tank ends its limited run.

CBS is premiering no entertainment shows prior to premiere week, but will premiere 13 shows during premiere week, including 11 returning and two new. It will premiere two shows the second week of the season, one new and one returning and then seven in October, five returning and two new.

On Monday, Sept. 21, as it did last season, The Big Bang Theory will open the night at 8 p.m., leading into new comedy Life in Pieces, followed by the season premieres of returning dramas Scorpion and NCIS: Los Angeles.

On Tuesday, Sept. 22, NCIS returns at 8, followed by the return of NCIS: New Orleans at 9, which will lead into new drama series Limitless at 10.

On Wednesday, Sept. 23, Survivor premieres as it did last season with a 90-minute special edition, followed by the summer season 90-minute finale of Big Brother.

CBS returns three series on Friday, Sept. 25 — The Amazing Race, Hawaii Five-0 and Blue Bloods. And the network will also return first-run episodes of 48 Hours on Saturday, Sept. 26 at 10.

On Sunday, Sept. 27, 60 Minutes returns with a 90 minute episode, followed by a special two-hour series finale of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

Criminal Minds returns on Wednesday, Sept. 30 at 9 p.m., leading into new drama Code Black.

CBS will then return the rest of its Sunday night schedule on Oct. 4 with dramas Madam Secretary, The Good Wife and CSI: Cyber all back with their season premieres.

On Monday, Oct. 26, new drama Supergirl premieres leading out of The Big Bang Theory. The following Monday, Supergirl moves to its regular 8 p.m. time period, with The Big Bang Theory and Life in Pieces moving to Thursday night at 8 and 8:30, respectively. Sitcom Mom returns at 9, new comedy Angel from Hell premieres at 9:30 and drama Elementary returns at 10.

The new Neil Patrick Harris variety series Best Time Ever premieres on Sept. 15 at 10.

During premiere week NBC will premiere only seven series – four returning and three new. NBC will also bring back one series on Wed. Sept. 30, and then premiere four series in October, including one new and four returning, and one new series in November.

NBC will premiere its new season of The Voice on Monday Sept. 21 from 8-10 p.m. and lead into new drama Blindspot at 10. One Wednesday, Sept. 23 it returns drama The Mysteries of Laura at 8 leading into a special two-hour premiere of veteran drama Law & Order: SVU.

On Thursday, Sept. 23, NBC will premiere its new drama Heroes Reborn, the reboot of its one-time hit Heroes. That will lead into The Blacklist at 9 and new drama The Player at 10.

NBC will then return drama Chicago P.D. on Wednesday, Sept . 30 at 10.

The network’s four October premieres include returning comedy Undateable on Friday, Oct. 9 at 8 p.m., returning drama Chicago Fire on Tuesday, Oct. 13 at 10, new comedy People Are Talking on Friday, Oct. 16 at 8:30 p.m., and returning drama Grimm on Friday, Oct. 30 at 9.

NBC will premiere new drama Chicago Med on Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 10 p.m.

The network will premiere no shows early, 10 series during premiere week (seven returning and three new), two new the following week on Tuesday, Sept. 29, two returning series in October and two returning series in November.

Gotham returns on Monday, Sept. 21 at 8 p.m. and will lead into new drama Minority Report at 9. New dramedy Scream Queens will premiere with a special two-hour episode on Tuesday, Sept. 22 at 8. New drama Rosewood will premiere on Wednesday, Sept. 23 at 8 and lead into returning hit drama Empire at 9.

Also during premiere week, Fox will bring back its entire Sunday night lineup on Sept .27 including Bob’s Burgers, The Simpsons, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Family Guy and The Last Man on Earth.

The following week on Tuesday, Sept. 29, Fox will premiere its two new sitcoms – Grandfathered at 8 and The Grinder at 8:30 p.m. and lead them into the regularly scheduled hour of Scream Queens at 9.

On Thursday, Oct. 1, Fox will return two dramas Bones at 8 and Sleepy Hollow at 9. And on Friday, Nov. 6, Fox will bring back MasterChef Junior at 8 and World’s Funniest Fails at 9.

The CW
There was a time when The CW and its predecessor networks The WB and UPN would try to get a head start on the Big Four by premiering many of their shows early. No more. The CW has had success in recent years by premiering its entire slate of fall shows during a one-week period in early October. It will do the same this fall.

The CW will return its hit drama The Flash at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 6, leading into returning drama iZombie. On Wednesday, Oct. 7, Arrow returns at 8, leading into Supernatural at 9. On Thursday, Oct. 8, The Vampire Diaries returns at 8, leading into another vampire series The Originals at 9. And on Friday, Oct. 9, drama Reign returns, leading into America’s Next Top Model, which makes its debut later this summer and continues into the fall season.

Then on Monday, Oct. 19, The CW will premiere its new scripted comedy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend at 8, leading into returning drama Jane the Virgin at 9.