The big 4 have stepped it up and there is definitely a much better crop of pilots this year than last. I do however have some thoughts on how they could have better scheduled their fall lineups to their benefit. Interestingly enough, most of these thoughts are exactly the same ones I had when their skeds were announced before I had seen the pilots. After seeing all* of the pilots, I wasn’t struck with a thought of “oh, that’s why they did that etc”. In most cases it made me think of how they could have made certain moves to strengthen their respective schedules.
I should note that each network has extremely smart and successful people in their scheduling departments who have been doing this for years and whom I have immense respect for. It’s more than possible that many of the decisions I am questioning will turn out rather successfully. But as someone who has studied and been a fan of the medium for many years, there are a few that made me wonder. Below are my thoughts for each of the big 4.
NBC: NBC has a very smart schedule, using their big hit The Voice to help launch what they and many others feel is their best drama The Blacklist. They smartly moved The Voice results to Tue 9p and are using it to make Chicago Fire a bigger hit in a timeslot that currently doesn’t have one. They smartly are starting over on Thu with new comedies that seem to be more mass appeal than their Thu options of late. My only big surprise at their schedule was scheduling Sean Saves the World as their Thu 9p anchor. I don’t usually think multi cams and single cams work together, but given the pedigree behind and in front of the camera, I thought it might make sense. After seeing the pilot I am rather surprised. It’s not a bad show and one could see how this could grow into a really good one. But with Victor Fresco and Sean Hayes at the helm, I guess I was expecting something a bit cleverer and less “sitcommy”. The situations feel very overly broad and forced. Pilots have to a lot of exposition to lay out and introducing of characters and I assume this will get much sharper with the 2nd ep. After watching About A Boy, I’m very surprised it wasn’t on NBCs Thu fall sked. I think it’s NBCs best comedy pilot which didn’t really surprise me since it comes from Jason Katims. This is Jason’s first comedy and is slightly less nuanced than his terrific dramas, but it’s no less heartfelt. It hues closely to the movie, but the first ep sets up great believable characters and a sweet funny show. Like his dramas, this show made me laugh and I was moved by the end of the ep. It would seem to be the show that could make David Walton break out. I think tonally it would fit much better than Sean with the other three new Thu comedies and especially Parenthood. 9p would have been a great place to place it OR they could have skedded Michael J. Fox at 9 and air About A Boy at 9:30 as a perfect lead to Jason’s own Parenthood. I think with Crazy Ones at 9p, CBS is more vulnerable than many want to acknowledge and NBC would be smart to take advantage of that. Michael J. Fox or About A Boy would seem a better option than Sean Saves The World. Sean could possibly be paired with NBCs other new multi cam, Undateable, at midseason. Either way, I think About A Boy should be part of NBCs Thu lineup. (For what it’s worth I also enjoyed The Family Guide which About A Boy is currently scheduled to be paired with at midseason. They will make a nice compatible pair. The Family Guide would also have been a better fit with Welcome To The Family and MJ FOX than Sean Saves The World.) As is, SSTW seems very incompatible with the rest of NBCs Thu lineup. I think when scheduling 3 new shows, it helps for them to have more in common stylistically and tone wise, so as to try to keep as many viewers as possible to sample all of them. Sean seems like it’s after a different audience than the other 2 Thu newbies. Welcome To the Family, About A Boy, MJ Fox, Parenthood are a perfect match together.
FOX: Fox has a much better crop of dramas and comedies this year – especially the comedies. I think Us and Them could really be something. It does a great job of making you laugh and be moved by the end of the ep (like About A Boy) and could also be the deserved breakout, finally, for Jason Ritter. Both he and Alexis Bledel have terrific chemistry and you’re really rooting for them by the end. The show also sets up both families really well. The fact that the pilot did this all in 22 minutes says a lot. Fox should make this show a priority for midseason (maybe after New Girl .or paired together with Surviving Jack, though Surviving Jack and Raising Hope would work together too).
I also think Fox might have been better off pairing Brooklyn Nine Nine and Enlisted on Tue. I would lament Fox’s decision to waste Bones and Enlisted (and Raising Hope on Fri) but I don’t expect those moves to actually happen. The thing I don’t understand about Fox’s fall sked is the one thing I questioned before they released it. With the downturn of singing shows not The Voice, especially Idol, giving 3 out of 4 hours of their Wed/Thu sked to X Factor still makes no sense to me. I think a show like Rake has a better shot getting sampled Wed at 8 – a slot that doesn’t have a huge hit – than the crowded area of Thu at 9 in midseason. Frankly, one of their Mon sci-fi shows could air Wed at 8 OR even Bones could air there if their two sci-fi Mon dramas are together as planned for late fall. It seems a missed opportunity, especially when FOXs development was much stronger and they ordered more shows than recent years.
Drama wise I actually enjoyed Gang Related the most and think it could have paired really well on Mon with Bones. Don’t get why it’s not launching until summer.
I think should one of their Monday newbies work, it will stay there for the rest of the season and The Following will be on the move midseason, possibly to Thu at 9 where it could actually help FOX on that night.
CBS: As I have suggested many times before their sked was announced, and right after, I don’t understand how The Big Bang Theory is not at 9p. It’s the biggest hit on broadcast TV and will only be bigger at 9. Instead, CBS is scheduling a risky (for them) new single cam, The Crazy Ones, at 9 out of another new sitcom. Yes Robin Williams is a big movie star and Sarah Michelle Gellar is a big TV star, but so what. TV is littered with big star vehicles that failed (you know like Dennis Quaid on a very recent CBS show). The medium makes the stars, not the other way around. Plus this is a single cam which CBS has no success with recently. Some will say multi cam or single doesn’t matter if it’s funny. To an extent, that is true but why has CBS been so reticent to try one recently? They had a few in development last year that were getting positive buzz and they only greenlit Partners. CBS is the last huge broadcast network and they didn’t get there by accident. They know which shows – comedy and drama – mostly for work for them and they have largely hued to that over the last number of years. It’s not unfathomable for Crazy Ones to be a hit, but there’s no doubt CBSs placement of it is risky. Risks in many cases lead to big successes and CBS knows they have to expand beyond their overall formula to grow, but the show feels very unCBS and it certainly feels unlike any recent CBS hit sitcom. I think their placement of it in the anchor position following another new comedy makes it even riskier.
The Crazy Ones sticks out tremendously on CBSs Thu comedy block. It feels more like a David E. Kelley dramedy than the other 3 sitcoms, and not only because it’s single cam. It’s also strange to me that in Robin Williams’ return to network TV (or more specifically TV comedy) for the first time in over 30 years, the two things that pop most are a young actor regularly asked to star in dramas (James Wolk) and a guest star who, unless I am mistaken, has no acting aspirations (Kelly Clarkson). I wouldn’t be shocked if she starts getting sitcom offers after this, though.
What I really don’t get about the Thu sked is they could just rearrange the same shows a bit more to their benefit: Two and A Half Men at 8 followed by The Millers. That show feels more CBS and has a terrific cast and a great creator in Greg Garcia. Margo Martindale shows that her exemplary acting chops aren’t limited to drama. I know this is being sold more as a Will Arnett vehicle but Margo steals the show. It would seem to be a perfect companion to 2.5 Men and a good lead into TBBT at 9 which could then be followed by Crazy Ones at 9:30. This sked would put both new comedies after established CBS hits, but also gives a bigger cushion for Crazy Ones. Thu 9p is a busy timeslot. It’s not impossible for the CBS audience to not totally embrace The Millers and then Crazy Ones will have a new unproven show leading into it AND it’s a tonal shift from The Millers. TBBT at 9p will garner ratings double any other option in the hour and could make CBS stronger at 10 with Elementary.
I actually think a CBS Thu lineup with the above sked and Mom at 9:30, not Crazy Ones, would likely result in a huge night for CBS and 2 new comedy hits, but with HIMYM leaving and no other big hits on Mon, it absolutely makes sense for CBS to try to launch Mom on Monday to add a big hit to that night. I think Mom is CBSs best new comedy as it really melds comedy and pathos while establishing real characters incredibly well. Anna Faris is a revelation in her more quieter, more painful moments, but the show has some laugh out loud moments as well. Allison Janney is great as always and her relationship/history with Anna’s character is established and completely believable in just a few scenes between the two of them. I feel like Chuck Lorre let this pilot breathe more than any of his other recent hits and really taps into life for a recovering addict, especially the pain. (Kudos to HIMYMs Pamela Fryman for great direction). The fact that it’s done as well in a multi cam is a testament to all involved behind and in front of the camera. The trailer didn’t do this show justice. A more impressive, fully developed multi cam pilot is hard to find recently.
I would never bet against CBS and it’s possible their current Thu sked will work out fine, but it’s also not impossible for their audience to drop every half hour once TBBT ends at 8:30 and in turn could help the NBC comedies (which seem a better fit for their respective network than Crazy Ones does) breakout. Currently, once TBBT is over, CBS drops every half hour over the night with Elementary getting a 1.9/2.0 the last two weeks of the season (CBS was a 5.0 at 8p). If those new comedies that air 8:30-9:30 don’t perform, it’s not impossible for Elementary to be even more vulnerable against Scandal and NBCs strongest show there in years, Parenthood.
2.5 Men/The Millers/TBBT/Crazy Ones/Elementary helps CBS stay strong and mitigates the risk of the new shows in anchor positions. It gives the newbies their best chance to be sampled and grow an audience and eventually succeed. They’ll own 9p, and 10p will be stronger.
ABC: I saved the one I have the most suggestions for, for last.
I have spent the last few months writing how ABC should have flipped the order of The Bachelor and DWTS. The Bachelor in Fall/Spring and DWTS in Jan, so DWTS can have a rest and not face The Voice. That’s not gonna happen. So I’ll move on to other things that I think are still in ABCs power to change:
Sunday: I do not get leaving Revenge at 9p. The show ended with a 1.7. I don’t think Betrayal is the kind of soap that can turn things around. At this point it feels like another 666 Park Ave, or Red Widow. It’s well made and acted, but it’s dark and not noisy and not compelling enough to draw people in. Plus 666 had a 3.3 from Revenge leading into its premiere, Betrayal won’t. Revenge will be lucky to get a 2.0 now.
Unlike Revenge, I don’t understand at all why OUAT dropped this spring, but leaving this sked as is, is likely to bring ABC big year to year drops on Sunday. Why would they leave the sked as is? CBS leaving their underperforming Sun dramas in the same slots is a gift to ABC. Why aren’t they taking advantage of that? It’s especially curious as they have a really great show called Resurrection that’s currently scheduled to launch at midseason (I’m assuming Sunday after the Oscars). It’s a mystery but more importantly it’s an emotional drama. I don’t understand why this show isn’t airing Sunday at 9p in the fall. CBS isn’t changing their lineup. NBC has Football. This would be the perfect place and time for ABC to launch Resurrection. Putting it at 9 could help resuscitate the night. Revenge airing at 10 has a much better shot at growing with a relaunch than at 9. Resurrection could be a success for ABC and could also raise all the ships on the night with it. I know Paul Lee said he’s a big fan and that’s why he’s keeping it out of the fall glut, BUT it would seem to have a harder time launching in the spring for a number of reasons:
A) Have you seen what happens to broadcast ratings in the spring?
B) NBC is launching what I think is a very strong pilot with Believe also Sunday 9p in March. Unlike The Blackslist, this has emotional heft to it, in addition to mystery. It also appears to have new characters each week ala Touched by An Angel (or CBSs The Incredible Hulk from 30 years ago) which makes it easier for new people to jump in each week. It also has many similar themes to Resurrection and NBC has the Olympics as a huge promotional platform for it, just like ABC plans to use the Oscars. Why launch against another similar new show in the spring, (only likely to confuse viewers and dilute the message of your collective marketing, especially when both shows have similar themes) when you can have that audience (and marketing message) all to yourself while NBC is airing football?
C) The biggest obstacle would seem to be The Walking Dead but it doesn’t usually launch til mid October thus giving ABC a 2 week head start to get the show sampled, plus its last highest rated weeks air all March exactly when ABC would be launching Resurrection anyway, so fall would seem a much smarter place to launch.
Airing Resurrection Sun at 9 in the fall helps ABC give it the best opportunity to breakout and it also gives their Sunday shows a great opportunity to rebound. Leaving the Sun sked as is followed by Betrayal (a show they are selling as 13 weeks max, like they aren’t expecting it to exceed beyond that) is even more perplexing than airing DWTS in the fall. At least that show still pulls in 12 million viewers. The current Sunday sked will likely bring huge year to year drops and launching Resurrection in the spring comes with far more challenges. If ABC wasn’t going to promote a new Sunday drama in the fall, I might understand it more. But they will be spending money to promote Betrayal. Why not use those dollars to give one of your best new dramas its best shot at success? Sunday’s lineup should be OUAT/Resurrection/Revenge.
(I even think Killer Women would be a much stronger Sunday option than Betrayal. Where Betrayal feels like a dour soap, Killer Women is a fun, more loud show, with BSG’s Tricia Helfer as a kick ass Texas Ranger, who plays the trumpet! It kind of feels like a more mainstream Justified. It’s more procedural but Tricia is terrific and it’s very nicely and visually directed by Lawrence Trilling. It has a great look to it. That show could sooner breakout Sunday at 10 this fall than Betrayal. I’m not generally a procedural fan and normally prefer soaps but in this case I think Killer Women is the show that could resonate more.)
Out of all the scheduling scenarios by the nets this fall, leaving Revenge at 9 followed by Betrayal is the one I honestly understand the least. It seems self-defeating.
Tuesday: While I get the logic of using SHIELD to launch The Goldbergs, I maintain that ABC should be airing Shark Tank Tue at 9 like I have been suggesting since last winter. It’s always risky launching en entire night of new shows, but unlike ’09 when ABC smartly did it with Wednesday, there is a big hit called The Voice on the night and this time they’re not launching 4 new family comedies, but two dramas and two comedies. It invites lots of opportunity for people to switch. I kind of wish ABC had moved Shark Tank to Tue this past Jan when there was little competition. It could have already been established there. Either way, it’s a great fit out of Shield. They are both shows that aim to be watched by the whole family (Shark Tank already is). Both shows would likely have a more male skew than a typical ABC show (Shark Tank already does). Shield/Shark Tank/Lucky 7 is a perfect flow. The whole night is more male leaning than the typical ABC lineup. ABC could promote the entire New Tuesday heavily on Monday Night Football the night before. It also limits the risk in trying to launch 4 new disparate shows. It gives Lucky 7 a better shot to be sampled in what is shaping now to be a very tough slot for a newbie to make noise. As is, its competition is 2 broadcast hits moving to Tue at 10 and Sons of Anarchy on cable. With Shark Tank at 9 you know at least there will be an audience at 9:30 to at least give it a chance. A new comedy at 9:30 could easily flop and should that happen, given what else is on, Lucky 7 is dead before it even premieres. (If Shark Tank did move to Tue, ABC could replace it on Fri with either Wife Swap, What Would You Do, another hour of 20/20, Secret Millionaire or even a Shark Tank rerun, though it would likely be smart not to overuse it. In the fall they could use Fri 9p to encore new comedies or Shield.)
Wednesday: I think ABC found a perfect bridge between The Middle and Modern Family with Back In the Game. I, however, don’t understand the placement of Super Fun Night after MF. I completely get ABCs decision to be in the Rebel Wilson business. They should want to be. I think SFN and Mixology would pair nicely together somewhere at midseason. (I think that show would have an easier time launching out of the fall glut). Over the last 4 years it’s been proven how shows with a younger skew and conceit (i.e. not a family comedy) don’t work after Modern Family. It’s a tonal shift. What really surprises me is that Paul Lee specifically said last year he wanted to find a family comedy for that slot which is why he scheduled The Neighbors there at ’12 upfronts and moved Happy Endings. That made lots of sense. This move would seem to violate that idea and there’s no evidence this show will buck that trend. In fact, How To Live With Your Parents For The Rest of Your Life has proven this to be true. It’s had the best retention of out MF than any recent comedy has. Even as ABC has stopped promoting it (since they cancelled it), it has still done reasonably well. Last week it held 100 percent of a MF rerun lead with a 1.4 and almost all of its total viewers. I’m rather surprised ABC has cancelled this show (in addition to Body of Proof). I didn’t understand it when they did, but now I really think they should reconsider. The show has little buzz but it’s doing better in that slot than anything recent, plus it launched in the worst time of the year (after its first 2 weeks, it followed 2 weeks of MF reruns) and with less promotion than any post MF has.
It also proves that a more traditional family comedy with familiar stars works best here. This is why I would schedule The Goldbergs after MF in the fall. With The Middle/Back In The Game/Modern Family/The Goldbergs, ABC has a very smart, perfectly matched comedy block.
They could possibly pair Trophy Wife with Suburgatory somewhere at midseason should they not be needed as replacements before.
* New CBS Thoughts added to this post Sunday 6/9/2013