Help Wanted: Upfront Edition

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


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
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
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.


handed out 19 renewals for next season,
leaving—per usual—few open spots on
its primetime schedule. With Criminal
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
(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
and Mike & Molly is still a competitive

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
—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.


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.

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

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
, 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.


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.

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.”


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
, 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
, which proved an apt companion to Law & Order: SVU.

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.”