It's been a busy week across the five broadcast networks as they unveiled their new fall schedules at the annual television upfront events. While viewers check in to see what new shows are coming, and where their favorites may be moving on the schedule, this is really all about the advertisers. The networks offer tantalizing trailers for their new fare and juggle the schedules to try and get the most viewers on their wares.
Sometimes the shifts can be good for television viewers, but in this era of Peak TV, it more often means all of the best shows are airing at the same time. For example, Thursday being a big viewership day -- and a good day to drop movie trailers for the weekend -- means more advertiser dollars, so of course the most powerful shows will land there, like ABC's Shondaland trinity and CBS's “The Big Bang Theory.” This season, NBC is looking to make a big play on the night in hopes of revitalizing their “Must See TV” dominance of the 1980s and 1990s.
It was just one of many bold moves that created aggressive face-offs in the schedule, as well as a few head scratchers as the networks unveiled their new seasons. What the hell is a “9JKL”?
NBC Looks to “Will & Grace,” “This Is Us” to Recreate “Must See TV”
It's been awhile since the peacock has had anything to crow about besides “The Voice,” so it makes perfect sense they're looking at “This Is Us” to kick-start an aggressive return to the most competitive night in television. After emerging as a freshman juggernaut last season, taking the Adults 18-49 L+7 crown from “Empire,” the series clearly doesn't need the post-”Voice” assistance any longer.
Instead, NBC is dropping it on Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET where it will battle the final season of “Scandal” on ABC. Shonda Rhimes crown jewel on the night has faded in buzz, but will surely pick up some attention as she promises plenty of twists and turns for this final run. FOX is dropping its own buzzy new dramedy “The Orville,” starring Seth MacFarlane as a new spaceship captain in the 25th Century, while The CW drops the flagship of the DCW Universe into the hour as well, and CBS sticks with its second hour of post “Big Bang” comedies.
On Wednesday, the number one network in total viewers unveiled its new fall schedule, and everyone wondered where all the color went, just like they did last year. They also knew where all the male actors had gone, as CBS apparently cast them as leads in all of their new shows. A network that skews old and six new shows last year with white leads added Jeremy Piven (“Wisdom of the Crowd”), Mark Feuerstein (“9JKL”), Bobby Moynihan (“Me, Myself & I”), and David Boreanaz (“Seal Team”) this year to achieve maximum white maleness. They did give us CBS mainstay Shemar Moore for “S.W.A.T.,” but that's only one.
Network diversity in lead roles currently include LL Cool J on “NCIS: Los Angeles,” Tea Leoni on “Madam Secretary,” Jermaine Fowler on “Superior Donuts,” and the duo of Anna Faris and Allison Janney on “Mom.” That's two female-led shows and two shows where a black actors shares lead billing with a white male. CBS remains impressively tone-deaf in an increasingly diverse America. And yet, they dominate in total viewership, so not enough people seem to care at this point for them to do anything different.
Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET Is the Most Competitive Hour of the Fall
The night kicks off with NBC boldly placing its revival of “Will & Grace” against television's number one comedy, “The Big Bang Theory.” “W&G” will surely premiere strong, while “Big Bang” has faded somewhat throughout its run, but I expect this will be one of the most competitive half-hours of the fall. “Young Sheldon” will likely trounce “Great News” at 8:30 p.m.
Both networks, along with ABC's stalwart “Grey's Anatomy” do not spell good news for FOX's transplanted “Gotham.” Either FOX has a surprising amount of faith in the series or they're going to flinch first and relocate it. If they're hoping to skew young and eke out a demo win, don't underestimate the power of The CW's eternal “Supernatural,” staying competitive in that demo for the hour. I think it's probably going to die up against that competition.
As “Once Upon a Time” fades away to Fridays, and “Revenge” is long gone, ABC has all-but abandoned scripted programming on Sundays (save for “Ten Days in the Valley” at 10 p.m. ET). Instead, they're hanging their hopes on reality television and a game show revival. “Shark Tank” was a Friday series that generated so much buzz and attention for various episodes, it made no sense that it was still on the second least-talked about night of television.
Now, it gets to sit at the heart of ABC's Sunday night lineup, against FOX's fading “Family Guy” and “The Last Man on Earth,” and “NCIS: Los Angeles.” It's a smart move, as there is no non-scripted programming on any other network in the fall, and these tie more closely with “America's Funniest Home Videos” at 7 p.m. ET, creating a flow across the night … until you hit Kyra Sedgwick looking for her daughter at 10 p.m. ET. It's a shame she has to do it against one of CBS's few female-led shows in “Madam Secretary.”
NBC Pushes Us Into Peak Comedy on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET
Both ABC and FOX looked at Tuesdays a few years back and decided that's where they wanted to expand comedy. FOX was stuck juggling a bloated lineup on Sundays, while ABC was outgrowing its established comedies on Wednesdays. So both networks made the move and have shared some success on the night. This season, NBC is joining the fray, creating head-to-head-to-head match-ups at 9 p.m. ET.
“This Is Us” dominated this time slot last season, so ABC and FOX have reason to be happy it's gone, but NBC is still using that powerful “Voice” lead-in, this time giving its love to the third season of “Superstore” and the sophomore run for “The Good Place.” NBC has been struggling to rebuild its comedy lineup, and I'm not sure this is the smartest move. Competition is great, but you're asking each show to face off against two other comedies. Furthermore, “Superstore” has to battle ABC's hit “black-ish,” while FOX's top live-action comedy “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” probably isn't worried about “The Good Place.” These shows deserve better than this inevitable bloodbath.
I'm just going to drop a few names here. Pardon me. “GCB.” “Selfie.” “Trophy Wife.” “Don't Trust the B---- in Apt. 23.” “I Hate My Teenage Daughter.” “The Knights of Prosperity.” “Terriers.” “Go On.” “Bunheads.” What do these things have in common? They were all awful names for shows that weren't nearly as awful as their names. And for the most part, they died horrible deaths largely due to those names. “Cougar Town” is a rare exception to that rule, and even it struggled under the weight of its name.
A name that's too long or simply doesn't make any sense isn't doing your show any favors. The biggest offender of the season has to be “9JKL,” a new CBS sitcom starring Mark Feuerstein. It's about him living close by his family in three consecutive apartments 9J, 9K and 9L. I get that “227” worked, but this sounds super clunky, “The Orville” doesn't really give us a sense of rip-roaring science fiction fun and adventure. It makes me think of old men hawking popcorn, or brothers trying to fly. “Ten Days in the Valley” sounds more like a coke-addled Hunter S. Thompson adventure than a mother searching for her abducted daughter, while “Wisdom of the Crowd” sounds like a bad game show more than a show about a guy crowdsourcing solving crimes.
It's a brand new buzz showdown as “Empire,” “The Blacklist,” and “Riverdale” all relocate to Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET. They'll face off against CBS's “Survivor,” which has been here longer than most “Riverdale” watchers have been alive, and ABC's comedy one-two punch of “The Goldbergs” and “Speechless.” Those two shows cater to different audiences so likely won't be impacted at all by this switch.
In fact, all five shows are pretty radically different in regards to who is watching them, but it's interesting that “The Blacklist” was the buzziest show of its freshman season back in 2013, and “Empire” followed suit two years later. Fast-forward another two years, and “Riverdale” was one of the buzziest new shows of this past season, and grew into a surprise hit for The CW. None of these shows are the ratings juggernauts they either once were, or wish they could be, so with less competition all around, will someone emerge a strong winner? Can “Empire” regain its crown, or will “Riverdale” surpass its CW-ness to get real numbers?
Is The CW trying to grow up? I've been trying to wrap my brain around the addition of “Valor” to the network's new fall lineup. This is a 12-year-old network that has spent more than a decade catering to younger viewers with soapy teen dramas, and superhero shows, with occasional forays into hip reality show formats. And yet, here is a standard military drama show.
When “The 100” premiered in 2014, there was talk that it was the most mature and sophisticated show the network had put on. But with an emphasis on young leads and a science-fiction bent, it still felt like a CW show. “Valor” does star a lot of young and pretty people, but it still feels like something just a little more sophisticated than what the network has aired before. I almost wonder if this was a CBS show the larger network rejected and passed down. Maybe because it has a lesbian female lead married to a woman of color and that's just not white or male or traditional enough for their perceived audience. It remains to be seen if The CW's audience will embrace it, or the network finds all new viewers.
Finally, Some Competition for CBS on Friday Nights
For years, it was looking like Fridays would follow Saturdays into the land of repeats and nobody cares. But then CBS dropped “Blue Bloods” there and found an audience. “Hawaii Five-0” only cemented their dominance of the night, and now “MacGyver” makes it a near lock. FOX has countered with seemingly random choices, currently offering “Hell's Kitchen” and “The Exorcist. Finally, though, the night is looking genuinely competitive again … like a real night of television. NBC is inexplicably bringing the same kind of programming by moving the untested “Blindspot” and “Taken” to the night. Is it a show of faith, or a hope that diminished returns won't matter as much here.
The CW has wizened up and created nights with actual synergy throughout the week, countering the testosterone-fueled CBS and NBC Friday lineups by pairing “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and “Jane the Virgin.” Both shows have been middling performers, but with lowered expectations on Fridays, and no real competition, they could fare quite well. ABC is splitting the difference by bringing a pair of more fantasy-based series awkwardly together with “Once Upon a Time” leading into the permiere of “Marvel's Inhumans” and eventually “Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” The former doesn't have the ratings to survive on Sundays, and the latter never did. So actually, it looks like CBS should be fine, as everyone else is just dropping some of their weaker performers here to rest for awhile.
“Once Upon a Time” A Show Continued Without Its Leads
Perhaps the most inexplicable news to come out of the upfronts relate to ABC's one-time darling “Once Upon a Time.” Picked up for a 22-episode season, fans were quickly left reeling when they learned that the bulk of the ensemble's leads would be leaving the show. First, series lead Jennifer Morrison announced she would be departing. But news quickly followed that she would be followed by her on-screen parents (Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas), as well as her on-screen son, Henry (Jared Gilmore). Emilie de Ravin's Belle and Rebecca Mader's Wicked Witch also won't be making the return trip to Storybrooke.
This leaves Lana Parrilla's Evil Queen and Robert Carlyle's Rumplestiltskin as the veteran leads, joined by Colin O'Donoghue's Captain Hook. The new season jumps ahead in time to deal with the now-adult Henry (Andrew J. West) and his daughter (Alison Fernandez) as they get into new adventures that promise at least a few familiar faces. It's a bold move for a show that has faltered in the ratings in recent years, but a move to less-demanding Friday and a full-season pick-up means that ABC must have some faith in this new season building something. Maybe “Once Upon a Time” really can last forever.