The broadcast networks say the darndest things

The real scoop from network upfront week.

The universal message from the five broadcast networks, which presented their programming plans for next season at the New York City upfronts this week was the relevance of the linear model and the importance of expanding into digital. Then, of course, was the barrage of upcoming new primetime series that, according to every programming executive, simply cannot miss. Reality check: Excluding The CW, which basically renews everything, many of these freshman entries will probably not make it into a second season.

Overall, the five broadcasters – ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and The CW – played it relatively safe, crafting their fall schedules with familiar faces, returning lynchpin series, and strategically planned new series.  We will see 17 new series this fall in primetime (9 dramas, 7 sitcoms and the non-scripted reboot of "Kids Say the Darndest Things" on ABC). And there will be 20 additional new series rolled out later in the season (12 dramas, 7 sitcoms and 1 realty/competition).

In total, that brings the upcoming freshman class of 2019-20 on the broadcast networks to 37 new series. Drama, once again, takes precedent, with 21 new entries, followed by new comedies at 14 and 2 new non-scripted series. The latter category, of course, is heavily featured throughout the course of these broadcasters in the summer.

The scoop by network:

NBC

The peacock net decided it was apparently best to rest on its laurels. While I am first in line to commend the network for its growing slate of impressive dramas (plus returning "The Voice" and "Sunday Night Football," of course), only three new series this fall (Monday night drama "Bluff City Law" and Thursday sitcoms "Perfect Harmony" and "Sunnyside") is simply not enough. Plus, the two newbie sitcoms will generate minimal interest out of perennial ratings-challenge "Superstore" and "The Good Place."

A bolder move would have been to shift "This Is Us" into the Thursday 9 p.m. ET hour in exchange for a comedy hour out of "The Voice" on Tuesday. While the announcement of a three season renewal of "This Is Us"  (complete with the principal cast at the presentation) was noteworthy, it also reminds this viewer that the last big new broadcast network hit on the network was actually this series, and that was three years ago.

I am also sorry to see NBC expand tired "Dateline" to two-hours on Friday (as I am with ABC expanding "20/20" on that night as well), which I do think signals another step towards the broadcast nets abandoning the evening (a la Saturday). No network, once again, is attempting to even program Saturday.

Once again, much of NBC’s potential success next season relies on the Dick Wolf Wednesday night "Chicago" trio – "Med," "Fire" and "PD." And there is no reason to believe any of them will lose any steam.

Fox

Fox crafted what I think is a highly competitive fall line-up. Sports, no doubt, are the ticket to expected momentum next season. With the arrival of "WWE Smackdown Live" on Friday, three full nights of the primetime line-up (plus the Sunday 7 p.m. hour) will be devoted to sports. That is 54 percent of the network’s primetime line-up. And I do personally like what the network has planned for Monday through Wednesday next fall.

Returning "9-1-1," now in the Monday 8 p.m. anchor position, will offer lead-in support to new drama "Prodigal Son" at 9 p.m. "The Resident," now in the Tuesday 8 p.m. hour, will give relocated "Empire" a potential boost in its sixth – and final – season. And campy musical reality competition ‘The Masked Singer" as the Wednesday 8 p.m. anchor will certainly potentially ignite new family relationship drama "Not Just Me."

I also think introducing "9-1-1" spin-off "9-1-1: Lone Star" in midseason is a smart acquisition, and I do like saving Tim Allen sitcom "Last Man Standing" for the Thursday 8 p.m. anchor position (into new comedy "Outmatched"), which could capitalize on the absence of "The Big Bang Theory" on CBS. But, let’s face it, the Fox animation on Sunday is kaput, so why introduce newbie "Bless The Harts" (out of "The Simpsons" this fall) and order two additional new animated comedies for midseason?

While it was also certainly nostalgic to see the cast from the original "Beverly Hills, 90210" back to represent upcoming reboot "BH90210," I thought it was very careless of Jennie Garth to enthusiastically proclaim, "We are all back," given the recent passing of Luke Perry. Personally, she should have acknowledged that.

ABC

Touting the "most stable schedule in over one decade" (which is not true considering the overall primetime ratings for ABC are actually down year-to-year), the alphabet net is taking an unusually modest approach to next fall. Only 4 new series (two dramas, one comedy and a revival of "Kids Say the Darndest Things") will be featured on its fall line-up.

The most blatant misstep, among many, was not using the final season of veteran "Modern Family" to nurture a new sitcom to potentially inherit the Wednesday 9 p.m. half-hour. Lead-out returnee "Single Parents" is a weak link, and the only sitcom currently resonating on the network is "Roseanne" spin-off "The Conners." If I were ABC, I would have begged John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf, Sara Gilbert and the other fictional Conners to sign for a full 22-episodes.

While I do like the network trying to pump up the lead-in support to the late local affiliate news with new 10 p.m. dramas ("Emergence" on Tuesday and "Stumptown" on Wednesday), "How To Get Away With Murder" should not longer be taking up primetime real estate. And I just don’t see how a reboot of that cutesy "Kids Say the Darndest Things," hosted by Tiffany Haddish, in the Sunday 8 p.m. hour is going to add any life to this troubled evening for ABC. "Shark Tank," once again, is completely lost there.

I also don’t believe that moving comedy "American Housewife" to the Friday anchor position (into relocated "Fresh Off the Boat") will make any difference. But I do hope is that the current spring absence of "Dancing With the Stars" will inject some interest in the waning celebrity dance competition on Monday next season. The network will surely need it. 

CBS

Yes, we know, life without "The Big Bang Theory" will not be easy. And then there is its time period replacement, prequel "Young Sheldon," featuring the brainiac little tyke suddenly not so adorable at age 11. Will viewers still be interested minus Adult Sheldon as its lead-in? Personally, I think the audience size will remain respectable, and what I immediately like about CBS’ new fall line-up is an adept mixture of returning series and returning faces like Billy Gardell (in new sitcom "Bob Hearts Abishola") and Patricia Heaton (in new sitcom "Carol’s Second Act"). 

Since sitcom producer Chuck Lorre can seem to do no wrong on CBS, his new show, aforementioned "Bob Hearts Abishola," should fit well out of returning "The Neighborhood" on Monday. "Carol’s Second Act" is perfectly compatible out of "Mom" on Thursday. If it succeeds, Heaton will go down in the TV history books as only the second U.S. actress to play a mother in three successful sitcoms. The first, of course, is everyone’s favorite redhead, Lucille Ball.

And then there are The Good Wife" and "The Good Fight" series creators Michelle and Bob King, who have a new Thursday 10 p.m. drama called "Evil" that should capitalize on the traditional 50+ aged CBS viewer. Of all the new drama series clips I saw this week, "Evil" looks the most intriguing.

Naturally, all is not perfect on CBS. Pairing crime solvers "SEAL Team" and "S.W.A.T." on Wednesday (out of "Survivor") will unlike infuse interest in either modest performer. Rearranging the drama deck chairs on Friday ("Hawaii Five-O" at 8 p.m. into "Magnum, P.I.") won’t really matter. And new Thursday sitcom "The Unicorn" (out of "Young Sheldon") seems…well…blah. But CBS knows its audience has plenty of grey on the proverbial "roof." And not deviating from the older norm should be beneficial to the Eye net.

The CW

With the glut of returning superheroes on The CW, evidence of its appeal is at any Comic Con gathering, where an abundance of geeks dressed up in their superhero garb (myself included) represent why The CW does indeed matter.

Upcoming new comic book drama "Batwoman," with Ruby Rose, was center stage at The CW upfront presentation in New York City. The character was introduced earlier this season during the three-episode "Elseworlds" DC crossover event, and the series will air in the Sunday 8 p.m. hour into returning (and relocated) "Supergirl."

The second newbie drama entry on The CW this fall, "Nancy Drew," is wisely scheduled in the Wednesday 9 p.m. hour out of "Riverdale." A third new series, also from the Archie Comics universe, and spun-off from "Riverdale," is "Katy Keene," which will launch in midseason.

While certainly not a top-rated network via the traditional Nielsen ratings, what always impresses me about The CW is the compatibility in the scheduling. "The Flash" into the final season of "Arrow" on Tuesday, for example, makes perfect sense, as does the final season of "Supernatural" on Thursday remaining the lead-in for "The Vampires" spin-off "Legacies."  

As long as The CW sticks to its superhero roots, life will positively continue for the social media buzzed about destination. 

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