Upfront season is officially underway, so now’s a good time to assess the state of the major networks, before the buying begins in earnest. As always, take all upfront prognostications with a healthy grain of salt — and that goes for this column, too.
The Eye net is once again poised to win the season in total viewers, currently standing two-tenths of a rating point ahead of NBC for adults 18 to 49. Yes, hosting Super Bowl 50 helped. But CBS, still has enough hits spread across the week to ensure viewer victory for years into the future. Still, a glut of deteriorating crime solvers ("Elementary" and "CSI: Cyber," for example) and a diminished sitcom presence are problems the network will need to address.
CBS was once home to two nights of comedies. But introducing "Supergirl" on Monday meant paring its sitcom presence to a two-hour block on Thursday. And nothing new this season (including "Life in Pieces," which survives only because of the support provided by lead-in "The Big Bang Theory") has broken out. And because "Big Bang" cannot live forever, now is the time to nurture the next generation of comedy hits. That means it is time to stop renewing mid-level entries like "2 Broke Girls" and the "The Odd Couple" revival (not to mention on-the-fence dramas like "Code Black" and "Limitless").
With Thursday Night Football now being split between ,NBC and CBS (five games for each network), the Peacock enters next season with an automatic advantage. Once known for its heavy reliance on "The Voice" and "Sunday Night Football," NBC has distinguished itself with a growing artillery of hit programming, particularly in the world of one-hour dramas. Early renewals for seven dramas (including the "Chicago" trio) mean NBC has more returning scripted hours than it has in years. And the critical buzz for "Superstore" gives NBC a respectable sitcom to work with.
The critics will balk at the prospect of a fourth drama set in "Chicago" ("Chicago Law"), but the format is a proven one One major mistake made by NBC (and its competitors, come to think of it) is putting certain scripted dramas, like "Blindside" on a three-month hiatus in order to stretch the season to May. Once football disappears, Sunday will be a problem. And the focus next season must be on finding the appropriate time periods for the network’s comedies, which have struggled to find an audience without a protected time slot. My suggestion is the Wednesday 8 p.m. hour in place of "The Mysteries of Laura," which can be shipped to older-skewing Friday.
ABC Entertainment President Channing Dungey has inherited a network that is down in the vicinity of 15% in total viewers and the key demos over the past year. Sunday in particular needs repair, with recent drama entry "The Family" already looking like a bust, and "Quantico" another victim of the long hiatus,. The 10 p.m. ET hour on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, leading into the late local news, aren’t in great shape either.
But ABC could become the primary provider of half-hour sitcoms with just a few moves. "The Middle" or "The Goldbergs" could anchor Tuesday, with more than enough product to also support three additional hours of comedies on the primetime line-up. Sitcoms, of course, can command great value in the off-network marketplace.
For the first time in 15 years, Fox must face life without "American Idol." And the prognosis for this fall 2016, even with "Empire" on board, is bleak. Not even the recent revival of "The X-Files" could generate much interest.
One immediate solution for Fox is to move "Empire" up one hour to Wednesday at 8 p.m. next season into the new drama from Lee Daniels (who created "Empire"). The flow is perfect, and Fox could become home to two top-rated dramas. Fox should also choose only one new series revival for this fall ("Prison Break" could easily move back into its former Monday 8 p.m. hour into relocated "Gotham," which would no longer be competing with "Supergirl" on CBS). The low-rated Tuesday comedy block should be abandoned in favor of dramas. And there is no real purpose keeping most of the struggling series around, as they will only hold Fox back next season.
Superhero dramas will continue to dominate the CW. But since there is more to the schedule than just "The Flash" and "Arrow," the critically acclaimed one-hour comedies on Monday ("Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" and "Jane the Virgin") could continue if they took turns occupying the 9 p.m. hour.
With only six pilots of note ordered at The CW, recent history would suggest only one or two new series will appear on the fall line-up. And that means much of the schedule will include on-the-fencers like "Supernatural," "iZombie" and "The 100." While sophomore "The Originals" is certainly a goner, I would grant deteriorating parent "The Vampire Diaries" one final season and bill it as such. Even aging shows losing steam deserve a proper send-off.