News Articles

MBPT Spotlight: Scheduling A Path to Improvement

The key nights that will mark success or failure for the five broadcast networks this fall 9/16/2013 01:29:10 PM Eastern

amorabito@nbmedia.com | @andreamorabito

The series have been ordered, the schedules set and premiere
dates revealed. Now comes the real test: premiere week.

Why This Matters
Hits and misses seem to loom much larger for networks when it comes with their most important fall priorities.

As in seasons past, the broadcast
networks’ new fall shows
won’t all debut in a single week,
with the first, Fox drama Sleepy
Hollow
, set to bow Sept. 16. And
as with last fall, which proved a
tipping-point year in the penetration
of DVR viewing on premiere
ratings, network execs are urging caution
as all eyes turn to the new crop of contenders.

But even with more viewers time-shifting
programs, the grid still matters when it comes
to launching new shows. With that in mind,
B&C spoke to a group of network presidents
and programming executives to identify the
key days and time periods each respective
broadcaster will be eyeing this fall season.

ABC: Betting Tuesdays on S.H.I.E.L.D.

The stakes around Marvel’s Agents of
S.H.I.E.L.D.
are high not just because it is the
first live-action television show for the blockbuster
film franchise (and that it’s from fanboy
creator Joss Whedon), but also because the action
drama will anchor an entirely new Tuesday
night lineup for ABC.

With Dancing With the Stars
now scaled back to Mondays
and last year’s comedies and
Body of Proof gone, the network
is looking to strengthen the night
with S.H.I.E.L.D., new family
comedies The Goldbergs and
Trophy Wife and 99-percenter drama Lucky 7.
Completely overhauling a night is a tall order,
and ABC is betting on the audience loyalty of
the Marvel universe to come through.

“There’s a challenge to launching four new
shows, but with S.H.I.E.L.D. you already
have a built-in audience which is similar to a
returning show,” says Andy Kubitz, executive
VP, program planning and scheduling at ABC.
“I’m not really thinking that there’s four new
shows that have to recruit all-new audiences.”

Though S.H.I.E.L.D. will have to go up
against TV’s most-watched show in CBS’ NCIS,
Fox and The CW are already bracing themselves
for their new Tuesday shows to take at least a
temporary hit while viewers sample the Marvel
drama. “A big, big show sucks a lot of air
out of the television landscape, and I’m hoping
S.H.I.E.L.D. will do that as well,” Kubitz says.

While the chance of all of ABC’s Tuesday
shows surviving to midseason seems unlikely
in the high-failure game of TV, Kubitz says
showing audience flow on the night is as important
as outright hits as the net attempts to
improve last season’s fourth-place finish. “The
environment of television makes it hard to rise
quickly,” he says. “I’m optimistic we’re going
to improve more time periods than we don’t.”

CBS: New Comedy Success on Thursday?

The pressure is on at CBS to find a new hit
comedy, given the invaluable launch pad it has
in the juggernaut The Big Bang Theory, and
this fall the net will make four attempts. That includes
using BBT to anchor a two-hour comedy
block on Thursday with The Millers and The
Crazy Ones
, betting that Robin Williams’ star
power can launch the latter at 9 p.m. in front of
the 11th season of Two and a Half Men.

Ensemble comedy We Are Men and another
entry from Chuck Lorre, Mom, join the Monday
lineup as CBS looks to replace exiting How I Met Your Mother. Two of the entries, Crazy
Ones
and We Are Men, are single-camera, a
notable departure for the network. Getting a
comedy from CBS’ studio (The Millers and We
Are Men
) to hit is also a goal, as its current halfhour
hits mostly hail from Warner Bros., which
reaps the syndication rewards, though keeping
four comedies on Thursday is the top priority.

“If we can keep that infrastructure of the
eight comedies in place, that would be a good
win for us for the year,” says Kelly Kahl, senior
executive VP of CBS primetime.

With the focus on comedy, CBS will bow
just one new drama this fall, the heavily serialized
Dylan McDermott/Toni Colette entry
Hostages, which in one of the season’s more
closely watched matchups will premiere on the
same night (Sept. 23) as NBC’s well-reviewed
new James Spader drama, The Blacklist.

“It’s our only drama, so we’re going to be
throwing a lot behind it. But we also recognize
that Blacklist is one of NBC’s big guns,
and we don’t overlook Castle being there either,”
Kahl says.

The CW: Sandwiching Arrow With
An Improved Tuesday-Thursday

The CW has again opted to hold all of its premieres
for October, allowing it to tighten up its
fourth quarter with fewer repeats (it’s a move
gaining some popularity, as NBC will also
launch four of its six new fall series in October).

The CW will again make changes on all
five nights of its schedule in a bid to improve
its Tuesday—which has faltered in recent
seasons with Cult; Emily Owens, M.D.; and
Ringer—and Thursday, which is anchored by
its strongest show, The Vampire Diaries, but
has so far failed to launch a companion hit.
The network even revised its initial premiere
dates to use the vampire drama to launch
both spinoff The Originals and period drama
Reign on Oct. 3 and Oct. 17, respectively.

“To do that successfully and to give enough
marketing promotion to Reign, we realized we
had to push Reign back a week and move Vampire
Diaries
and The Originals up a week,”
says The CW president Mark Pedowitz.

The staggered approach (The CW’s other
new fall drama, The Tomorrow People, debuts Wednesday, Oct. 9) allows the network to focus
on one launch at a time in the hopes of
getting another one or two freshmen to hit.

“You always want to do better,” Pedowitz
says. “But if we can get a show that does what
Arrow or Vampire Diaries does, or Supernatural,
we’ll be very pleased.”


Fox: A Stronger Start on the Week

With The CW and NBC going late, Fox will
debut nearly all of its new series ahead of the
official premiere week (The X Factor already
returned on Sept. 11), giving its lineup an extra
week of originals before enduring postseason
baseball preemptions.

“With so much time-shifting going on, I
think we have a better shot of getting people
to sample it live or within those first three
days than everyone’s going to have when
we’re all up and running,” says Fox Broadcasting
COO Joe Earley.

The Tuesday comedy block is a big priority,
and it received increased marketing after last
season’s freshman comedies struggled to get
sampled. “We are running four campaigns,”
Earley says. “Last year we ran one campaign,
which was our new two-hour comedy block.”
Two new sitcoms, Dads and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, are designed to bring more men to the
night, though Fox is hoping to lure both genders
to the duo as well as returning New Girl
and The Mindy Project.

Strengthening Mondays is also a goal after
the network was caught short-handed with
the weak Mob Doctor last fall. Starting out,
the veteran Bones will be paired with the tonally
similar Sleepy Hollow on the night, with
Bones set to shift to Fridays in November to
make way for futuristic cop drama Almost Human.
And despite the scheduling of originals
on Fridays often not coming to fruition, Earley
insists Fox is serious about programming the
night this season with comedies Raising Hope
and, starting in January, Enlisted. “All the many
years that there was the threat of moving Bones,
this year it really is a strategic plan,” he says.

NBC: Returning Thurs. and 10 p.m. to Glory

While Monday and Tuesday were the key
nights for NBC last fall as it looked to draft off
the momentum of Sunday Night Football and
establish a second annual cycle of The Voice,
this season the network will turn its attention
to Thursday, where only one veteran comedy,
Parks and Recreation, remains.

Its biggest bet is The Michael J. Fox Show,
which received a straight-to-series, 22-episode
order for the TV series return of the Spin City
star. NBC has scheduled it at 9 p.m., paired
with fellow known star Sean Hayes in Sean
Saves the World
; the duo will go up against
CBS’ expansion into a two-hour Thursday
comedy block with Robin Williams’ The Crazy
Ones
and veteran Two and a Half Men.

The network also put a lot of effort into the
10 p.m. time period. On Thursdays, where the
local news lead-in belonged to the now-canceled
newsmagazine Rock Center With Brian
Williams
, D.O.A. drama Do No Harm and renewed
but softer-rated Hannibal last season,
NBC will relocate veteran drama Parenthood,
which commands a loyal audience. NBC’s
most promising new fall drama, The Blacklist,
will get the prime Monday time slot after The
Voice
(though it will go up against the similarly
dark CBS newcomer Hostages). Procedural
performer Chicago Fire moves to Tuesdays
at 10 p.m. and new Blair Underwood drama
Ironside takes the spot on Wednesdays, though
the latter has suffered critical early reviews.
The limited series Dracula, starring Jonathan
Rhys Meyers, will fill the period on Fridays.

At 10 p.m. and otherwise on its schedule,
NBC must break a new hit after finishing last
season without a top-10 scripted show. “Success
to me would be that we have a scripted
series and be gaining traction,” says Jeff Bader,
NBC president of program planning, strategy
and research. “With The Voice, America’s
Got Talent
, [American] Ninja Warrior, we
have alternative series doing well; we know
we need scripted series.”

Those shows gaining momentum will be
key if NBC hopes to avoid a repeat performance
of last season, which saw a muchimproved
fall collapse by midseason with the
loss of NFL football and The Voice. However,
the network has one fairly large safeguard
against that in 2014 with the Winter Olympic
Games in February, which it will use to propel
it into the spring. “Because of the Olympics,
it’s such a different season,” Bader says.

September
October