Scheduling Thoughts: ABC

The 2012-2013 season begins September 24th and the broadcast networks will be finalizing premiere dates in the next few weeks. It’s a very unorthodox fall with 4 Presidential debates and Election night messing with scheduling. It presents an interesting situation for all the nets but mostly for ABC. CBS weathers preemptions better than anyone. Their reruns do better than some networks originals. NBC is helped tremendously in the fall by the NFL every Sun and now with The Voice on Mon and Tue all season. FOX has fewer hours to schedule and now 3 of them are occupied all year long by either X Factor or Idol.

ABC gets hurt the hardest as DWTS usually takes a 4 month break and most of their dramas are serialized and don’t rerun well and they work better in a block of consecutive runs. ABC schedulers do a great job but are hindered more than other nets by the lack of repeatability of most of their dramas and trying to schedule 22 hours over 39 weeks becomes more difficult especially when you have a show like Revenge where viewers are furious whenever it’s not new. I have consulted the calendar and considered how they might schedule to their best advantage.

Monday/Tuesday

I have often wondered why they cap DWTS at 10 weeks. Maybe it’s harder to get celebs to commit to more, but last I checked they benefit a lot by appearing on DWTS and that’s even before their financial compensation, which is substantial. The All Star season would seem to present the right opportunity to extend the show for 13 weeks (through Dec 18th). At the very least it can go 12 weeks (Dec 10th with Tues finale Dec 11th). Normally they don’t like to exceed 12 couples but with a roster of fan favorites, they should be able to go for 13 or 14. Eliminating one contestant a week will take them through 12 or 13 weeks. This way their Mon and Tues schedules won’t fall apart in Dec and they can use their holiday specials on the other nights of the week where I suggest they rest their dramas for Dec.

Depending on if/how they extend DWTS, another option might be producing a one off Christmas DWTS special where fan favorites dance to Holiday hits (some celebs might feel better committing to one show). ABC also has about 4 new Extreme Makeover: Home Editions to air in Dec and can be used on Sunday. Since it will have been 11 months since the last ep aired, there might be some renewed interest around Holiday time.

Wednesday

The second week of the season (Oct 3rd) will already be preempted for a Debate from 9-11. So I don’t think ABC will premiere Nashville until October 10th. This will actually give then more promo time and help conserve new eps later on. I am not a huge fan of one hour premieres as it hurts you later. (The Middle aired only 2 new eps all of March and April as a result of a 1 hour premiere last year). Last year a one hour Modern Family premiere helped launch Revenge but this year the circumstances are different. I still think ABC should flip The Neighbors and Suburgatory. The former fits better in the earlier hour, plus Suburgatory pairs better with the tone of MF and has far better flow into Nashville.  (Nashville is really more important to ABCs bottom line and Suburgatory at 9:30 really helps that show more, I think). Another bonus in airing at 8:30 is it will let Neighbors air uninterrupted for the first month (debates don’t affect the 8p hour). If Neighbors stays at 9:30, ABC should premiere it the first week as MF will likely get their highest ratings of the year premiere week and it’s best to launch out of the largest audience possible. Plus, when Nashville debuts it won’t be 2 new shows premiering on the same night.  

ABC usually airs 10 new eps of the comedies before January. I recommend they cut it to 9 and then they will have more uninterrupted eps airing in the spring. The 8p comedies will be preempted on November 7th for the DWTS results show that will be preempted November 6th because of Election night, so now all the comedies are on same sked and will air 8 eps by the end of Nov Sweeps.

I always think ABC should air reruns or holiday specials on Thanksgiving eve as it’s a very low rated night, but their affiliates never seem to like that. (They could then air 2 more new weeks of eps in the fall). I still think they should, but I’ll assume it will be new eps again Thanksgiving eve. The final night of new Wednesday eps should be Dec 5th and that gives them 9 eps before Jan. (Nashville will only have aired 8 which also helps them come Spring). They should not return with new eps Jan 2nd. Come back Jan 9th and run three weeks straight of new eps and then they only need one week off Jan 30th.

Then there are 4 weeks of new eps for Feb sweeps and by its conclusion the comedies will have aired 16 (out of 24) eps. Air reruns March 6th and 13th and then return for 4 consecutive weeks of new eps from March 20th through April 10th. Reruns April 17th and 24th and the final 4 eps of the season start May 1st. This way there are no more than 2 weeks of reruns and new eps air in blocks.

Thursday

Grey’s was slightly behind PoI for a few weeks late Winter/early Spring. Then it aired 7 eps in a row beginning April 5th,  something it has never done in the spring and the show was beating it every week and growing every week til the end of the season. The best way to air this show is consecutively in blocks and there’s a way to air it that way next year. (This also assumes Grey’s produces 24 eps like they did this season).

Last year ABC aired 9 eps in the fall. Mid November there was a big cliffhanger and the first week in Jan it came back to its highest ratings of the season. I suggest they follow that pattern again. By the end of sweeps, on Nov 15th, they will have only aired 6 eps.  (They will be preempted October 11th for a debate and Nov 1st for the CMAs). My gut says they should have their fall finale on November 15th (a week later than last year, I might add) and then they would have 18 eps left for the rest of the season. (They could always schedule two new eps on November 29th and December 6th which would total 8 eps aired in the fall and I have a feeling the network might opt for that. I just think ratings trend down in Dec and by scheduling holiday specials those weeks, they can virtually air Greys rerun free from Jan-May which benefits them much more.Last Resort will have only aired 7 eps in the fall this way as well.)  

If they only aired 6 eps in the fall, they would come back Jan 3rd (all other nets will likely be in reruns that night) with the resolve of the fall cliffhanger and run new eps for 8 consecutive weeks through the end of Feb sweeps on Feb. 21st. That’s 14 eps. They would then take off for only 2 weeks and return March 14th (opposite March Madness) and run the final 10 eps of the season consecutively through the end of May sweeps. That would mean from Jan through May, Grey’s would be out of originals for just two weeks.

I am gonna assume the net will want them to have new eps November 29th and December 6th, in which case they will need to be off 4 weeks after Feb sweeps. They could still air in blocks of 8 new eps surrounding that break in Jan/Feb and April/May. (They could also could come back Jan 10th and run 7 in a row followed by a 3 week break and the final 9 eps consecutively).

An even crazier, unlikely to happen scenario, would be for them to come back Jan 17th and then they would run uninterrupted for 18 straight weeks through the end of May.

My initial suggestion of 6 in the fall followed by 8, a 2 week break and the final 10 is what I think works best. 

Sunday

Again, I think ABC should air only 8 new eps of their Sun dramas in the fall. They premiere Sep 30th. The AMAs usually air the last Sun of Nov sweeps (11/18). They can air 7 eps consecutively the weeks prior. The following week is Thanksgiving weekend and they likely have a Hallmark movie. (I believe ABC signed a multi-year deal with Hallmark). I don’t think they should waste a new Once Upon A Time into a Hallmark movie, so all 3 dramas can return on December 2nd for the final new eps of the fall.

They will return Jan 6th and run new eps of their dramas the next 3 weeks. I assume Jan 27th has another Hallmark movie penciled in and unless OUAT produces 24 , I don’t think they should waste a new one that night. Feb has The Super Bowl and The Oscars so there’s two weeks in between for new eps that will take them through ep 13 of their Sunday dramas. They should run 4 weeks of new eps in March starting March 3rd. March 31st is Easter Sunday and that is the first week they should take off for what would be at max, a 2 week break. I don’t know if ABC has any flexibility with regards to the weeks the Hallmark movie has to air (normally the 3rd one airs the last week in April) but if they do, they’d be best served moving it to one of these early April weeks so they can air the last 5 eps of their Sunday dramas consecutively beginning April 14th which would take them to May 12th and their season finales. Billboard awards would air May 19th.

One other thought: ABC could probably get higher numbers from their Sun dramas than Billboard and they might opt to have their dramas air all 4 Sun of sweeps, thereby pushing Billboard into April (on a Sunday not occupied by the ACM awards).  If they do run new eps all 4 May Sweep Sundays and producers of OUAT and Revenge can produce 24 or 23 eps of their Sun dramas,  they’ll still only need is a maximum of 2 Sundays off in early April, including Easter Sunday. (Less likely in Revenge’s case as Mike Kelley doesn’t seem inclined to do more than 22 eps based on interviews he has given).

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