Skip to main content

Scheduling Against the Shift

Broadcast networks—in the business of linear television since before any other kind of television existed—have more concerns than ever for their fall schedules.

“It’s an interesting time to be scheduling television, because you are scheduling for linear viewers and you have to keep your digital consumers in mind as well, and people who are timeshifting,” says Joe Earley, Fox Television Group COO.

And the complex ways in which those viewers behave has complicated schedulers’ jobs. The networks made progress during upfront sales in May and June, convincing some media buyers to use C7—live-plusseven- days—commercial ratings as currency for ad deals. But those agreements do nothing to monetize viewers watching as far out as 30 days and beyond. Meanwhile, DVR penetration means networks are now scheduling against themselves. “The DVR is bigger than all the networks at 10 o’clock,” says Andy Kubitz, executive VP of program planning and scheduling for ABC Entertainment Group, adding, “Nashville’s biggest competition is Modern Family.”

Delayed viewing, said The CW president Mark Pedowitz, “is a factor in our decisions, whether or not to keep a show going on or give a show another chance.” But the linear schedule still matters.

“Even in a time-shifting world, even though, say, more than 50% of people have a DVR and are time-shifting, that means there’s still 50% of people who don’t,” says Earley.

Here, B&C takes a look at the strategies the broadcasters have in place to capture more of that 50% this fall.


BIG SWINGS:How to Get Away With Murder, Black-ish

FALL MISSION STATEMENT: Solidify the middle of the week with family comedies and Shonda Rhimes dramas.

A CLOSER LOOK: ABC is coming off another season where it finished near the bottom among the Big Four networks in the ratings race within the advertiser-preferred adults 18-to-49-year-old demo. This season, the network is counting on lineup changes at the middle of the week to lead ratings growth.

Tuesday nights will see two hours of new programming bookending Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.—which, Kubitz points out, will enjoy a higher households-using-television (HUT) average at 9 p.m. than it had last season at 8 p.m. Last season’s sole returning new comedy, The Goldbergs, will move from Tuesdays to Wednesdays, where it will air between The Middle and Modern Family—which will be followed by new comedy Black-ish, the first network comedy since Fox’s Brothers in 2009 to feature an entirely African-American principal cast.

According to Kubitz, in past years some of the network’s best new shows “may not have fit in so well” with its current programming schedule. “This year I think we’re extremely lucky that the best shows that we developed fit very nicely into that Wednesday.”

Thursdays will see creator Shonda Rhimes’ Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal each move up one hour—to 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., respectively— to make way for How to Get Away With Murder, the network’s newest Rhimesproduced drama, at 10 p.m.

“I think the way that we show growth for next year is to build a really, really strong Thursday night, and then everything will come after that,” Kubitz says.

Led by actress Viola Davis, Murder is one of several new ABC shows—including Black-ish, Friday-night comedy Cristela and midseason’s Fresh Off the Boat and American Crime—featuring ethnically diverse casts.

“As diverse as this country is, the network should refl ect it,” Kubitz says. “And it just happens to be that the more diverse shows happened to be the best shows this year.” —DH


BIG SWINGS:NCIS: New Orleans, Madame Secretary, Scorpion

FALL MISSION STATEMENT: Return to earlyweek dominance with dramas and Big Bang shift. Oh yes, and then there’s football.

A CLOSER LOOK: NBC is not the only network that will eschew a night that’s been known for comedies in favor of dramas.

CBS, which saw its Monday fortunes tumble last season after years of leading the pack, will have a revamped lineup leading off the week this year. Gone is the network’s twohour comedy block, where some of its biggest hits were stationed, including Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory—which will temporarily relocate to lead off its old night.

Instead, CBS will sandwich rookie drama Scorpion between sophomore comedy Mom and veteran procedural NCIS: Los Angeles, which will be forced to stand on its own this season. Once Big Bang returns to Thursdays, 2 Broke Girls will take over the 8 p.m. slot.

Despite the dramatic turn Mondays will take, Kelly Kahl, senior executive VP, CBS Primetime, says the shift does not signal a changing of the guard. “In this case we had some terrific dramas that were just demanding to get on the air.”

On Tuesday, CBS looks to expand its NCIS franchise with its second spinoff in the Scott Bakula-led NCIS: New Orleans, which will take the spot of the displaced NCIS: Los Angeles leading out of NCIS.

CBS should get a boost with its seven primetime Thursday Night Football telecasts, which began Sept. 11, a few weeks before the official start of the fall TV season, providing CBS with a major promotional platform to market its new and returning crop of shows.

Aside from the temporary move of The Big Bang Theory to Mondays, CBS will hold back the rest of its Thursday lineup, including new comedy The McCarthys, until after TNF is finished in October, meaning that an already strong night will get another boost by virtue of airing fewer repeats.

“You’re cutting a 35-week season into a 30-week season,” says Kahl. —TB


BIG SWINGS:The Flash, Jane the Virgin

FALL MISSION STATEMENT: Seek balance with male- and female-skewing shows while stabilizing lineup.

A CLOSER LOOK: After shuffling every night of its primetime roster last season, The CW will look for a bit more stability this time, with the only wholesale change coming to Monday.

Monday will be the only completely revamped night with The Originals moving further away from The Vampire Diaries to lead into new hour-long comedy Jane the Virgin, one of only two new launches for the youngskewing network this fall.

CW president Pedowitz has made broadening his network’s reach a priority this season, and hopes Jane the Virgin, which features a largely Latina cast, can help bring back some of the female viewers that have tuned out since the days of Gossip Girl and 90210. “There is a need to have a balanced audience, there is a need to have women as well as men come to your place,” he says.

The only other change to The CW’s lineup this fall will be the network’s other launch in The Flash, which will lead off Tuesdays. ABC’s move of similarly themed series Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to 9 p.m. on that night afforded the network the opportunity for an earlier start time for Flash, but with five series slated this fall with comic book origins, it is fair to wonder if the audience will begin to tune out all these superheroes.

Pedowitz is confident, however, that the saturation point has yet to be reached, and points to the performance of numerous superherothemed films this year as reason for optimism. “It has not yet fully happened in theatrical films, which has been a good guidance,” he says. “I’m confident we’ll be fine.”

For the third year in a row, The CW will hold back its fall premieres until October, which aside from getting away from the clutter of Premiere Week, gives the network the ability to air fewer repeats during the fourth quarter.

“It gives us a fresher schedule,” Pedowitz says. —TB


BIG SWINGS:Utopia, Gotham, Red Band Society

FALL MISSION STATEMENT: Find footing with comedies while cultivating franchises to relieve a fading Idol.

A CLOSER LOOK: Two years removed from an eight-season run as the top-rated network in the 18-49 demo, Fox is rebuilding. Former chief Kevin Reilly is gone. Longtime 20th Century Fox Television heads Gary Newman and Dana Walden now sit atop the broadcast network as well as the studio, having inherited a fall schedule assembled under the former regime.

Among the Reilly legacies with the most potential impact is Gotham. The Batman prequel will pair with sophomore Sleepy Hollow on Monday nights, but at 8 p.m. will face competition in its first few weeks from The Big Bang Theory. “We’re building, we think, a pretty fantastic night with Gotham and Sleepy, but we know that that time period Gotham has to face is incredibly hard,” says Earley.

Another big bet is unscripted competition series Utopia. The show premiered Sept. 7 to a 2.0 rating among viewers 18-49—respectable given that the premiere, part one of a threenight launch, aired outside the show’s eventual time slots and against the premiere of NBC’s Sunday Night Football. But Utopia tumbled in its Tuesday premiere Sept. 10 against weaker competition, with a 0.9 rating in the demo. The network hopes it will lead viewers to returning comedies New Girl and The Mindy Project— as well air Fridays.

Hell’s Kitchen can deliver a broad audience— and Red Band Society needs that leadin, because on its surface, it could appear to be a teen show and it’s absolutely not,” Earley says. “It’s a four-quadrant show.”

Sunday nights, long home to the Animation Domination block, will see flesh-and-blood comedies Brooklyn Nine-Nine and freshman Mulaney join The Simpsons and Family Guy.

A Fox that emerges from the fall with a new breakout hit would have some insurance against challenges at midseason, when it can no longer rely on outsize ratings from American Idol to help it recover.

“When you’re rebuilding, every block matters,” Earley says. —DH


BIG SWINGS:State of Affairs, Marry Me

FALL MISSION STATEMENT: Use The Voice and The Blacklist to launch new series and build on last season’s No. 1 ranking.

A CLOSER LOOK: NBC’s top finish in the ratings race last season was its first in a decade. In 2014-15 it will try to repeat, making programming moves not just in September, but throughout the season.

On Monday nights the network will kick off with The Voice leading into The Blacklist— a combination that helped make the latter show the biggest new ratings success of the previous season. Tuesday nights will see new comedy Marry Me take the plum post- Voice time slot.

“Comedy is still going to continue to be a bit of a struggle for us, as it is everywhere,” says NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke. “We love the comedies that we picked up and hope that between About a Boy and Marry Me we can get some action Tuesday night, but that remains to be seen with the ever-elusive comedy hit.”

The network’s long-standing two-hour Thursday-night comedy block—home to The Cosby Show, Cheers, Seinfeld, Friends, The Office and 30 Rock—will come to an end, as The Biggest Loser settles in at 8 p.m., to be followed by new comedies Bad Judge and A to Z.

Then come the big moves. In November, The Blacklist will go on hiatus until February, when it will reemerge with a post-Super Bowl episode, then move to Thursday nights. Taking its place Monday nights will be State of Affairs, a new political thriller starring Katherine Heigl, whose reputation for clashing with employers led to pointed questions during a TCA summer press tour session in July. The following month, showrunner Ed Bernero stepped down—NBC Universal cited creative differences with creator Joe Carnahan—and was replaced by Dario Scardapane.

Salke said that production on the series has “been running really smoothly.” Asked about the network’s confidence level that State of Affairs may break out the same way The Blacklist did last season, she adds, “For fall, definitely, we’re positioning the show to do that, and hopefully it delivers.” —DH