Let's play chess with the network lineups

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With the broadcast upfronts just two weeks away, it's time to help the harried TV executives fill out their schedules.

As you read this, a small horde of TV executives, dizzy from screening pilot episodes, are gathered in a conference room somewhere in Midtown Manhattan staring at a large scheduling board and a handful of erasable markers. Their job is to figure out where, or if, these new series belong on the schedule, all the while trying to anticipate what the competition might do. It’s like playing chess with an invisible partner and game pieces that may or may not fall apart halfway through the match.

Yes, network upfront presentation week is less than two weeks away. In the interest of making the job a bit easier for these executives, allow me make some last-minute suggestions.

NBC
Monday, May 15, Radio City Music Hall (time TBD)

NBC is home to the biggest new breakout hit in years, "This Is Us," because it dared to take a risk. And while I do hope they, and the competition, continue to take chances on the unexpected, my first piece of advice is to leave the relationship ensemble exactly where it is, in the Tuesday 9 p.m. hour, where already proven lead-out "Chicago Fire" can be replaced with a new series–or two—worthy of sampling.

Logic would suggest a new drama at 10 p.m. on Tuesday (if not still "Chicago Fire"), but there is no rule that a broadcast network cannot air comedies leading into the local late news. With NBC hungry for a new hit sitcom, and minus any viable 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. hours to support them, I would use the strength of "This Is Us" as a tent-pole into two such half-hours.

I would also use the return of "Will & Grace" to ignite interest in "Superstore" (or another sitcom) on Thursday. And I would do it in the 9 p.m. hour (out of one of the "Chicago" hours at 8 p.m., which has a built-in audience no matter where it airs). With Friday also in need of attention now that "Grimm" has concluded, "Blindspot" paired with "The Blacklist" (or another "Chicago" drama) could also be just the trick opposite the CBS crime solvers.

Fox
Monday, May 15, Beacon Theater (4 p.m. ET)

The obvious suggestion is to move "Empire," the net’s sole hit scripted drama, to Wednesday at 8 p.m. into compatible "Star." Fox had great initial success with the original "Melrose Place" out of "Beverly Hills, 90210" (as did the original "Dallas" on CBS for years into "Falcon Crest"). More important, however, is increasing the episode orders for both, which means Fox would not have to put "Empire" on another three-month hiatus (which never does any series on any network any good).

Fox is known for its animated comedies, so I would certainly not recommend for shedding all animation from the prime-time lineup. But three hours of sitcoms on Sunday (including live action "Making History" and "Last Man on Earth" this season) is no longer working. So why not combine "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy" in the 8 p.m. hour into a new drama slanted to a female demographic (opposite "Sunday Night Football" on NBC)? Fox could also give "Family Guy" a shot on Tuesday, which feels like a compatible fit with sophomore "The Mick."

Additionally, Fox should avoid any future reboots given the recent lack of interest in the revivals of "24" and "Prison Break." "Lethal Weapon" in the Monday 8 p.m. hour could certainly be an improved start for the week. And I would skip the proposed new Marvel action-adventure drama about two ordinary parents who discover that their children possess mutant powers. ABC had a similar drama in the 2011-12 TV season called "No Ordinary Family," with Michael Chiklis, and that did not even last the season.

ABC
Tuesday, May 16, David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center (4 p.m. ET)

With a defined comedy brand, ABC at 10 half-hours has more sitcoms on its line-up than any other network. But with Sunday in shambles following "America’s Funniest Home Videos," and "Shark Tank" proven to be capable of anchoring Friday at 8 p.m., I would move Tim Allen warhorse "Last Man Standing" into the Sunday 8 p.m. hour (out of "AFV") into a new comedy.  And I would position sophomore Kiefer Sutherland drama "Designated Survivor" immediately following it at 9 p.m., which would offer lead-in support into the 10 p.m. hour. Like Fox, fixing Sunday is a priority for ABC.

I would also send Sunday veteran "Once Upon a Time" packing with a special two-hour finale. I would rid the line-up of slackers like "Quantico," "Agents of SHIELD," "American Crime" and "The Catch." As always, it is never wise to load a line-up chock full of deteriorating series. I would start thinking of a spin-off series for the breakout character on "The Middle"—Eden Sher as eternally optimistic Sue—now that the sitcom is heading into season nine. And I would make sure we have a real celebrity to root for on "Dancing with the Stars" next fall, which in this spring edition seems to be sorely lacking in the fame department. When Charo and Mr. TV are the biggest draws, someone in casting has dropped the ball.

CBS
Wednesday, May 17, Carnegie Hall (4 p.m. ET)

CBS, as always, is probably a lock for another year of dominance in total viewers. But no network has a perfect schedule, and CBS should immediately focus on jumpstarting its comedy lineup. While Monday comedies "Kevin Can Wait," "Man with a Plan" and "Superior Donuts" are all worthy of their renewals, the network is still in need of a "Big Bang Theory"-type attraction to lead off the night. So I would introduce prequel "Young Sheldon" out of "Big Bang" on Monday this fall while football takes up the Thursday real estate. And I would then move "Young Sheldon" to the Monday 8 p.m. anchor spot after adult Sheldon and company head back to Thursday.

Since CBS has never found the right lead-out to capitalize on "Big Bang," my suggestion is sophomore "Superior Donuts," which feels like "Cheers" set in a donut shop. The potential is there. I would also not give "2 Broke Girls" a final season, which only delays the inevitable.

Since I am the first to preach leaving well-enough alone, CBS should also not make any changes to either Tuesday ("NCIS," "Bull" and "NCIS: New Orleans") or Friday ("MacGyver," "Hawaii Five-O" and "Blue Bloods"). If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But "Criminal Minds" at 9 p.m. on Wednesday has sprung a leak. And I do wish CBS would be more aggressive on Saturday. If there is one network that is in a position to do it, it is this one.