Upfront Report: Grading the broadcast networks

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CBS stands above the rest in primetime this fall; Fox remains in the cellar

Five broadcast networks, five presentations and endless promises and exaggerations. You guessed it — it was network upfront presentation week, where sometimes unwarranted boasting results in advertising dollars spent. Before we get to the real scoop, let’s look at some stats.

Twenty new network series will be introduced next fall, 12 dramas and eight sitcoms. That’s the fewest new network series in the fall since at least the formation of Fox in 1985. CBS is the most aggressive with six new series, followed by five for ABC, four for Fox, three for NBC and two for The CW. Mirroring last season, over a dozen new series are waiting in the wings for midseason.

Only eight of the 21 freshman shows from last fall (or 38%) are renewed for next season, and a similar ratio could apply to this crop. Nothing new looks extraordinary, but there are a number of shows that appear to have potential. 

As has long been the case, CBS has the best primetime schedule, a roster of some promising entries (sitcom "The Great Indoors," which will lead out of "The Big Bang Theory," and drama "Bull" out of "NCIS," in particular); returning stars like Kevin James, Matt LeBlanc and Michael Weatherly; strategic scheduling; and more hit shows to offer lead-in support to the new entries. Instead of deviating from the norm (like trying to convince us "Supergirl" made sense on the network last season), older-skewing CBS offers a combination of recognizable and comfortable sitcoms and dramas, always addictive "Survivor" and that newsmagazine that keeps on ticking, "60 Minutes."

While CBS is always the best positioned to program Saturday (and won’t), the return of the Monday night comedy block is particularly admirable. And offering the revival of "MacGyver" into returning "Hawaii Five-O" and "Blue Bloods" on Friday looks particularly compatible. 

Grade for CBS: A-

ABC deserves accolades for upping its primetime sitcom presence to 10 half-hours (including an expanded two-hour Tuesday comedy block). The theme is family, the shows are all compatible and breaking up "The Middle" and "The Goldbergs" combo on Wednesday to support new entries "American Housewife" and "Speechless" could be smart.

Fixing the 10 p.m. hour on ABC was a priority, and there is every reason to expect greater tune-in for new dramas "Conviction" and "Designated Survivor" in place of former occupants "Castle" and "Nashville." New Thursday 9 p.m. drama "Notorious" (in place of temporarily benched "Scandal") could also benefit out of "Grey’s Anatomy." And then there is the return of drama "Secrets and Lies," which should easily outperform anything airing Sunday at 9 p.m. this season. But what ABC fails to see, or at least believe, is how far "Once Upon a Time" has slipped. Had the network addressed that, its grade might have been elevated to a B+.

Grade for ABC: B

The buzz at the CW, of course, was the arrival of "Supergirl." Already home to "The Flash," "Arrow" and "D.C.’s Legends of Tomorrow," the compatibility is flawless. But The CW has reached its peak with the superheroes drama concept, and it now must find a new genre to focus on.

While featuring Gina Rodriguez of "Jane the Virgin" and Rachel Bloom of "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" boasting about their Golden Globe Award at the presentation did give The CW credibility, no one is watching these one-hour romantic comedies (are you?). And there was no reason to introduce a third in the form of "No Tomorrow." As for the claim of housing the highest quality programming…puh-lease!

Grade for The CW: C+

NBC took a modest approach to its fall lineup, touting its "embarrassment of riches" and choosing to introduce just three new series. Since comedy should be of the utmost importance, and returning "Superstore" is not the hit the network is claiming, I would have found a better home than Thursday at 8 p.m. opposite "The Big Bang Theory." I also don’t necessarily see the appeal of new lead-out sitcom "The Good Place." (Just how many shows is Ted Danson going to star in?). Relocated "Blindspot" in the Wednesday 8 p.m. hour, meanwhile, is not going to work. And leaving lackluster Friday intact is sheer laziness on the part of NBC.

While I will give the Peacock net props for using "The Voice" as lead-in support to dramas "Timeless" and "This Is Us," and not clogging the fall airwaves with the arrival of "Chicago Justice" (which debuts in midseason), let’s hope four dramas set in the Windy City is enough. 

Grade for NBC: C

As the old saying goes, "Rome wasn’t built in a day." So to expect the network to reverse its downward spiral in just one fall schedule is asking too much. But why not at least utilize your best resource, "Empire," to offer lead-in support to a new drama (Lee Daniel’s "Star" made the most sense). And why position so many low-rated returning shows and introduce only four new series?  (the fourth, baseball-themed drama "Pitch," is actually a last-minute replacement in the Thursday 9 p.m. hour for the final season of "Bones," which will now return in the Winter). 

While new drama "The Exorcist" on Friday could capitalize on a formula that once worked for Fox on the evening, "Gotham" is too weak to remain the Monday anchor, Tuesday needed to be addressed (and is not), relocated "Rosewood" on Thursday will offer limited lead-in support to "Pitch"), and those animated mainstays on Sunday are just plain pooped. Then there is the issue of Gordon Ramsay returning on "Hell’s Kitchen." Can’t you give this guy a rest?

Grade for Fox: D


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