Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle

Upfront Week, day two! Can you feel the excitement? No? Well, what about the confusion? Yeah, me too.

There's some TV conventional wisdom that a successful network doesn't make many changes to its schedule, season-to-season. So how do you explain ABC, at or near the top in most attractive demographic categories, unveiling a schedule with nine new fall shows and four veteran series -- including the network's most popular property -- changing nights? I'll give it a shot after the jump, starting with a run-down of the schedule (the press release on Futon Critic has descriptions of all the new shows):

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"

WEDNESDAY: 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)

What we've got here is an illustration of exactly how fragile ABC's success the last two years has been. Basically, the network was carried to the top entirely on the backs of four shows: "Grey's," "Housewives," "Lost" and "Home Edition." Everything else is a total crapshoot. "Dancing" has a big audience but skews really old, and the network can't air it twice a season like CBS can with "Survivor." There are a few singles hitters ("Boston Legal," "20/20," the Monday reality shows), but to stick with the baseball metaphor, the rest of the lineup for the last few years hasn't even been at replacement level.

There's room for a lot of growth here, but there's no realistic way a network -- even one with the great promotional platforms of the Big Four -- can launch this many new shows or let people know about this many scheduling moves. Better to keep suffering with the likes of "Hope & Faith" and "Invasion" for at least a few months into the fall, then do staggered launches of most of the new stuff.

I do like the "Grey's" move. Whatever creative issues I may have had with the latter third of this season (and, again, Cone of Silence on the finale until I see it), it's the strongest thing ABC has, and it's the thematic opposite of "CSI" in virtually every way: young, female, soapy, focused on relationships over procedure, etc., etc. Two shows can co-exist in that timeslot. "CSI" and "The Apprentice" both did great back when "The Apprentice" was still good (i.e., the first season), as did "CSI" and "Will & Grace" back in the day. If both shows have audiences and are different enough stylistically, the "if you build it, they will come" theory works. (Though ABC sure could have helped matters by giving "Grey's" an actual lead-in, like maybe moving the "Dancing" results show to Thursday.)

I also like that McPherson is smart enough to get rid of the "Lost" rerun problem. (Seven originals will air in the fall, followed by Taye Diggs in "Day Break" for the rest of '06, followed by "Lost" originals straight through the rest of the season.) The "24" solution of just delaying the season until January so you can go straight through without a break is probably better, but I also think fans would scream bloody murder if they had to wait that long to resolve whatever the latest cliffhanger will be.

Until I watch the new shows, I don't want to comment too much, but I like the idea and creative pedigree of "Let's Rob Mick Jagger," or whatever they wind up calling it. On the other hand, was anybody screaming for the return of Calista Flockhart to the public eye?

One of the more curious moves is the return of "What About Brian." I have the last three episodes sitting on my TiVo and had been preparing to delete them, since I don't really have the time to keep up with a doomed relationship show. But I like it enough that I'll find the time to watch those three at some point soon. One of my friends who's the head of scheduling at another network has this theory that a show with a small audience can grow, but that once you start to lose a sizable part of your audience, they're never coming back. Something like "In Justice" opened well, then went off the table. "Brian" never really opened, not even with the Sunday preview, so there's still room for growth. (On the other hand, if you're being cynical, this is just a Suck Up to J.J. move.)

In general, I wouldn't get too attached to most of these new shows. "Brian" and "Dancing" are the only new shows ABC introduced this season that survived ("Commander in Chief" may get a two-hour wrap-up movie), and that was a more stable schedule than this one.


Anonymous said...

Questions, questions: Was the Grey's move in response to Studio 60? I heard Sorkin's show didn't exactly light up the house. And is Studio 60 doomed in the Greys-CSI sandwich? Or, as TWoPers are speculating, will this somehow hurt Grey's?

doogald said...

I *hate* the Grey's move. We like CSI, I really want to watch Studio 60 on NBC, and my wife loves Grey's - with only a two tuner DVR, somebody goes home angry.

Why do they pull crap like this anyway? Why risk killing a successful show, just on the crapshoot that you can knock CSI down a peg or two? The likely result is that CBS, with Survivor leading in, and NBC, with Earl and the Office leading in, will win this battle, and Grey's/ABC will lose.

Adam said...

I had assumed the Grey's move was to Mondays at 10; this makes little sense to me unless you really want to keep your foot on NBC's throat.

Devin McCullen said...

I'm bummed (but not shocked) that Invasion got dumped; I suspect that they just took too long to really get the storylines going and too many people tuned out. I haven't actually watched What About Brian, so maybe it's better than the buzz I was hearing.

The new shows sound like they're working too hard to come up with weird concepts. OTOH, a show with Hope Davis AND Campbell Scott is going to have good stuff almost by default. Same for a comedy with Donal Logue (not that the description makes a lick of sense)

On the Grey's move....it does make sense to get it off of Sundays when you've got problems somwhere else, and Thursdays were an absolute wasteland for ABC this year. They pretty much know what the stuff they have on Monday is going to do there, I guess they're happy with it. It'll be interesting to see how it all plays out.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I think the odds of Studio 60 still being scheduled for Thursdays at 9 in the fall are about as good as the odds of me becoming Mariano Rivera's lefty set-up man (especially since I throw righty). Reilly said yesterday they were prepared to switch things around after they saw what everyone else was doing; at the time, the rumor was Grey's to Mondays at 9, and he was hinting that Heroes might get moved under that circumstance.

I really don't think ABC is thinking about Studio 60 at all with this move. Thursday is, by far, the most profitable night of the week, thanks to movie and car advertising. Grey's pulling, say, 18 million viewers on Thursday is more valuable to them than it pulling 20 million on Mondays or even its current 22 million on Sundays.

Grey's is a big hit; Studio 60 is an untested show with an iffy concept (showbiz insider shows almost never work away from HBO) and a cast of big names but no big draws (Matthew Perry's post-Friends guest appearances never gave a bump to any show he was on, and his failure to boost Ally McBeal's ratings effectively killed that show.)

We'll see.

marc b. said...

Nice VORP joke in this entry!

And do watch those episodes of WHAT ABOUT BRIAN sitting on your dvr. The show continued to do all the little things just right.

Dan said...

I agree that ABC might be a tad ambitious with the new shows; and that rolling them out may be a better idea. The Friday shows seem destined to be DOA, but who knows? Speaking of which, with "Betty the Ugly", "Men in Trees" joining "Grey's Anatomy" and "Desperate Housewives", has ABC officially become the chick network? What with "The Bachelor", "Wife Swap" and "Supernanny" too.

Also, it looks like MacPherson has given up on creating steady, long-lasting procedurals, and instead focusing on big-idea shows or shows about relationships. Both require the viewers to return week after week, which is fine, but the burnout rate will also be high. Wouldn't it be wiser to diversify?

Matt said...

What About Brian (which is pretty darn good, and left the characters at a very awkward and interesting place) and Six Degrees also seem to me to be "chick shows." There is one circumstance where I can see Studio 60 not moving--and that is if CBS moves Without A Trace to Sundays, as rumored. If I'm ABC, I then flip Grey's and Six Degrees, and finally put ER out of its misery once and for all.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Matt, moving Grey's to 10 would be a mistake for a lot of reasons. First, you would have two straight hours of brand-new shows leading off the night. (I expect the sitcoms to tank, but at least "Six Degrees" will have a lead-in.) Second, "CSI" is the perfect big hit for "Grey's" to go against because they're opposites in virtually every way. "ER," even in its death rattle, still has an audience and has enough elements in common with "Grey's" (setting, focus on relationships over procedure, angst, mass casualities, etc., etc.) that the numbers for "Grey's" probably wouldn't be as big as they could at 9.

And Dan, I just don't think procedurals have a place on ABC, any more than "Love Monkey" fit in on CBS. For better or worse, networks have identities and people expect to find certain kinds of shows on certain networks. Those identities can change over time, but right now ABC is the home of high-concept serials with hottie-laden casts. The abject failure of "The Evidence" and "In Justice" just reminded McPherson to be who he is.

Anonymous said...

I think this is the beginning of the end for Desperate Housewives. You're only about your timeslot. The OC lesson of 2 years ago should be remembred. Wrong timeslot equals death.

It wont for Grey's which is much bigger and had a longer time to incubate. But Desperate Housewvies has benefitted from the Grey's draft - making it look hipper and sexier than it is. Now it will age faster than cheese left out on a hot day. (sorry, bad analogy, not writer.) To be paired with maybe two of the least likeable women on tv - Calista Flockhart and Rachel Griffiths - is beyond awful.

So ABC is going to have to hype all these new shows and get viewers to Thursdays for Greys.


And I love that Studio 60 is already overhyped and over.

Eric said...

Here's a thought - and I'm sure this isn't what the network is thinking, but it's an interesting experiment. Put 3+ popular shows up against each other, then see what effect it has on downloads. I don't watch CSI or Grays, so I'm in for Studio 60, but there may be other timeslots where I'll be relying on iTunes (or Bittorrent) as my regular means of watching the show.

Mac said...

Where does Studio 60 move? Heroes' spot on Monday looks like NBC's best slot for a new show, but then you have to find a place for it.

Louis said...

Studio 60 is so unappealing. I've never been an Aaron Sorkin fan, and Matthew Perry was amusing for about two months, twelve years ago. Plus, the cast includes no-talent pretty boy Steven Weber.

Alan Sepinwall said...

My guess is Studio 60 and Heroes flop timeslots, unless the chilly reception to Studio 60 at the upfront presentation convinces Reilly not to go crazy trying to save it. (Then again, Sports Night got the same reaction when ABC screened a cut-down of it years ago; I just don't think Aaron's stuff excerpts very well.)

The other possibility is flopping Studio 60 with the two Wednesday sitcoms, but that would put it up against Lost.

Matt said...

The best flip I can come up with fro NBC is the Wednesday sitcoms to Thursday at 9 (where they'll probably be the only sitcoms on the board), Medium to Wednesday at 9 (where it can female/older skew adequately against AI and Lost), and S60 to Mondays at 10. Without football on the night on network TV and after 24/Prison Break would seem to be a sensible slot for a show that is male targeted.

Byron said...

Keep in mind that this kind of chatter and buzz, plus the help of free publicity from outlets like EW, newspapers, entertainment shows, will do a lot of the heavy lifting for ABC in its move of Grey's to Thursdays. It will be the battle everyone will be talking about.

I suspect Studio 60 is already on the move, but NBC has limited options, considering it's moved it comedies to the 8 o'clock hour. Perhaps they flip them. By all accounts, it fell flat yesterday in its presentation. Having seen the presentation, the show seems smartly writte but WAYYYYY inside.

Don't underestimate Dancing. Keep in mind, it's a live show with a big draw that grows. My guess is they will likely start Dancing a week or two before the start of the season and use it as a launching pad to promote its big new shows on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

ABC was very bold, much the way CBS was 5 years ago when it moved Survivor and launched CSI against NBC's much touted Thursday.

Matt said...

Allegedly, Studio 60 has a contractual clause guaranteeing it a 9 or 10 PM slot, and given the content in the pilot script, that's a necessity--airing it at the "family hour" would given Brent Bozell an aneurysm (not that that'd be a problem for me personally). I don't understand why NBC and ABC seem to be commited to ceding Monday, especially Monday at 10, to CBS. CSI: Miami seems to be pretty universally reviled, and if there was SOMETHING else offered then with some male appeal, I think it could do well.