Introduction to Upfront Week 2007

This week, the television industry will beg and plead with advertisers to commit to advertising on their fall schedules before knowing a thing about how the shows will do. Those who just want to watch television will have their collective ear to the door.

That’s because, as part of their pitch, the networks will let advertisers in on a little secret: the fall schedules themselves. Four months before any of it becomes reality, people will be able to dissect the slates the networks will expect us to swallow for fall. If you’re really into it, it can feel like Election Day, or the NFL Draft. I’ve dissected the schedules on my own since – has it really been since 2002? – with a break in 2005, and this week, I’m letting you in.

Here’s my analysis of what the networks need, in the order that they will present.

NBC

  • NBC is coming off an embarrasing season. It’s the only Big Four network whose season-to-date rating (as of 4/29) is under 6. That’s despite the fact it’s the only Big Four network to have non-postseason football in prime time. NBC did have “Sunday Night Football” but couldn’t use it to propel hits elsewhere in the week. “Deal or No Deal” is the only other really bright spot on NBC’s schedule, and ABC (“Dancing with the Stars”, “Grey’s Anatomy”, “Desperate Housewives”), CBS (“CSI” and “CSI Miami”, plus “Without a Trace” was bigger than “DonD”), and Fox (“American Idol” and “House”) all had multiple shows that were bigger than football, and football only gets you through a third of the season. You read that and you probably think I’m describing a network somewhere between the other three major networks and the CW, not one that’s only .5 behind the tie for second place. (At least it’s not the CW’s 2.1.)
  • NBC originally pinned its hopes for a resurgence this season on the hopes of “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”. By hammocking it between the surging comedies “My Name is Earl” and “The Office” on one end, and “ER” on the other, NBC hoped to mold “Studio 60” into its franchise show of the future, and perhaps gain better ground against “CSI” than “The Apprentice” had gotten. Then ABC announced it was boldly pitting “Grey’s Anatomy” against “CSI”. Within a week after unveiling their plans, they lay in tatters, and “Studio 60” would have to be thrown into Mondays at 10 with another new show, “Heroes,” as a leadin. The presence of a show similar to “Lost” in its complexity wasn’t exactly compatible to something that was more of a comfort show, and “Heroes”‘ popularity only made “Studio 60” worse for the comparison. Then there’s the fact that critics soured on the show itself as it wore on and drew unfavorable comparisons to Aaron Sorkin’s previous show, “The West Wing”. Add it all together, and “Studio 60” seems DOA at the upfronts. NBC needs more buzz shows, as the closest thing it really has is “Heroes”, especially with “Law and Order” losing its luster and “L&O: Criminal Intent” suffering since moving to 9 PM. It also has a hole to fill on Monday nights. Properly promoted and nurtured, “Friday Night Lights,” assuming the critically-acclaimed show is renewed, could be the ticket.
  • Right now NBC’s only half-hour shows are “MNiE”, “Office”, “Scrubs”, and “30 Rock”, all currently on Thursday. Comedies are in a bit of a slump right now, but this is an embarrasment for a network that once prided itself in its comedies.
  • Strong nights: Sunday (during football season), Monday (double whammy of “Heroes” and “DonD”). Weak nights: Everything else.
  • Quick tip: Don’t be afraid to make radical moves. You don’t have much to lose.

ABC

  • “Wife Swap” and “What About Brian” didn’t seem to work on Mondays, but it was the first time ABC actually had to program the night in fall in a quarter century. Now “Dancing with the Stars” seems to be working on the night; will it stay there in fall? Where would that leave Tuesdays?
  • ABC has announced that it will hold three more abbreviated seasons of “Lost” and end the show in 2010. That leaves Wednesdays an absolute mess until “Lost” returns.
  • Does ABC have any plan for Fridays?
  • Would ABC move “Ugly Betty” again to shore up another night, or does it not want to break up the “Betty”-“Grey’s” combo that blew away expectations this season?
  • Strong nights: Monday (with “DwtS”), Tuesday (with “DwtS”), Thursday, Saturday (during football season), Sunday. Weak nights: Monday (w/out “DwtS”), Wednesday (with or without “Lost”), Friday, Saturday (after football season). Personally, I think “Saturday Night (College) Football” proved that you can make Saturdays as strong as any other night of the week if you actually try. But it also confirmed a long-lingering suspicion of mine, that sports is the way to go on Saturdays. Wednesday was a winning night when it had the one-two punch of the “Dancing with the Stars” results and “Lost” but it did poorly when “DwtS” ended and “Lost” went on vacation.
  • Quick tip: Monday or Wednesday is going to be without “DwtS”. Move one of your other hits there to bide time until “Lost” returns (in the likely scenario the night in question is Wednesday).

CBS

  • The No. 1 network can’t be resting on their laurels, but they have so many laurels it’s a problem. There are so many quality/popular series there’s virtually nothing to cancel. “Jericho” and “Ghost Whisperer” are probably the two weakest dramas; “How I Met Your Mother” and “The New Adventures of Old Christine” are probably the weakest shows overall but they have to put up with “DonD” and “DwtS”.
  • “Old Christine” did well when it was at 9:30 and not 8:30. “Mother” and “The Class”, however, struggled with ratings in the 5’s and low 6’s, without “DwtS” to worry about and with NBC seeing only a minor drop-off from “DonD” to “Heroes”. What is causing a significant number of viewers of CBS’ comedy lineup to forgo the first hour?
  • The History of the Tuesday at 10 Time Slot This Season: They try “Smith” for three weeks. It gets cancelled. They try “3 Lbs.” for three weeks. It gets cancelled. Now they’re just throwing up whatever will stick. Time to put up a show you have confidence in.
  • Strong nights: Just about every night. Weak nights: Um… does Saturday count even though they win it when football isn’t on? … Friday was weak for a while… a little help here?
  • Quick tip: One word: Midseason. Tell it to all but your very best new shows.

FOX

  • Fox has more spots for new shows than its standing suggests.
  • Is “The War at Home” dead? I haven’t seen anything in my cursory check, but given the ratings since leaving the cushy spot hammocked by “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” I wouldn’t be surprised.
  • On Mondays, Fox will have “Prison Break” and “24” at various points of the season, but neither show it’s introduced to accompany them seems to have worked, with “Standoff” being DOA when it premiered in the fall on Tuesdays.
  • “Justice” was also DOA and Fox will have to find a new show to pair with “Bones”. “The Loop” is interesting as it hasn’t aired yet at all this season. Does Fox want to renew it for Season 3 with zero numbers for Season 2? Do they want to cancel it under the same circumstances? It won’t have “American Idol” backing it up as originally planned.
  • The two comedies Fox introduced on Thursday have had very different fates. “Happy Hour” was DOA, while “Til Death” is clear for a second season. How confident is Fox in its new comedy slate? If it’s not that confident, and “War At Home” is canned, “Til Death” could be Sunday-bound. Either way Fox has a big hole to fill on Thursdays, and “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?” could be the ticket.
  • Friday is definitely FOX’s weakest spot. It’s the second Saturday, true, but it’s been beat by “Friday Night SmackDown!” on the CW multiple times. Any time you get beat by the CW, that’s a problem.
  • Strong nights: Any night “American Idol” is on, Saturday (when NASCAR racing is on). Strong nights compared to the rest of FOX but not to other networks on the same nights: Monday, non-“Idol” Tuesday. Weak nights: Thursday, Friday, Saturday.
  • Quick tip: Don’t be fooled by your tie for second – this is a one-show network in many ways. Having such short nights means there’s no room for error on any show.

The CW

  • This will be the first time the CW truly has a chance to present new shows.
  • The CW is not a network that averages a 2.1. It deserves to be treated more like a 2.3. That is not to say there aren’t problems, but any show that does worse than 2.0 is probably on the hot seat.
  • That would include pretty much all of the CW’s comedies, even “Everybody Hates Chris”, which gave UPN so much publicity in that network’s final season. Ratings have been degraded by going up against “Dancing with the Stars”, but “Chris” and “Girlfriends” were only doing around a 2.0 even before that. It’ll be interesting to see what the CW does with “All of Us” which bore the brunt of the “DwtS” onslaught, as well as “The Game”, which was the CW’s lowest-rated comedy when “DwtS” wasn’t on but became its highest-rated once it became the only comedy that didn’t have to battle the ABC juggernaut. Why the CW ended “Reba”, one of its strongest shows, is a little unclear.
  • The CW will need to fill the departures of “7th Heaven” and “Gilmore Girls”. “Girls” was still succeeding in the ratings and will probably hurt the worst. The highest rated traditonal scripted show that leaves is “Smallville”, also one of only four hour-long scripted shows left, along with “Supernatural”, “One Tree Hill”, and “Veronica Mars”, which is on the bubble. If the CW renews “VM” (which, according to reports, is looking more like a possibility than it used to) then “OTH” is the most natural fit to nurture it, though “America’s Next Top Model” would probably be better both in the ratings and thematically (though that would repeat a strategy UPN tried without success), and “Supernatural” should probably break out of “Smallville”‘s shadow to allow both shows to nurture new shows. That “OTH” and “Supernatural” are being considered as potential linchpins speaks volumes about how deep the CW’s lineup really is. (“Supernatural” would be a better pick than “OTH” but doesn’t fit thematically with “VM” all that much, much like “OTH” doesn’t fit with “Smallville”.)
  • Strong nights: Wednesday. Weak nights: Sunday, Monday.
  • Quick tip: You better have a strong pilot slate, and promote the hell out of it.

Feel free to print and fill out the grids below as we go along. Also feel free to leave a comment if you would like me to do year-round analysis of TV. I’ve been thinking of doing daily or weekly ratings roundups of the broadcast networks. On Friday, after everyone’s done, I’ll have a roundup of all the action and look at the schedule as a whole.


Sun

7pm

7:30pm

8pm

8:30 pm

9 pm

9:30 pm

10 pm

ABC
NBC
CBS
FOX
CW

Mon

8pm

8:30 pm

9 pm

9:30 pm

10 pm

ABC
NBC
CBS
FOX
CW

Tue

8pm

8:30 pm

9 pm

9:30 pm

10 pm

ABC
NBC
CBS
FOX
CW

Wed

8pm

8:30 pm

9 pm

9:30 pm

10 pm

ABC
NBC
CBS
FOX
CW

Thu

8pm

8:30 pm

9 pm

9:30 pm

10 pm

ABC
NBC
CBS
FOX
CW

Fri

8pm

8:30 pm

9 pm

9:30 pm

10 pm

ABC
NBC
CBS
FOX
CW

Sat

8pm

8:30 pm

9 pm

9:30 pm

10 pm

ABC
NBC
CBS
FOX

One Comment

  1. Posted November 12, 2016 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

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