Help Wanted: Upfront Edition

What's working—and isn't—at the Big Five broadcast nets, and what each most needs this fall


ABC

WHERE THEY STAND: The network has a fair amount of dramas that work, but a creatively uneven Revenge this season proved not to be the Sunday beachhead ABC hoped it would. And the show’s Wednesday successor, the freshman Nashville, has an upscale demo but struggles to get enough live eyeballs. Though The Bachelor saw a resurgence this year, the same can’t be said for Dancing With the Stars, which despite an all-star cycle is getting a little long in the tooth. Tuesdays have been a weak spot, with a failed two-comedy block of Happy Endings and Don’t Trust the B---- and a sinking Body of Proof. And while the net has managed to put a comedy stake in the ground on Fridays with the multi-cams Last Man Standing and Malibu Country, neither is assured a return ticket for the fall.

WHAT’S WORKING: Dramas Once Upon a Time, Castle, Grey’s Anatomy (still a competitor nine seasons in) and the red-hot Scandal continue to deliver in the female demos. Modern Family is still a comedic force even if its audience has plateaued (though that may change with a syndication debut this fall), and The Middle remains steady. And reality favorite Shark Tank has helped ABC consistently win Fridays among viewers 18-49.

WHAT’S NEEDED: With Modern Family entering its fifth season, ABC has to pop another breakout comedy while it can still count on the launch pad— more than Suburgatory, The Neighbors or newcomer How to Live With Your Parents have proven to be. And if the net hopes to recruit male viewers with the Marvel project S.H.I.E.L.D., it will have to do so without alienating its female core (as the failed Last Resort showed). “When we hit a ball out of the park, it’s because it’s a show women come to and men also love to watch,” says Channing Dungey, ABC senior VP of drama development.

CBS

WHERE THEY STAND: CBS has already handed out 19 renewals for next season, leaving—per usual—few open spots on its primetime schedule. With Criminal Minds expected to join that list once new deals with the show’s cast members are hammered out, CSI: NY and the freshman dramas Vegas and Golden Boy are assumed dead, as well as, possibly, the veteran comedy Rules of Engagement (though the smart money knows never to count that show out). Dramas The Mentalist, Hawaii Five-0, Blue Bloods and CSI are solid performers, and The Good Wife has settled in on Sundays with its critical cachet.

WHAT’S WORKING: The network often won Tuesdays this season with the onetwo punch of NCIS and NCIS: LA (and it could be adding a third edition of the franchise for 2013-14). And Thursdays are a juggernaut with the smash Big Bang Theory, successfully relocated Two and a Half Men, growing Person of Interest (now a top-five show in total viewers) and new hit Elementary. While CBS faced tougher competition last fall from The Voice, its Monday comedy block of How I Met Your Mother, 2 Broke Girls and Mike & Molly is still a competitive second.

WHAT’S NEEDED: With its one freshman comedy Partners a flop and HIMYM (and possibly Two and a Half Men) entering its final season, the pressure is on to find a new hit comedy, especially given CBS’ failure so far to successfully launch a new franchise out of Big Bang Theory—the biggest comedy in years— on Thursdays. And though Survivor still puts up solid numbers 26 cycles in, CBS would be wise to look for its next reality beachhead, given Survivor’s record ratings lows this season and the quick cancellation of rookie The Job.

THE CW

WHERE THEY STAND: Though its freshman crop was mixed this season, Wednesdays anchored by Arrow and Thursdays by The Vampire Diaries have brought some stability to the network’s schedule. “I think we’re in a better position and have more chips to play than we did a year ago,” says CW president Mark Pedowitz. Hart of Dixie and Beauty and the Beast have earned renewals despite modest ratings. But the fates of lowrated Nikita and freshman The Carrie Diaries remain uncertain. And 90210 is burning off its final season.

WHAT’S WORKING: The CW got a much-needed breakout hit in the comic bookinspired Arrow, which brought male viewers back to the network and helped reinvigorate the eight-seasonsold Supernatural. The Vampire Diaries remains the net’s top-rated show, and a spinoff, The Originals, already has an early pickup for next season.

WHAT’S NEEDED:
While Pedowitz says the priority is keeping Wednesdays strong and making Thursdays stronger, he also wants to make some big statements on Tuesdays, where rookies Emily Owens, M.D. and Cult failed this season. The network’s development follows in the path of its strongest working shows—Arrow, Supernatural and Vampire Diaries. In contention are the sci-fi entries The Hundred and The Tomorrow People, an alien-human romance in Oxygen, and the redeveloped Hunger Games-esque The Selection. “We have found what is working for us, so we’ll continue to go down the path of what’s working,” Pedowitz says.

FOX

WHERE THEY STAND: As expected, the network will finish the season out of first place in the adults 18-49 demo for the first time in nine years. With three hours of its 15-hour schedule devoted to The X Factor and American Idol, Fox is taking a hit from the saturation of the music competition space, especially since Factor has not been invigorated by the addition of Britney Spears and Demi Lovato, and Idol has hit its lowest ratings since its debut season. While New Girl, Raising Hope and The Mindy Project are all returning in the fall, the block struggled to draw enough viewers this season, as evidenced by the cancelation of freshman Ben and Kate.

WHAT’S WORKING:
The Following delivered in midseason and is now jockeying for bragging rights of toprated new drama with NBC’s Revolution. Veterans Bones and Glee, both already renewed for next season, also continue to put up solid ratings.

WHAT’S NEEDED: Given it was caught short-handed on the drama side last fall, Fox needs a deeper bench next season; among its options are a J.J. Abrams cop show set in 2048 and the legal drama Rake starring Greg Kinnear. To grow its Tuesday comedy lineup, Fox developed more male-appealing and multigenerational pilots, like Seth McFarlane’s Dads (already picked up for six episodes) and a workplace comedy starring Andy Samberg. And though X Factor and Idol still pull relatively big ratings, they’re likely due for another tune-up, as the talent jockeying on X Factor shows. “Everything’s under a microscope, everything is being discussed,” says Fox Broadcasting COO Joe Earley. “The shows are just too important to us to just take for granted.”

NBC

WHERE THEY STAND: It was a roller-coaster year for NBC, to say the least: While Sunday Night Football and The Voice helped the network to its best fall in almost a decade, its schedule collapsed in midseason with a basement-scraping debut for Do No Harm, a shockingly low return for Smash and an embarrassing fifth-place finish in the February sweeps. While Go On and The New Normal got off to decent starts behind The Voice, they too fell off in January. And with 30 Rock and The Office bidding adieu, the net still finds itself without any comedy launch pads.

WHAT’S WORKING: The Voice proved its worth by successfully mounting two cycles this season, guaranteeing another two runs in 2013-14 with mixing and matching of its now-expanded judges roster. NBC has at least two freshman series returning in the fall: Revolution, though curtailed by a fourth-month hiatus, is still strong at 10 p.m.; and Chicago Fire, which proved an apt companion to Law & Order: SVU.

WHAT’S NEEDED:
In addition to nurturing Revolution better than it did Smash, NBC needs to again use Mondays and Tuesdays to launch new anchors out of The Voice. And though Parks and Recreation and probably Community will likely be renewed, some new comedies will have to break out on Thursday as the network continues dismantling the night. Its best shot is the much-anticipated Michael J. Fox comedy, already picked up for 22 episodes, which will likely be the cornerstone of an attempted rebuilt comedy block. NBC also needs to better keep the momentum going in its lineup between cycles of The Voice, which it hopes the Winter Olympics will do in 2014. “You can’t just count on the fall anymore,” says NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke. “The Sochi Olympics will be really important to us.”