Viewers Still Fall for Set Schedules

Why This Matters: Even in a world of on-demand TV, viewers still mark their calendars for TV’s new fall season.

The Fall Season is nearly here. Fall means football — on TV, and on a field near you — school back in session and fresh seasons for the television graybeards, among them ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and The CW.

The fall TV season may seem archaic in the age of subscription video-on-demand, where series launch year round, and amidst broadcasters’ own talk of premiering series in all corners of the calendar. Yet broadcast’s reach remains massive, and a robust fall premiere not only gives a show a good shot to make it on the network, but a chance to land large in the streaming aftermarket.

“Linear launch is the starting line,” NBC Entertainment president of program planning, strategy and research Jeff Bader said. “There is no finish line anymore.”

As much as the modern viewer likes watching a series whenever the heck they want, many tune in because a network tells them when the show is on, and plan their schedules — Tuesdays at 9 p.m.! — accordingly.

Here’s a peek at each of the Big Five networks — how they’re addressing the new season, which nights are commanding their focus, and which rookie shows have the best chance to pop.

ABC: Start Week With Unscripted Sundays
BIG SWINGS:The Conners, The Kids Are Alright
STRATEGY: Build a 10 p.m. hit, launch no-script Sundays, bring back comedic Fridays.

The Conners commences Oct. 16, and all eyes are on it to see if it can post Roseanne-esque ratings. To be fair, the show was only announced in late June, without, of course, its namesake star, who was done in by a racist tweet and a no-excuses network.

The Conners does have John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf and Sara Gilbert. ABC is “optimistic” about the show, Andy Kubitz, executive VP, programming strategy, ABC Entertainment, said. “We wouldn’t put it on the schedule if we didn’t think it would be great.”

Other debutant shows include dramas The Rookie, with Nathan Fillion as an older police trainee in Los Angeles; A Million Little Things, about a group of friends coming to terms with an unexpected death; and comedies The Kids Are Alright, about an Irish-Catholic family in the ’70s, and Single Parents, about a group of adults who lean on each other as they raise their children. Kubitz calls Single Parents “the closest thing to Modern Family.”

It’s a good amount of new stuff, but ABC can hatch a rookie smash — it launched The Good Doctor a year ago.

The network’s Sunday strategy is unique, with an unscripted block that includes Dancing with the Stars: Juniors, Shark Tank and The Alec Baldwin Show. The last sees Baldwin sit with some of the more intriguing personalities around the globe.

“He’s got a very unique and interesting interview style,” Kubitz said. “It’s the information age, and people want to get to know and learn about and understand people.”

Before we get to unscripted Sundays, there is TGIF — the return of ABC’s branded Friday funnies block. It premieres Oct. 5 and features Fresh Off the Boat, Speechless and Child Support. Fridays are “time for families to plop down and watch some television together,” Kubitz said.

CBS: What’s Old Is New Again
BIG SWINGS:Murphy Brown, Magnum P.I.
STRATEGY: Refashion vintage shows for a contemporary audience

Most networks are betting on rebooted shows to bring back at least some of their former magic, but few are betting bigger than CBS. Magnum P.I., with Jay Hernandez as the intrepid private eye, still driving a Ferrari but this time with no moustache, starts Sept. 24. Murphy Brown, with Candice Bergen reprising her news anchor role, premieres Sept. 27.

CBS has long taken pride in a stable schedule, and the rebooted shows offer I.P. that viewers know and mostly like.

In terms of truly new programs, Dick Wolf’s FBI, about investigators in the bureau’s New York office, starts Sept. 25; and comedies The Neighborhood, with Cedric the Entertainer as a Los Angeles resident who’s not enamored of his friendly (and white) new neighbor, and Happy Together, with Damon Wayans Jr. as a nerdy accountant who has a pop star move in with him and his wife, roll in Oct. 1.

Stepping off the stage at the end of the season is the long-serving audience favorite The Big Bang Theory. That may bring a bump in ratings for season 12. “We expect some excitement, probably more so at the beginning, and ramping up to the last episode,” Kelly Kahl, CBS Entertainment president, said. “But it’s the No. 1 comedy — I don’t know that there is a ton of room to go up.”

Sept. 24 has the season premieres of Big Bang and Young Sheldon. The Magnum P.I. and Bull debuts follow. Monday is a key focus for CBS. “Monday wasn’t getting us where we need to be,” said Kahl of last season.

The buildup for the high-profile reboots has been good, according to Kahl. He said of Magnum: “I expect interest early on to be high. If the show delivers, I expect people to stick around.”

The CW: Taking Back Sundays
BIG SWINGS:Charmed, All American
STRATEGY: Stick its flag on Sundays with Super-girl and Charmed

The CW’s six-days-a-week schedule starts in October, as the network takes over Sunday nights, nine years after it gave them to its affiliates. The CW is looking to make a Sunday splash, offering one of its most established shows, Supergirl, and a buzzy newbie, Charmed, on that day, starting Oct. 14.

CW president Mark Pedowitz said the new Charmed, debuting a dozen years after the original went off the air, mixes elements of the earlier show while offering “a contemporary view of today’s world.” The show, about three sisters who are witches, offers a multicultural cast. “I believe that, if fans of the old Charmed give this one a chance,” Pedowitz said, “they’ll grow to enjoy it.”

The CW’s Sunday move has had a “terrific reception” from the advertising community, Pedowitz said, and every affiliate group signed on.

Riverdale has its season three debut Oct. 10, and leads into high school drama All American, about a football player from downscale South Los Angeles who enrolls at Beverly Hills High. “I think a terrific job was done by Greg Berlanti and the creative team there,” Pedowitz said.

Dynasty and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend start Oct. 12. The new season of Crazy Ex, its fourth, will be the final one.

Legacies, a Julie Plec drama set in the world of The Vampire Diaries and The Originals, starts Oct. 25.

On to the midseason, Pedowitz said he’s “very excited” about Roswell, New Mexico, about a woman who returns to her tourist-trap hometown, where aliens roam about, to take care of her ill father. In the Dark is about a hard-living, disaffected twenty-something who is blind. Pedowitz calls that “probably the most unique thing we’ve done in a long, long time” — since Crazy Ex.

Also on for the midseason — The Hundred, iZombie and Jane the Virgin.

Fox: Football Flies On Thursdays
BIG SWINGS:Last Man Standing, Thursday Night Football
STRATEGY: Use football’s reach to spread the word on rookie shows and sophomore standouts.

Fox will use its new Thursday Night Football acquisition to launch new programs, and promote returning series. The network’s new comedies include Cool Kids, with David Alan Grier, Martin Mull, Vicki Lawrence and Leslie Jordan as upstarts at an old folks’ home, premiering Sept. 28, and REL, starring Lil Rel Howery and starting Sept. 30.

“The entertainment side looks at Thursday Night Football as a great asset,” said Michael Thorn, Fox Entertainment president. “It will help us drive circulation and will help both the new shows and the returning series.”

Fox is as focused on its returning shows as it is its freshmen. Last season, Fox launched The Gifted, 9-1-1, The Resident and The Orville. Thorn said it’s a “huge priority” to “cement their standing as breakout shows.”

New cast members are livening up returning series. Seann William Scott plays Murtaugh’s new partner in Lethal Weapon, and Jennifer Love Hewitt plays Maddie in Ryan Murphy rescue drama 9-1-1. Hewitt plays a 911 operator and sister of firefighter character Buck. “She’s really finding herself as a 911 operator,” Love Hewitt said, “but also hiding out as a 911 operator.”

Friday is comedy night, with Last Man Standing, the Tim Allen laugher that was cancelled after six seasons on ABC, and The Cool Kids, which comes from It’s Always Sunny principal Charlie Day. Thorn expects a “really strong premiere” for Last Man Standing Sept. 28, teased by a robust social presence in its premiere night approach.

He calls Cool Kids “a really funny, distinctive comedy,” and notes the “incredible voice” of Day and the show’s “all-star cast.”

Thorn is also big on midseason debutant The Passage, a thriller drama based on Justin Cronin’s novels, starring Mark-Paul Gosse-laar as a federal agent and Amy Bellafonte as a girl chosen to be a test subject at a secret medical facility. Thorn calls The Passage “a hugely ambitious drama.”

NBC: Windy City Wednesdays
BIG SWINGS:Manifest, New Amsterdam
STRATEGY: Use ratings-hogging hits to launch limited number of newbies

Whereas the old days of NBC involved a massive maelstrom of new shows debuting in the fall, the network unveils a mere pair of dramas, Manifest and New Amsterdam, and comedy I Feel Bad. Manifest, a mythology mystery stemming from a turbulent flight, leads out of The Voice starting Sept. 24. New Amsterdam, about a renegade doctor pushing unorthodox methods to get a hospital back to its former glory, comes out of This Is Us beginning Sept. 25.

Those aren’t bad lead-ins.

This Is Us starts its third season Sept. 25. Jack is dead — can any This Is Us viewer look at a Crock-Pot without feeling a pang of sadness? — but will surely live on in flashbacks. NBC isn’t saying a word about new storylines.

“I expect it is going to do very well,” Bader allowed. “In its second season, we saw less ‘catch-up’ viewing occurring during the season as more people were watching new episodes on its air date, or closer to it. We expect that trend to continue.”

Wednesdays are Chicago days kicking off Sept. 26, with Chicago Med at 8 p.m., Chicago Fire at 9 and Chicago P.D. at 10. It is NBC’s first time stacking Dick Wolf’s Windy City dramas, which lends itself to crossover stories.

NBC does not have Thursday Night Football, which it split with CBS last year. The network will miss the ratings, though plotting a fall schedule is certainly easier without primetime gridiron games on in the fall. NBC, of course, does have Sunday Night Football.

On the comedy side, Amy Poehler’s I Feel Bad starts Oct. 4, leading out of Superstore and Will & Grace on Thursdays. It’s about “being perfectly OK with being imperfect,” according to NBC.

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.