In one of the biggest scheduling showdowns in years, ABC is shifting its second-strongest show—Grey’s Anatomy—to Thursday night, creating a major showdown at 9 pm. ET with CBS’ top show, CSI.
The move is terrible news for NBC, which Monday slotted its top new show for the same time period, the Aaron Sorkin-created drama Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which is set behind the scenes at a Saturday Night Live-like show.
The move by ABC is an audacious attempt by the network to become a player on Thurday nights for the first time in years. Other than a couple of reality show successes, ABC has barely even attempted to take on shows like NBC’s Friends and CBS’ Survivor and CSI. Yet Thursdays are the biggest revenue nights in television, when movie companies and other advertisers try to hammer their message home to viewers right before they go dating and shopping on the weekend.
Grey’s was a surprise hit that initially aired as a midseason show last year after ABC’s biggest hit, Desperate Housewives. This season, Grey’s surprised even ABC executives and started beating Housewives in the Nielsens some weeks. That helped give ABC President Steve McPherson the confidence that the show didn’t need the strong lead-in and could be used to anchor another night.
ABC had widely been expected to move the show, but to the safer Mondays, not the most competitive night of the week.
“The biggest thing we had coming into this year was whether to move Grey’s,” McPherson said at a press briefing on the new schedule Tuesday. He said he credited both the strength of the show and the strength of the slate of shows ABC has in development. “The good thing is that it would open up a number of launching pads,” he said, both on Thursday’s and Sundays. “The challenge of that is, you have to fill those launching pads.”
ABC is taking Thursdays so seriously that it’s bumping its long-running Primetime Live from the regular schedule. The newsmagazine has long been cannon fodder, an inexpensive show to sacrifice at 10 p.m. ET to NBC’s ER and CBS’ Without a Trace.
Primetime Live is slated to return to the schedule eventually as a series of specials and probably as a mid-season replacement for new shows that fizzle. The network has picked up a full season.
ABC wasn’t going to devote a slot with such a valuable Grey’s lead-in to a newsmagazine, so it has awarded that slot to star producer J.J. Abrams’ (Lost and Alias) new series, Six Degrees. The show tracks six New York strangers who are all connected by "a mysterious web of seeming coincidence and happenstance that draws them together and changes their lives forever."
McPherson said “it couldn’t be more compatible with Grey’s Anatomy.”
Other series on the network include comedies Betty the Ugly, Big Day, Help Me Help You, In Case of Emergency, Let’s Rob… and Notes From the Underbelly. The six new drama series, along with Degrees, are Brothers & Sisters, Day Break, Men in Trees, The Nine and Traveler. New reality series debuts will include Set for the Rest of Your Life, Just for Laughs and Greg Behrendt’s Wake-Up Call.
Brothers & Sisters (Calista Flockhart, of Ally McBeal): gets the plum post-Desperate Housewives slot at 10 p.m. Sundays. The Nine will run in place of the cancelled Invasion after Lost—which airs for seven episodes in the fall, then returns midseason, running uninterrupted without reruns for the remainder of the season at 10 p.m. Wednesdays. Dancing With the Stars will launch in the 8 p.m. Tuesday time period, with Set for the Rest of Your Life later moving into the time period.
The network renewed Lost, Desperate Housewives, Boston Legal, Dancing With the Stars, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, George Lopez, Supernanny, freshman What About Brian, According to Jim, America’s Funniest Home Videos, American Inventor (which had been considered to be on the fence), a revived version of The Bachelor and Wife Swap.
ABC also announced that ABC Saturday Night College Football will start Sept. 2 at 8 p.m. ET, televising 12 games, including the Dr. Pepper Big 12 Championship Dec. 2.
From Tuesday through Saturday, only three shows--Boston Legal, Lost and 20/20 --are the same as last season, with the rest either new shows or returning shows on new days or in new time periods.
Of the frustrations of last season, including the tanking of critically acclaimed Commander in Chief, McPherson said, "We'll take our lumps and move on."
He said there could yet be a two-hour Chief movie in the offing. McPherson said the network would be patient with What About Brian, which only aired a few times at the end of the season, saying he feels it is headed in the right direction. McPherson said that, while there has been a lot of talk about multiplatform at this upfront, the bottom line is the content rather than the delivery.
New shows are in bold.
8:00 p.m. “Wife Swap”
9:00 p.m. “The Bachelor”/”Supernanny”
10:00 p.m. “What About Brian”
8:00 p.m. “Dancing with the Stars” (new night)/”Set for the Rest of Your Life” (new alternative series)
9:00 p.m. “Let’s Rob…” (new comedy series)
9:30 p.m. “Help Me Help You” (new comedy series)
10:00 p.m. “Boston Legal”
8:00 p.m. “Dancing with the Stars” (new night)/”George Lopez”/
“According to Jim” (new night)
9:00 p.m. “Lost”
10:00 p.m. “The Nine” (new drama series)
8:00 p.m. “Big Day” (new comedy series)
8:30 p.m. “Notes from the Underbelly” (new comedy series)
9:00 p.m. “Grey’s Anatomy” (new night and time)
10:00 p.m. “Six Degrees” (new drama series)
8:00 p.m. “Betty the Ugly” (new comedy series)
9:00 p.m. “Men in Trees” (new drama series)
10:00 p.m. “20/20”
8:00 p.m. “ABC Saturday Night College Football”
7:00 p.m. “America’s Funniest Home Videos”
8:00 p.m. “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”
9:00 p.m. “Desperate Housewives”
10:00 p.m. “Brothers & Sisters” (new drama series)