In their annual fall attempt to break away from programming clutter during the “official” opening week of the season (Sept. 22-28), the broadcast networks are going to hold back 33 series—including 14 new shows—and premiere them throughout October.
In past years, many of the networks tried breaking their new shows before official premiere week, but in most instances, even if those series got some good sampling early, once they faced off against all the competition, viewership was whittled away.
Delaying the premiere of series will allow the networks to run more fresh episodes as the season progresses with the possibility of airing those original episodes against some of the other networks’ repeats in the fourth quarter in a different kind of strategy play.
“I think this year more than any other year I can remember, there are more shows premiering after the traditional premiere week,” says Billie Gold, VP, director of buying/programming research at Carat. “The CW has always tried to premiere shows early and more recently later, since it’s hard for the network to compete with the big guys. But this year’s premiere are scattered across a month following premiere week.”
Sam Armando, senior VP, director of SMGx Strategic Intelligence, believes one of the reasons for fewer early fall premieres is that most of the broadcast networks “have more original summer programming that is leading into the new season.”
Beyond potentially keeping some viewers staying with a network until premiere week, but those summer series can also be used to promote the new fall shows.
Armando believes that some of the networks are premiering series a bit later to have more fresh episodes down the road. “I think that logic is dead-on,” he says. “Avoiding repeats has been a strong goal of the networks over the past few years. The low level of audiences tuning into repeats during the season really hurts a network’s overall ratings average. And in many cases, the series lost momentum when viewers didn’t come back after a lengthy run of consecutive repeats.”
NBC is premiering six series in October, including two returning shows—About a Boy (Oct. 14) and Grimm (Oct. 24)—as well as several new series—sitcoms Bad Judge and A to Z (Oct. 2) and Marry Me (Oct. 14) and drama Constantine (Oct. 24). NBC is also waiting to premiere drama State of Affairs until Monday, Nov. 17, when it takes over the time period of The Blacklist, which will return in first-quarter and move to Thursday night.
ABC will premiere six series after premiere week including returning drama Castle (Sept. 28), sitcom Last Man Standing (Oct. 3) and America’s Funniest Home Videos (Oct. 5). New series premiering outside the opening week include sitcoms Selfie and Manhattan Love Story on Sept. 30 and Cristela on Oct. 10.
Fox, which has postseason MLB playoff games and the World Series telecasts throughout October, is only premiering three series during the month—veteran drama Bones and freshman drama Gracepoint on Oct. 2 and new comedy Mulaney on Oct. 5. Fox will also premiere the second season of Masterchef Junior on Nov. 7.
CBS is premiering nine series after the official premiere week, including returning sitcom Mom and veteran drama NCIS: Los Angeles on Sept. 29. Returning series premiering in Oct. include drama Criminal Minds (Oct. 1), sitcoms 2 Broke Girls (Oct. 27), comedies The Millers and Two and a Half Men on (Oct. 30) and drama Elementary, also on Oct. 30. CBS will premiere new freshman drama Stalker on Oct. 1 and new sitcom The McCarthys Oct. 30.
In CBS’ case, the shows it will premiere on Thursday, Oct. 30 are being delayed because the network will be televising Thursday Night Football through Oct. 23.
The CW will premiere its entire schedule in October. Returning series premieres include dramas The Vampire Diaries and Reign on Oct. 2, The Originals on Oct. 6, Supernatural on Oct. 7, Arrow on Oct.8 and The 100 on Oct. 22. New drama The Flash will premiere on Oct. 8 and freshman drama Jane the Virgin on Oct. 13.
“The CW had some success, relative to the network, last year with its October premieres, so it doesn’t surprise me that they are adopting a similar strategy this fall,” Armando says.
NBC’s decision to launch new drama State of Affairs on Monday Nov. 17 (10 p.m.) behind The Voice with The Blacklist going on hiatus and then returning in February is liked by some agency execs and believed to be risky by others.
NBC will bring back The Blacklist leading out of the Super Bowl in a two-part episode concluding the following Thursday night at 10 in its new time period.
“I applaud what NBC is doing with The Blacklist,” says Carat’s Gold. “I’m not sure that I think the move to Thursday is the right thing, but I know it’s a lucrative advertising night for the networks and the show has become an established hit. It is risky, however, because so many viewers are used to it being on Monday nights. But relaunching it out of the Super Bowl is a brilliant strategy.”
Brian Hughes, senior VP, audience analysis, Magna Global, believes “it will likely be confusing for fans to have the show premiere in its old time period only to shift during the season. The move is a bit of a wildcard. However, NBC is certainly giving it every opportunity to succeed on Thursdays with tons of promotion in the post-Super Bowl slot. It may turn out to be a big win for them if the audience holds up.”
Carat’s Gold says one danger with premiering new shows after premiere week is that “viewers may find other new shows and get hooked [on].” She says while that scenario is a possibility, most of the networks in this era of fragmented TV audiences “feel that the staggered starts just offer the best chance of sampling.”
Gold believes that CBS moving The Big Bang Theory to Monday nights during the seven weeks that the network airs NFL games on Thursday will not hurt the viewership numbers that much, but adds that, “it is wise of them to hold back their other Thursday comedies until Big Bang returns to the night after football.”
Gold adds that while Big Bang will do fine in its new temporary Monday slot, she’s not sure that another scheduling move CBS is making is a sound one. “While CBS wants to give the new spinoff series NCIS: New Orleans a solid chance to succeed by airing it leading out of the original NCIS on Tuesday nights, moving NCIS: Los Angeles from that time period to Monday night at 10 is putting that series at risk of losing audience,” she says. “I think moving NCIS: Los Angeles to Monday nights could cause double-digit ratings erosion.”