The nets reveal their strategies for next season
Brad Garrett, 'Til Death
After attending the networks' upfront presentations all week, the Biz has this analysis of the coming season. (Click here
for next fall's grid and new-show descriptions.)
You've got to wonder what went wrong in CW's new-series development process if the network had to bring back 7th Heaven — even though the show lost a reported $16 million for WB this past season.
But the decision to have CW's inaugural schedule made up of established shows from WB and UPN may end up being a blessing. Many of the shows have small but rabid followings, and promoting new shows on a new network will be tough. The fans of shows like One Tree Hill and Veronica Mars will track them down on their own. Viewers in the 18-to-34-year-old demographic that CW targets don't watch networks, they watch shows. (According to recent survey, only one in four 12- to 34-year-olds can name all four major broadcast networks).
As expensive as it has become after 10 seasons, 7th Heaven was WB's most-watched show. So CW executives asked themselves, "Why are we killing it?" Especially since the new show Runaway, starring Donnie Wahlberg as a man running from the law with his family in tow, seemed like a strong companion for it.
CW executives also took a look at which WB and UPN shows attracted the same viewers. On Tuesday Gilmore Girls will lead into Veronica Mars. Maybe that will end Veronica Mars' status as the longest-running unsuccessful show on television. Wednesday has America's Next Top Model paired with One Tree Hill. Beauty and the Geek will run between two Top Model cycles, keeping the hour in original episodes all season long.
Smallville and Supernatural will stay put on Thursday, while Friday has WWE Smackdown. UPN's block of comedies popular with black viewers — Everybody Hates Chris, All of Us, Girlfriends and new Girlfriends spin-off The Game — will move to Sunday.
In recent seasons, Fox's prime-time ratings have nearly fallen off a cliff, only to be rescued by American Idol. That shouldn't be the case with the 2006-07 schedule. The lineup presented to advertisers will have returning series on every night of the week. Every show will premiere earlier than the traditional start of the TV season so that viewers will have a chance to get hooked before Fox's postseason baseball coverage.
Fox will continue to build Monday as a night for serialized thrillers, with the return of Prison Break at 8, followed by Vanished, a seasonlong story about the disappearance of a senator's wife. In January, 24 will start its run on Monday night . But Fox wants to move away from its dependence on serialized dramas, which don't score strong ratings in repeat — if they get repeated at all. The network's two new dramas are character-driven but will have a beginning, middle and end each week. Standoff, with Ron Livingston as a hostage negotiator romantically linked with his partner, is one of them. It'll lead off Tuesday night at 8, followed by House.
The other new drama is Justice, from executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer, which applies CSI-like wizardry to the world of high-powered defense attorneys. Based on the clip, this show is the Biz's pick to click next season. It looked great. Fox has it slated for Wednesday at 9, preceded by Bones.
Fox will try to get a foothold on Thursday with Brad Garrett's new sitcom, 'Til Death, at 8, followed by another new comedy, Happy Hour. The network won't air The O.C. until November so it can run without repeats. Until then, it'll keep the 9 pm time period warm with Duets, Simon Cowell's new series that pairs professional singers with nonsinging celebs.
Reality shows Nanny 911 and Trading Spouses, which performed decently among young women, will open the season on Friday. When American Idol comes back, Fox will move Bones to this night and follow it with a new female-oriented series, The Wedding Album.
Cops and America's Most Wanted return on Saturday. On Sunday Fox will move American Dad to the hammock period between The Simpsons and Family Guy to create better audience flow for the night's animated shows. The War at Home moves to 9:30.
Being stable and solid may not sound very exciting, but that's the best way to describe the 2006-07 CBS schedule. And that doesn't seem to bother CBS chairman Leslie Moonves.
"I know it doesn't quite get the buzz," he says of his fall lineup, which has only four new shows. Each of those new entries is airing on a night with established performers that have been nurtured over the years. It's a schedule that, over time, has become almost failure-proof.
The biggest move is the replacement of the Sunday movie — the last such franchise on network television — with two crime dramas, Cold Case at 9 and Without a Trace at 10. "Whenever we had football overruns, Cold Case always did extremely well against Desperate Housewives," Moonves said. "Without a Trace is a top-10 show." With NBC running football on Sunday night, Moonves expects some of the Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Crossing Jordan audience to shift to CBS. "We're going to be up considerably on Sunday night," says Moonves. The Amazing Race moves to 8 pm, following 60 Minutes, in response to complaints that it was on too late for family viewing this past season.
On Mondays How I Met Your Mother will start its second season at 8 and will be followed by The Class, a new entry from Friends cocreator David Crane. Two and Half Men is back at 9, and The New Adventures of Old Christine returns at 9:30. CSI: Miami could be even more dominant at 10, now that football is on cable and ABC is bringing back the narrow What About Brian to that hour.
NCIS is back on Tuesday at 8, followed by The Unit. The network is hoping that will feed viewers into Smith, a drama that strays from the CBS formula. It stars Ray Liotta as the leader of a group of high-stakes thieves.
Even riskier is Jericho, the show that leads off Wednesdays. Remember the ABC TV-movie The Morning After, about what happens to Lawrence, Kansas, after the country is hit by a nuclear attack? Jericho is also a post-nuclear-apocalypse tale, also set in Kansas. We didn't see anybody's hair falling out in the clips, but you know, post-nuclear-apocalypse scenes can get pretty ugly. "This is the time period where Lost did very well," says Moonves. "I'm sure some of you will write that it's like Lost." (Don't worry, we won't.) "We're taking a big swing," he adds. Criminal Minds, which performed extremely well opposite Lost, is back at 9, followed by CSI: NY.
Jericho and Smith are also departures for CBS because the storytelling is serialized. The network has prided itself on the durability of its procedural crime dramas, which can draw an audience with repeated airings. Moonves says the network won't lose sight of that. "We're going to be really careful about making sure people tune in," he says. "Let's not forget: CSI is more profitable than Desperate Housewives. There's a reason we have the most profitable prime time on television. People may knock our procedurals all they want, but they repeat great. We do great week after week. We don't have huge highs or huge lows. We are not the manic-depressive network."
Survivor is back on Thursday at 8, and Moonves expects CSI to get dinged a bit by ABC's move of Grey's Anatomy to 9. "The Grey's Anatomy move is a bold move on their part," he says. "I think there are going to be a couple of shows in the time period that do very well." He doesn't think NBC will keep Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip in the hour to compete against two top-five shows. "If I were Aaron Sorkin, I wouldn't be very happy this morning," he says. "I think everybody in this room will be surprised if Studio 60 opens the season at 9 pm."
CBS clearly has its highest hopes for Shark, the new drama with James Woods as a flashy defense lawyer who becomes a prosecutor. It was the network's highest-testing new pilot, making it worthy of the post-CSI time period. It's also not serialized.
Ghost Whisperer, Close to Home and Numbers return on Fridays. Crime-drama repeats and 48 Hours Mystery are back on Saturdays.
ABC entertainment president Steve McPherson got a standing ovation from an audience of ad buyers at Avery Fisher Hall Tuesday. Of course, to earn it he had to do a cha-cha to AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long" with one of the ballroom pros from Dancing with the Stars.
McPherson told the Biz he practiced for a few hours each week over the past two months to master the routine — all while putting together a new 2006-07 schedule. Yes, it's hard out there for an entertainment president. Especially when you're doing as much heavy lifting as ABC is with its schedule. Its hottest show, Grey's Anatomy, is moving to Thursday night, and nine new shows will be launched in the fall.
Monday was where everybody was expecting Grey's to land, but ABC stuck with Wife Swap at 8, The Bachelor at 9 and What About Brian at 10. After football was over this year, the network did a decent business with women aged 18 to 34 on that night and decided to stick with the lineup. When The Bachelor finishes its run, Supernanny will move into the 9 pm slot.
Dancing with the Stars moves to Tuesday at 8, followed by two new sitcoms, Help Me Help You and Let's Rob…. All of ABC's new comedies are single camera (shot like a film without an audience or laugh track). The network hasn't had much luck with shows done in that style, but sitcoms are in such a pathetic state in general, what's the harm in throwing as many as you can against the wall to see what sticks? Help Me Help You, which stars Ted Danson as a therapist, looks to be the best of the bunch. But with ABC choosing to run one show clip after another during its presentation (as NBC did on Monday), it was hard to get a reading on the applause meter in Avery Fisher. Finishing Tuesday nights is Boston Legal in its same 10 pm slot.
The results show for Dancing will move to Wednesdays at 8. Lost is back at 9, and will be followed by The Nine, a new Lost-esque series about a group of people held hostage in a bank for two days. Looked intense, and less confusing than the canceled Invasion. By the way, Lost will get some rest for a few months instead of going into repeats, and in its place ABC will run Day Break, starring Taye Diggs. Think Groundhog Day, except the day really sucks.
ABC will try two new comedies on Thursdays at 8, starting with Big Day, which McPherson described as 24 meets Father of the Bride. Best candidate for new show title is Notes from the Underbelly, yet another quirky series about parenthood. Then we get to the big move: Grey's Anatomy to 9, up against CSI and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (for now, anyway; NBC will probably move Studio 60 rather than see it die in the crib). This means that ABC will finally be a serious ratings competitor on Thursday nights, getting a bigger share of the ad dollars that movie studios, retailers and car companies spend on the night to spur weekend shopping. When a network moves its hottest show to Thursdays (Fox once did it with The Simpsons, CBS with Survivor), it usually works. By breaking up the Sunday Desperate Housewives-Grey's combo, ABC will try to use both shows to launch new hits. Six Degrees, a new series from J.J. Abrams, will get the benefit of a Grey's lead-in.
ABC will try two new shows on Friday, a tough night to launch new shows. Betty the Ugly, adapted from a telenovela, opens at 8, followed by Men in Trees, which stars Anne Heche as a relationship expert in Alaska. 20/20 is back at 10.
ABC will fill Saturday night with college football. Sunday brings back America's Funniest Home Videos, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Housewives and Brothers & Sisters, a soapy family drama that brings Calista Flockhart back to prime time.
NBC entertainment president Kevin Reilly didn't mention one ratings figure during his 2006-07 prime-time presentation on Monday. Maybe it had something to do with the network experiencing significant ratings declines for the second straight year.
Instead, the audience of advertisers at Radio City Music Hall heard a lot about quality. There seemed to be more pride in authorship of the NBC lineup than in recent years. There are no cynical attempts at commercial hits such as LAX or Hawaii, or what-else-have-we-got-to-put-on-Friday-night stuff in the vein of last year's ill-conceived Inconceivable.
The presentation opened with some shtick from the casts of The Office and My Name Is Earl — two comedies that aren't ratings blockbusters but make strong statements about how the network would like to get back to its roots as the home of shows for upscale, sophisticated adults. But the challenge is getting people to sample the new shows it's so proud of, and that's not easy when the network is in fourth place. Of course, people said that about ABC two years ago, when Desperate Housewives and Lost were unveiled. So we'll see.
NBC will try to give several of its new shows a boost by scheduling established hits in front of them on three nights of the week. Monday leads off with Deal or No Deal, followed by the sci-fi fantasy Heroes, while Medium stays at 10 pm.
Tuesday could be the biggest uphill battle, as high-school football drama Friday Night Lights will kick off at 8 and lead in to another new show at 9 — serial drama Kidnapped. Law & Order: SVU is back at 10.
The Biggest Loser starts Wednesday, followed by new comedies 30 Rock (the best clip of the presentation) and 20 Good Years (with leads John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor), which appeals outside of NBC's target of 18- to 49-year-olds. The execs must have put it on because they actually think it's funny. Wow. Law & Order is back at 10 with some big cast changes planned. Here's a clue: The photo that flashed up when the show's time period was announced pictured only Jesse L. Martin. Should Dennis Farina be calling his agent?
Thursday has My Name Is Earl and The Office flowing into Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, a backstage drama about a sketch-comedy show. The Biz saw an early script for the pilot, and judging from the clip, it doesn't look like Sorkin was given a single note from the network. ER will share its 10 pm time slot with The Black Donnellys — a drama about an Irish organized-crime family from Oscar winner Paul Haggis — which will have a 13-week run starting in January. NBC's plan is to rest ER and keep it out of repeats — a trend we're likely to see for a number of serialized dramas this week.
Friday is NBC's only weeknight without a new show. A second hour of Deal or No Deal is followed by Las Vegas and Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Dateline NBC, which once did a lot of heavy lifting for NBC in prime time, is now a weekly hour on Saturday at 8, followed by drama repeats.
NBC takes over the NFL's prime-time football package on Sunday, which bails out the network on a night during which it's struggled in recent years. That won't help if they don't score some new hits on other nights as well.