As in seasons past, the broadcast networks’ new fall shows won’t all debut in a single week, with the first, Fox drama Sleepy Hollow, set to bow Sept. 16. And as with last fall, which proved a tipping-point year in the penetration of DVR viewing on premiere ratings, network execs are urging caution as all eyes turn to the new crop of contenders.
But even with more viewers time-shifting programs, the grid still matters when it comes to launching new shows. With that in mind, B&C spoke to a group of network presidents and programming executives to identify the key days and time periods each respective broadcaster will be eyeing this fall season.
ABC: Betting Tuesdays on S.H.I.E.L.D.
The stakes around Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are high not just because it is the first live-action television show for the blockbuster film franchise (and that it’s from fanboy creator Joss Whedon), but also because the action drama will anchor an entirely new Tuesday night lineup for ABC.
With Dancing With the Stars now scaled back to Mondays and last year’s comedies and Body of Proof gone, the network is looking to strengthen the night with S.H.I.E.L.D., new family comedies The Goldbergs and Trophy Wife and 99-percenter drama Lucky 7. Completely overhauling a night is a tall order, and ABC is betting on the audience loyalty of the Marvel universe to come through.
“There’s a challenge to launching four new shows, but with S.H.I.E.L.D. you already have a built-in audience which is similar to a returning show,” says Andy Kubitz, executive VP, program planning and scheduling at ABC. “I’m not really thinking that there’s four new shows that have to recruit all-new audiences.”
Though S.H.I.E.L.D. will have to go up against TV’s most-watched show in CBS’ NCIS, Fox and The CW are already bracing themselves for their new Tuesday shows to take at least a temporary hit while viewers sample the Marvel drama. “A big, big show sucks a lot of air out of the television landscape, and I’m hoping S.H.I.E.L.D. will do that as well,” Kubitz says.
While the chance of all of ABC’s Tuesday shows surviving to midseason seems unlikely in the high-failure game of TV, Kubitz says showing audience flow on the night is as important as outright hits as the net attempts to improve last season’s fourth-place finish. “The environment of television makes it hard to rise quickly,” he says. “I’m optimistic we’re going to improve more time periods than we don’t.”
CBS: New Comedy Success on Thursday?
The pressure is on at CBS to find a new hit comedy, given the invaluable launch pad it has in the juggernaut The Big Bang Theory, and this fall the net will make four attempts. That includes using BBT to anchor a two-hour comedy block on Thursday with The Millers and The Crazy Ones, betting that Robin Williams’ star power can launch the latter at 9 p.m. in front of the 11th season of Two and a Half Men.
Ensemble comedy We Are Men and another entry from Chuck Lorre, Mom, join the Monday lineup as CBS looks to replace exiting How I Met Your Mother. Two of the entries, Crazy Ones and We Are Men, are single-camera, a notable departure for the network. Getting a comedy from CBS’ studio (The Millers and We Are Men) to hit is also a goal, as its current halfhour hits mostly hail from Warner Bros., which reaps the syndication rewards, though keeping four comedies on Thursday is the top priority.
“If we can keep that infrastructure of the eight comedies in place, that would be a good win for us for the year,” says Kelly Kahl, senior executive VP of CBS primetime.
With the focus on comedy, CBS will bow just one new drama this fall, the heavily serialized Dylan McDermott/Toni Colette entry Hostages, which in one of the season’s more closely watched matchups will premiere on the same night (Sept. 23) as NBC’s well-reviewed new James Spader drama, The Blacklist.
“It’s our only drama, so we’re going to be throwing a lot behind it. But we also recognize that Blacklist is one of NBC’s big guns, and we don’t overlook Castle being there either,” Kahl says.
The CW: Sandwiching Arrow With An Improved Tuesday-Thursday
The CW has again opted to hold all of its premieres for October, allowing it to tighten up its fourth quarter with fewer repeats (it’s a move gaining some popularity, as NBC will also launch four of its six new fall series in October).
The CW will again make changes on all five nights of its schedule in a bid to improve its Tuesday—which has faltered in recent seasons with Cult; Emily Owens, M.D.; and Ringer—and Thursday, which is anchored by its strongest show, The Vampire Diaries, but has so far failed to launch a companion hit. The network even revised its initial premiere dates to use the vampire drama to launch both spinoff The Originals and period drama Reign on Oct. 3 and Oct. 17, respectively.
“To do that successfully and to give enough marketing promotion to Reign, we realized we had to push Reign back a week and move Vampire Diaries and The Originals up a week,” says The CW president Mark Pedowitz.
The staggered approach (The CW’s other new fall drama, The Tomorrow People, debuts Wednesday, Oct. 9) allows the network to focus on one launch at a time in the hopes of getting another one or two freshmen to hit.
“You always want to do better,” Pedowitz says. “But if we can get a show that does what Arrow or Vampire Diaries does, or Supernatural, we’ll be very pleased.”
Fox: A Stronger Start on the Week
With The CW and NBC going late, Fox will debut nearly all of its new series ahead of the official premiere week (The X Factor already returned on Sept. 11), giving its lineup an extra week of originals before enduring postseason baseball preemptions.
“With so much time-shifting going on, I think we have a better shot of getting people to sample it live or within those first three days than everyone’s going to have when we’re all up and running,” says Fox Broadcasting COO Joe Earley.
The Tuesday comedy block is a big priority, and it received increased marketing after last season’s freshman comedies struggled to get sampled. “We are running four campaigns,” Earley says. “Last year we ran one campaign, which was our new two-hour comedy block.” Two new sitcoms, Dads and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, are designed to bring more men to the night, though Fox is hoping to lure both genders to the duo as well as returning New Girl and The Mindy Project.
Strengthening Mondays is also a goal after the network was caught short-handed with the weak Mob Doctor last fall. Starting out, the veteran Bones will be paired with the tonally similar Sleepy Hollow on the night, with Bones set to shift to Fridays in November to make way for futuristic cop drama Almost Human. And despite the scheduling of originals on Fridays often not coming to fruition, Earley insists Fox is serious about programming the night this season with comedies Raising Hope and, starting in January, Enlisted. “All the many years that there was the threat of moving Bones, this year it really is a strategic plan,” he says.
NBC: Returning Thurs. and 10 p.m. to Glory
While Monday and Tuesday were the key nights for NBC last fall as it looked to draft off the momentum of Sunday Night Football and establish a second annual cycle of The Voice, this season the network will turn its attention to Thursday, where only one veteran comedy, Parks and Recreation, remains.
Its biggest bet is The Michael J. Fox Show, which received a straight-to-series, 22-episode order for the TV series return of the Spin City star. NBC has scheduled it at 9 p.m., paired with fellow known star Sean Hayes in Sean Saves the World; the duo will go up against CBS’ expansion into a two-hour Thursday comedy block with Robin Williams’ The Crazy Ones and veteran Two and a Half Men.
The network also put a lot of effort into the 10 p.m. time period. On Thursdays, where the local news lead-in belonged to the now-canceled newsmagazine Rock Center With Brian Williams, D.O.A. drama Do No Harm and renewed but softer-rated Hannibal last season, NBC will relocate veteran drama Parenthood, which commands a loyal audience. NBC’s most promising new fall drama, The Blacklist, will get the prime Monday time slot after The Voice (though it will go up against the similarly dark CBS newcomer Hostages). Procedural performer Chicago Fire moves to Tuesdays at 10 p.m. and new Blair Underwood drama Ironside takes the spot on Wednesdays, though the latter has suffered critical early reviews. The limited series Dracula, starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, will fill the period on Fridays.
At 10 p.m. and otherwise on its schedule, NBC must break a new hit after finishing last season without a top-10 scripted show. “Success to me would be that we have a scripted series and be gaining traction,” says Jeff Bader, NBC president of program planning, strategy and research. “With The Voice, America’s Got Talent, [American] Ninja Warrior, we have alternative series doing well; we know we need scripted series.”
Those shows gaining momentum will be key if NBC hopes to avoid a repeat performance of last season, which saw a muchimproved fall collapse by midseason with the loss of NFL football and The Voice. However, the network has one fairly large safeguard against that in 2014 with the Winter Olympic Games in February, which it will use to propel it into the spring. “Because of the Olympics, it’s such a different season,” Bader says.
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