With nearly $2 billion in annual Wednesday primetime ad dollars at
stake (per researcher Kantar Media), the broadcast networks made a boatload of
scheduling moves on Wednesday nights for the fall, adding seven new programs
while bringing three returning shows to new time periods.
But according to
buyers and sellers attending this year's upfront presentations, one battle
stands out as a potential game changer-the one between the competition shows.
The combatants: Fox's new talent search entry, The X Factor, which will go head-to-head with CBS' aging stalwart Survivor at 8 p.m.
The X Factor is from Simon Cowell's Syco Television and
FreemantleMedia North America. Freemantle originally brought American Idol, a British import (as is Factor) to Fox a decade ago and it has
been a huge hit ever since. Cowell of course played a major role in the first
nine seasons of Idol as the "villainous"
judge who seemed to revel in mocking contestants who weren't to his liking.
Joining him on the new show is Paula Abdul, a co-panelist with Cowell on Idol for eight seasons.
Fox has the most to
gain on the night next season. The network is betting (and praying) that The X Factor, will deliver an Idol-size audience that puts it on the
map in the fourth quarter, where its track record has been lackluster in recent
years. In past seasons shows like Idol
and the now-cancelled 24 have debuted
in the first quarter with ratings large enough to make its year. This year,
roughly 24 million people tuned in to Idol
on Wednesdays per Nielsen, and the show was top-ranked among viewers 18-49 for
If The X Factor takes off, says Bill
Carroll, VP programming, Katz Television Group, "the network would have a
year-round schedule." A pivotal ingredient, he adds, is how well the
contestants are cast. "I think there will be a lot of buzz and sampling," he
says. "The real question is whether the audience becomes invested in the
successfully shifted Survivor to
Wednesdays from Thursdays a year ago, and it held up fairly well against Idol this year. Last fall, Survivor Nicaragua won its time period
and in midseason, Survivor: Redemption
Island was a solid second to Idol,
losing about 10 percent of its audience compared to the Nicaragua installment,
per Nielsen. That said, "CBS has to be concerned," according to one buyer,
about how well the show will perform against X Factor, which, like Idol,
has been a big hit in the UK.
While Fox and CBS
will duke it out with competition shows, ABC and NBC will have dueling comedy
blocks kicking off the night. The big difference is that ABC's block has three
returning sitcoms, firmly anchored by the hit Modern Family. The show turned in the second-best performance on
Wednesday nights among adults 18-49, during the just-ended regular season,
behind only Idol.
Kicking off the
night for ABC is The Middle, a solid
performer headed into its third year. That will be followed by the new Suburgatory, about a Manhattan teen
whose family moves to (gasp!) the suburbs. Following Modern Family at 9 is the returning Happy Endings.
Meanwhile, NBC is
in rebuild mode Wednesday nights. Launching a new show is difficult under any
circumstances and even more so without an established lead-in program to feed
it an audience. But NBC is attempting to do just that with a new 8 to 9 comedy
block. The shows are Up All Night,
about new and harried parents, and the workplace comedy Free Agents.
Buyers at the
upfront presentations said NBC has its work cut out for it, going up against
ABC's well established sitcom block. That said, they concede that one thing the
NBC shows have going for them is the talent-Christina Applegate and Will Arnett
(Up All Night) and Hank Azaria (Free Agents) are among the best known
comedic talents to TV audiences, they say. To help draw attention to the night,
the network is moving David E. Kelley's quirky sophomore drama Harry's Law to anchor the night at 9.
Last season, that series, costarring Kathy Bates, was competitive in total
audience on Monday nights, though it lagged behind CBS' Hawaii Five-0 and ABC's Castle
Buyers will also be
watching the competition at 10 p.m., where mayhem will rule with the aging but
still potent CSI moving from
Thursdays, where it will now take on NBC's popular Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. This season, CSI drew about 12 million viewers while SVU garnered about 7.6 million. Also
joining the 10 p.m. fracas: ABC's Revenge,
a new serial drama set in the Hamptons.
Bottom line, buyers
say: Fox could win all the marbles Wednesday night if The X Factor lives up to half its hype, and establishes itself as a
year-round player in the network TV business.