It was a busy week as the broadcast networks unveiled their fall schedules to advertisers in their annual upfront event. They had new shows to reveal with elaborate trailers, older ones to cancel and upset their fan bases (sorry, “Last Man Standing”), and new schedules for the few of us left who aren’t time-shifting or streaming everything to find what conflicts they’ve created.
In this DVR/on-demand/streaming era, scheduling conflicts don’t mean as much, but there are still plenty of viewers who watch the traditional way. CBS built a whole network on their backs, and gave them more of the same whitebread procedurals. Revivals are big this year with “The X-Files” returning again, alongside “Will & Grace” and “American Idol,” though the latter is being held for mid-season by new home ABC. Networks are sticking with live event programming to try and bolster sagging ratings, while a couple of them are pairing like-minded shows in an attempt to minimize channel-flipping from those who are tuning in live.
Here’s a network-by-network breakdown of the highs and lows of Upfronts Week 2017:
HIGH With a two-hour block of programming every night instead of the usual three (for ABC, CBS and NBC), FOX decided to try more synergy each night in hopes of keeping viewers throughout their programming. Mondays pairs supernatural “Lucifer” with “The Gifted,” set in the X-Men Universe. Tuesday is for laughs with “Lethal Weapon” leading into “The Mick” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” Wednesdays brings soapy dramas “Empire” and “Star,” while Thursday pairs “Gotham” with Seth MacFarlane’s space epic “The Orville.”
LOW Tuesday comedy night might be in trouble, facing stiff competition from ABC’s established comedy block, and NBC’s push into the night with “Superstore” and “The Good Place.” That latter block is getting a strong lead-in from “The Voice.” Speaking of which, “Lethal Weapon” is going to have to go up against that show, along with “NCIS” on CBS and ABC’s comedy. Tuesdays is more comedy on one night than we’ve seen in over a decade, and somebody’s going to have to lose.
LOW “American Idol” went to ABC. It’s a blow for FOX in a couple of ways. For one, this was one of the network’s signature shows, so losing it doesn’t look good at all. Then, if it comes back as anything close to what it was -- it was still ratings dominant when they cancelled it -- FOX now gets to see what it’s like to program against it. Hint: It’s not fun.
HIGH “The X-Files” are waiting in the wings for mid-season. It used to be that the network would wait for “American Idol” every winter to make it a ratings winner, but that’s no longer thle case. Still, getting David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson back for yet another foray into one of the biggest properties of all time makes for a promising new year.
UNDECIDED FOX is giving us two live musical events this season with both “Rent” and “A Christmas Story.” The latter has become a holiday tradition, while “Rent” is a modern Broadway classic. These programming stunts aren’t quite the ratings bombs they used to be, but there may still be life yet in the format.
HIGH After a blockbuster first season, “This Is Us” is getting a big promotional push from NBC. It looks like they’re hoping for this new show to help them climb back on top, shifting it from a post-”Voice” slot on Tuesdays to the heart of Thursdays in hopes of recreating “Must See TV.” Of course, that’s discounting ABC’s Shondaland “TGIT” and CBS’s recent dominance on the night. It’s an uphill battle, but a huge show of faith in “This Is Us.”
LOW NBC cancelled “Timeless” and then immediately made themselves look wishy-washy by uncancelling it within two days amid fan protests. The time-travel drama held the post-”Voice” slot and had a loyal following. After renegotiations, the show has been picked up for a 10-episode sophomore run in 2018 … possibly for the summer.
HIGH “Will & Grace" is helping the “Must See” push with a triumphant return to the night it once dominated. After a hugely successful commercial, the classic show is back for a limited run in the fall, kicking off Thursdays in the most competitive slot on the night, going up against fading-but-still-strong “The Big Bang Theory” on CBS, as well as “Grey’s Anatomy” on ABC and football on CBS. If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best!
LOW While it’s great that the network is making a big push into Friday nights -- long dominated by CBS -- it’s not necessarily great the way they’re going about it. Rather than counter-program the action/crime format CBS has on the night with “MacGyver, “Hawaii Five-0” and “Blue Bloods,” NBC is offering more of the same, only with far less established properties, by moving “Blindspot” and “Taken” there.
HIGH With “This Is Us” moving to Thursdays, the Tuesday post- "Voice" cushion spot is going to two critically-acclaimed but ratings-deprived comedies with “Superstore” and “The Good Place.” Both deserve success, so hopefully this will give them more viewers, though it doesn’t help that that 9 o’clock hour on Tuesdays features sitcoms on ABC and FOX, as well.
UNDECIDED The Winter Olympics will once again dominate February, but the ratings on this seem to erode every four years, so it remains to be seen whether this will be a boon to the network, or it will be like Major League Baseball was to Fox in the latter years it dominated that network … actually weakening it as baseball ratings plummeted.
HIGH After building their comedy brand over the past several seasons, ABC made some strategic moves to ensure continued dominance in the format on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Wednesday has long been theirs, but with “The Middle” and “black-ish” now both on Tuesday nights, that night looks secure as well. “The Goldbergs” and “Modern Family” continue to hold Wednesday together, joined by “Speechless” and “American Housewive” on the half-hours. Tuesdays has “Fresh Off the Boat” and newcomer “The Mayor” in the post-”black-ish” slot.
LOW “Once Upon a Time” used to be a dominating force on Sundays, but that has faded in recent seasons. So it was a slight surprise when it got picked up for a full season. Then it was a jaw-dropping shock when you found out it was also moving to Fridays and losing six of its principal cast-members. A complete overhaul and a weaker night tells me ABC is hoping this play will work, but even they’re not sure.
HIGH As “Once Upon a Time” leaves Sundays, it is being replaced by “Shark Tank” on the night, which has performed much bigger both in the ratings and online presence than expected on Fridays. Now, it gets to be part of the most-watched night on television, where it’s online profile will only grow.
HIGH Speculation is that ABC’s reality/game show push on Sundays is setting the stage for “American Idol” to drop there sometime during the season. It’s a logical night for the network to use as it’s a huge night for viewers, and ABC hasn’t really had much going there in recent seasons. “Idol” is a big get for the network, and curiosity about it should help it at least launch big. And hey, Katy Perry, right?
LOW The biggest head-scratcher for the network was its surprise cancellation of “Last Man Standing” on Sundays. The cancellation has created a backlash among conservatives, saying it was done in by politics rather than ratings. It was one of ABC’s strongest performers. The network says it didn’t have a show after Friday comedies were dropped, and it’s fair to argue it’s not hip enough for Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Fox, which owns the show, may be looking to pick it up, though. Watch out, “The Mick!”
UNDECIDED As a counter-programming push to the Olympics in February, ABC is prepping “The Bachelor Winter Games” and “Dancing With the Stars Junior.” I’m not sure how far the network can stretch “The Bachelor” format, but these are their pseudo-celebrities to do with as they will, I suppose.
LOW The biggest thing to come out of CBS’s upfront presentation for the second year in a row was just how white and male it is. But this is the second year in a row it’s faced that criticism, so the network clearly doesn’t care. It threw us Shemar Moore as a person of color this year, so never mind the five other white guys leading their other new shows.
HIGH It’s a little surprising here, but encouraging to see CBS trying something a bit more ambitious on their fall schedule. I think the time-jumping “This Is Us” inspired the pick-up of “Me, Myself & I,” but I’m still happy to see something different. This one features Bobby Moynihan and will jump from his past to his present and his future (where he’s played by John Laroquette). Good on CBS for trying something.
LOW What the hell is a “9JKL”? Bad names have killed shows before, and this is easily one of the worst names I’ve seen in years. It comes from a series of three apartments where the main characters live: 9J, 9K and 9L. But who’s going to say, “Did you see ‘9JKL’ last night?” It’s so cumbersome and awkward, it’s doing the show a huge disservice.
HIGH It should be a shoe-in for success, but with a single-camera format and an untested lead, “Young Sheldon” may not be the guarantee CBS thinks it is. But it is getting the post-”Big Bang” timeslot, so it is guaranteed to have big ratings numbers. And with “Bang” renewed for two seasons already, it’s got plenty of time to establish itself, and a built-in audience that wants to love it.
UNDECIDED After seemingly countless delays, “Star Trek: Discovery” finally dropped a trailer and received a collective yawn in response. CBS All Access is still largely untested and this was going to be one of its big marquee shows, so it would have been better for it to look good. The network did expand its order to 15 episodes, and it’s still getting a launch on CBS itself, so fingers crossed that it’s better than it looked.
HIGH The CW got smart this season and decided to pair its shows in a way that makes sense for viewers. Tuesdays as “The Flash” and “Legends of Tomorrow” from the DCW Universe. Sudsy “Riverdale” leads into the “Dynasty” reboot which should be even soapier on Wednesdays. Thursdays pair two signature shows with “Supernatural” and “Arrow.” And Friday is counter-programming at it’s best as CBS’s testosterone-fueled dominance is a totally different audience than “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and “Jane the Virgin.” Only Monday makes little sense, but “Supergirl” is as good as anything to pair with military drama “Valor.”
LOW While the network has an over-abundance of solid programming, it’s still disheartening to see some of its strongest shows sitting on the bench awaiting midseason. “The 100” and “iZombie” are critical darlings, but they’ve played this waiting game every season. “The Originals” is less established and has now surpassed parent show “The Vampire Diaries,” so it could have used a big show of faith with a fall push.
LOW Why is the new “Black Lightning” part of the four-show DCW Universe? It was a big deal when “Supergirl” made the shift from CBS to integrate her with “Arrow,” “The Flash,” and “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” even though she’s on a different universe. But the network has already said “Lightning” is completely separate and will not take place in the annual crossover event, which is a huge mistake. The show can exist in its own universe and still play ball, which would make those DCW viewers feel they need to watch it.
HIGH “Dynasty” was one of the biggest shows in the world in the 1980s, so it makes sense for it to get a reboot and pair with “Riverdale.” “Dallas” did well for TNT, but there have been some disastrous reboots including The CW’s own “Melrose Place.” I want this to work, but there have been so many so-so reboots, it’s too early to tell if it will or not.
UNDECIDED The CW is jumping on the military bandwagon with “Valor,” but while the show looks good, it makes no sense for the network. There are no superheroes, and no over-the-top soapy elements. Is it the network’s attempt to expand its offerings in hopes of expanding its viewership, or was someone asleep at the wheel? Once it premieres, maybe it will be more clear, but for now it feels like a very experimental show for this network’s brand.