Improved Fall Leads to Less Midseason DesperationWith rookie hits in hand, most networks looking to supplement, not salvage, season 12/05/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern
The appearance of American Idol
and The Voice promotions during Sunday
NFL game telecasts means the
broadcast networks are starting to set their
sights on midseason.
But unlike this time last year, when the fall
had failed to produce a new broadcast hit, each
of the Big Four networks boasts at least one
rookie show they can feel hopeful about going
forward. As such, there is less desperation—
generally speaking—heading into January to
find something that works.
“There’s been a lot more progress in terms of
the networks, particularly ABC and Fox, establishing
a year-round schedule and being competitive
in the fall,” says Bill Carroll, VP/director
of programming at Katz Television Group.
That early progress is reflected
in the midseason schedules of
ABC, Fox and always-steady CBS,
which will seek to plug the few
holes left by canceled or off-cycle
shows and get a few more hits under
NBC, however, after struggling
through the fall, will essentially
blow up its schedule come January,
with time-period moves for
Whitney, Rock Center With Brian
Williams, Up All Night and Harry’s
Law, along with launching at least
four new series.
NBC signaled at its May upfront that it was pinning
this season’s hopes on February, with the Super Bowl,
the return of The Voice and the critically anticipated
Smash. The schedule shake-up seems a smart enough
strategy, given that the network doesn’t have much
“They need to do whatever they can to find a little
spark,” says a rival network executive. “So the shows
that they feel strongest about, they really need to give
them the best possible chance to succeed.”
NBC brass remains cautiously optimistic about the
musical drama Smash—cautious because of the burden
of high expectations that comes with being the buzziest
new show. And while being a critical darling can often be
the kiss of death for a new series,
Smash’s pairing with the musically
themed Voice should give it
a solid amount of sampling.
“I will be very surprised if the combination of the return
of The Voice not having to compete directly against
Dancing With the Stars and Smash don’t have a positive
impact on NBC,” Carroll says.
Launching Second Chances
Led by strong freshman entries New Girl and The
X Factor, the network finally has a pulse on multiple
nights in the fall. Rivals will surely watch, as they do
every year, for erosion in American Idol, but given the
series’ thriving despite a judging panel overhaul and
time-period change last season, the smart money is not
betting against it.
Going into January with stability, Fox can instead
focus on launching another half-hour comedy, the revived
Breaking In, and trying to pop new dramas
such as Bones spinoff The Finder and J.J. Abrams’
latest, Alcatraz. The net also has Kiefer Sutherland
returning to its air in Touch, which Fox feels strongly
enough about to preview out of Idol about two
months before its premiere.
“It’s a show that after people see it, they’ll want to
talk about it,” Preston Beckman, Fox executive VP of
strategic program planning and research, says of Touch.
CBS will try, once again, to launch a new comedy
out of The Big Bang Theory on Thursday, a feat that
has eluded the most-watched network twice before.
CBS, like the other broadcast nets, is committed to
more comedy on its schedule in general and needs
an entry that can break out on its own. In January,
it will try again with ¡Rob!, a family sitcom starring
“When you have hit comedies, you do need to use
them to try to find other hit comedies,” says Kelly Kahl,
senior executive VP, CBS primetime. “We’ll keep trying.”
ABC will also try again on Thursday in its own
problem time slot, 8 p.m., where it plans to premiere
the Ashley Judd drama Missing in March in hopes of
getting something to stick where Charlie’s Angels (this
year) and My Generation (last fall) floundered.
ABC is also counting on soapy drama GCB to take
over the Desperate Housewives throne on Sundays; it
will launch the former out of Desperate’s final season
starting in March. ABC is taking the same strategy of
rolling out its premieres gradually as it did in the fall,
which paid off for the net in new hits such as Once
Upon a Time and Suburgatory.
“Fingers crossed that we’ll continue to have some
more successful launches,” says Jeff Bader, ABC executive
VP, planning, scheduling and distribution. “It’s
been a good first [part] of the year for us.”
And stocking the coffers instead of starting over is a
good position for any network to be in at midseason.
“I think everybody has a couple of pieces they can
bring back next year and feel pretty good about,” says
one network executive. “At this point it’s really just
about trying to find a couple more pieces, because you
can never have too many good shows.”