Why Premiere Week Still Matters

Why This Matters: Even in an age of on-demand TV, viewers see the rollout of new broadcast-net shows as a rite of fall.

In this age when more and more viewers watch what they want when they want, the concept of a TV schedule — say, Bluff City Law, Mondays at 10 p.m. — won’t be around forever. But it’s here for today and for the foreseeable future. While all the networks are more focused on year-round scheduling, ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and The CW continue to debut their shows with the best chance to break out in the fall.

“The fall schedule still feels significant because that’s when Fox and the other [broadcast] networks still launch their biggest programs,” Michael Thorn, Fox Entertainment president, said.

To many, fall means back to school, football and new shows on the networks people have watched their entire lives, if perhaps a little less over the last few years. “People are used to Premiere Week,” said Andy Kubitz, executive VP, programming strategy, ABC. “They know what it is and they know when it is.”

Here’s a look at the traditional Big Five networks, and how they are going about the new season.

ABC: Strong Women and a Live ‘Mermaid’
BIG SWINGS:Little Mermaid Live, Stumptown
STRATEGY: Try a live musical and see if there’s a future for the plan

It’s a modest list of new shows on ABC, the scripted stuff including drama Emergence, about a police chief who takes in a child she finds near the site of a mysterious accident, and Black-ish spinoff Mixed-ish beginning Sept. 24.

A day later, it’s Stumptown, with Cobie Smulders as an army veteran and private investigator with some character quirks. That one comes from a graphic novel series.

There’s also live musical The Little Mermaid Live on Nov. 5. Auli’i Cravalho from Moana plays Ariel and Queen Latifah handles Ursula.

“It’s a cultural event that will resonate with large parts of the country,” ABC Entertainment’s Kubitz said. “It has a chance to make a splash.”

ABC’s live musical output has been nil, but that may change. The Walt Disney Co., of course, owns a bit of IP. “This could be the start of a franchise,” Kubitz said.

Mixed-ish looks at Black-ish mom Rainbow’s 1980s childhood in a mixed-race family. It slides into the Tuesday comedy block. Allison Tolman stars in Emergence. Stumptown is set in Portland, Oregon.

On Sundays, Tiffany Haddish hosts Kids Say the Darndest Things. “This show is made for her,” Kubitz said.

That one is unscripted, but still fits the ABC mandate. “Shows with strong women are really close to our brand,” Kubitz said.

CBS: Viewers Chuck Lorre
Evil, BobAbishola
STRATEGY: Tap tested creators to trot out shows viewers will come to love

The Big Bang Theory is finished, but Chuck Lorre is at it again with BobAbishola. The new one is about a compression sock salesman — that ought to be good for a laugh or two — who has a heart attack and falls for his nurse, a Nigerian immigrant. Billy Gardell plays the sock guy.

Thom Sherman, senior executive VP, programming, said he and CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl were “blown away” at an early table read.

Noriko Kelley, CBS head of scheduling, called BobAbishola “likeable and heartwarming.” It begins Sept. 23, after The Neighborhood. “It’s really authentic,” Kelley added. “The show will resonate with viewers. There’s a story for everyone.”

New legal drama All Rise, with Simone Missick as the boundary-pushing judge, also begins Sept. 23.

CBS has five rookie shows, the other three debuting Sept. 26. Young Sheldon leads into The Unicorn, with Walton Goggins as a widower father who begins dating again. Then it’s Carol’s Second Act, with Patricia Heaton as a woman learning to be a doctor at an advanced age, and frightful drama Evil from Michelle and Robert King.

Evil is a psychological drama that looks into the origins of evil. A psychologist, a priest-in-training and a carpenter investigate a church’s list of weird happenings. Kelley calls it a “sophisticated mystery” that touches on the concept of science versus religion.

Fox: Mining Dysfunctional Dads for Drama
Prodigal Son, Almost Family
STRATEGY: Load up on live, whether football, baseball or wrestling

It’s hardly a new strategy, but it works. Use your well-established shows — in Fox’s case, 9-1-1 and The Masked Singer — to drum up sampling for your new shows — in Fox’s case, Prodigal Son (Sept. 23) and Almost Family (Oct. 2). The former is about the son of a serial murderer who helps the cops bust bad guys, and the latter is about a fertility doctor found to have used his own sperm to conceive lots of children, meaning his daughter has some new siblings.

Call it the fall of dysfunctional dads for Fox.

Fox is betting big on live programming. The season started with the Emmy Awards Sept. 22. There’s NFL Thursday Night Football, WWE’s Friday Night SmackDown and college football on Saturdays. Major League Baseball playoffs happen on Fox, too.

“Our platform has the best that sports can offer,” Michael Thorn, Fox Entertainment president, said.

Fox is also bringing back “Animation Domination,” and Thorn is excited about Emily Spivey’s Bless the Harts, about a Southern family short on cash but rich in friends and family, sliding into Sundays Sept. 29. Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph provide voices.

“They face issues a lot of people face,” said Thorn of the Hart clan. “I think that’s a great message, and it allows for great comedic storytelling.”

It’s former AMC president and GM Charlie Collier’s first full season as Fox Entertainment CEO, and Thorn said he’s made his mark. “He’s brought his sense of risk-taking and bold choices,” he said. “There’s a new energy in the hallways.”

NBC: Ratings Champ Looks Pretty Buff, andBluff
BIG SWINGS:Bluff City Law, Perfect Harmony
STRATEGY: Established prime means maximum promotion for minimal newbies

Similar to last year, when three shows debuted in the fall, NBC offers a short list of rookies. They are the Jimmy Smits law drama Bluff City Law and comedies Perfect Harmony and Sunnyside.

“We don’t have a lot of real estate for launching shows,” said Steve Kern, senior VP, program planning and scheduling, NBC Entertainment. “We are choosy about what we launch in the fall.”

The Voice serves up ample samplers for Bluff City Law Sept. 23. The strong lead-in, hot time slot and proven star in Smits, formerly of LA Law and The West Wing (not to mention NYPD Blue on ABC), give it a decent shot.

Season four of This Is Us begins Sept. 24.

Wednesdays are the Chicago shows and Thursdays are comedies: Superstore; Perfect Harmony, with Bradley Whitford as a music professor taking on a small-town choir; the final season of The Good Place; and Sunnyside, with Kal Penn as a hotshot NYC councilman recuperating after an embarrassing bust.

The comedies debut Sept. 26.

“We’re not looking at first-week ratings,” Kern said. “We’re looking at ratings over a period of time.”

THE CW: Super-Duper Sundays
Batwoman, Nancy Drew
STRATEGY: Better monetize young viewers’ tendencies to watch when they want, where they want

The CW has always seen a large part of its viewers consume the network’s shows on digital platforms. The network took a big step toward better monetizing those by announcing it will stream every episode of new series the day after their broadcast premiere.

For non-rookie programs, The CW will have a rolling five episodes on its digital platforms the day after debut.

The CW president Mark Pedowitz said his network’s programs lend themselves to multiple-episode viewing. “The shows always play well if you have a chance to binge them,” he said. A year ago, The CW began programming Sunday prime, a venture Pedowitz describes as “enormously successful.” This fall, Sundays feature new Greg Berlanti show Batwoman, where crime is rampant in Gotham City and Batman is nowhere to be found, and Supergirl. Those start Oct. 6.

Also new is Nancy Drew (Oct. 9), leading out of Riverdale on Wednesdays. As you’ll probably recall from reading as a child, Nancy Drew is about a brilliant teen detective. Her mother dies and she can’t go off to college. “We find ways to take prior IP and make it contemporary and put the CW spin on it,” Pedowitz said.

The fifteenth and final season of Supernatural begins Oct. 10. Pedowitz won’t say much about it, but allows that “the dead aren’t so dead.”

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.