Nets Have Second Chance to Make First Impression

For broadcasters, winter means putting midseason strategies into play

For the broadcast networks that had an encouraging or disappointing fall, the time for celebrating or suffering is short, as every January brings a reset button and the chance to salvage—or screw up—a season. With the networks fresh off touting their midseason strategies at last week’s semiannual Television Critics Association press tour, here are the weaknesses each programmer needs to repair this winter.

ABC: Fixing Problem Time Periods

ABC’s fall season was littered with modest performers (The Neighbors, Nashville, Malibu Country), but some outright failures—666 Park Avenue and Last Resort— added to the growing count of ABC series that have disappointed in the Sunday 10 p.m. and Thursday 8 p.m. time slots, respectively.

Following last season’s Charlie’s Angels and Missing, the mysterious thriller Zero Hour is the latest series to be given the tall order of self-starting on the night of ABC’s Thursday dramas Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. The more promising pairing could be the female-centered Red Widow following Revenge on Sundays. The net certainly needs a drama hit at the hour—its experiment to air comedies Happy Endings and Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 in the time slot drew anemic ratings on Jan. 6.

CBS: Strengthening Monday Nights

With the most stable schedule, CBS doesn’t need a midseason Hail Mary, but after Partners failed this fall and Friend Me stalled with the unfortunate passing of series creator Alan Kirschenbaum, the network is calling in veteran comedy Rules of Engagement to try boosting its Monday ratings.

Rules has been in this position before, having come in on Thursdays in previous seasons to air after The Big Bang Theory, a move that has saved it from many a bubble cancellation. Also helping CBS on Mondays: NBC’s The Voice is taking a midseason hiatus.

The CW: Launching a Trendsetting Series

With Gossip Girl having bid a final “XOXO” in December, The CW needs a replacement more akin to GG’s buzzy, brand-defining early seasons than its deflated final one. Enter The Carrie Diaries, a Sex and the City prequel series about a young Carrie Bradshaw in 1980s New York. In a bid to draw the most young-skewing viewers, the net will air the first episode three times during its premiere week. “It’s just all about trying to get more eyeballs in front of it as quickly as possible,” said Thom Sherman, executive VP of development at The CW.

Fox: Building a Loyal ‘Following’

Fox entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly didn’t sugarcoat his network’s dismal fall when he said Fox limped its way to the end of 2012. “At Fox, we’re struggling right now, because we didn’t put on a big hit,” he said. “When we do, this picture will look very different overnight.”

The network is hoping it has that hit in its sole new midseason entry, The Following, a dark thriller starring Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy about an escaped serial killer and his cult of followers. While Fox’s new Tuesday comedies Ben and Kate and The Mindy Project struggled to get much sampling last fall, the network is counting on The Following’s high concept to drive appointment viewing.

The Following is something we’re going to want people on board with from the get-go, and I think they will be,” Reilly said.

NBC: Salvaging Must-See Thursday

The Peacock’s Sunday-through-Tuesday momentum strategy paid off famously this fall with Sunday Night Football and The Voice helping to launch key new series. But with the loss of those marquee properties in January, it’s a much different picture at NBC, whose top midseason priority is the new comedy 1600 Penn, billed as Modern Family in the White House.

With 30 Rock and The Office both approaching their series finales, launching a new Thursday comedy franchise is crucial, though 1600 Penn’s Office lead-in isn’t the cushy launch pad it used to be. Also vital: getting back to the night’s top drama tradition, with newsmagazine Rock Center With Brian Williams shifting to Fridays.

“It was time, I think, to get back to drama on Thursday at 10,” NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt said at TCA. Toward that end, the network has tapped Do No Harm, about a neurosurgeon leading a double life, which will try to succeed where last season’s Awake, about a cop leading a double life, failed.

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