Following the presentation given by Nickelodeon last week, we are officially in upfront season. This means the various broadcasting outlets—network, cable and digital—will soon be touting their merits (or sugarcoating their weaknesses) in the quest for advertising dollars next season. With the broadcast networks concluding the festivities in mid-May, the next two months are a testing ground to see which current entries will make the cut among the pilots chosen to series.
As a precursor, let's see which broadcast networks have the momentum, which don't, and what areas they need to focus on. The nets are listed in order of total viewer ranking this season to-date (through Feb. 26), and the Nielsen rating results are based on Live + 7 Day data (through Feb. 12) and Live + Same Day thereafter.
CBS: Grade B-
Viewers: 10.05 million (-14 percent from the comparable year-ago period); A18-49: 1.9 rating/7 share (rank #3: -24 percent)
Yes, CBS will win the season in total viewers. It has for the last eight straight years, and it probably will next year. But when you lose almost one-quarter of the adult 18-to-49 rating year-to-year, it is safe to say that the network has sprung a leak. The main problem is squandering the lead-in support from "The Big Bang Theory." While CBS is in talks to renew "Big Bang" for two more seasons, this sitcom cannot live forever, and there is still nothing to replace it with. Get rid of "The Great Indoors." And also swing the axe on sitcoms "2 Broke Girls" (we do not need a final season) and "The Odd Couple," and dramas "Elementary" and recent entries "Ransom" and "Training Day." Veteran "Criminal Minds" should also be put to rest at this point. Additionally, I would never hire Katherine Heigl again.
The second problem at CBS, and this is a perennial dilemma, is the glut of older-skewing crime solvers that just do not resonate with the younger generations. So, instead of these stodgy crime and punishment vehicles, CBS should take a page from NBC's "This Is Us" and start thinking more creatively. As it stands, the network feels just plain tired, even if it is the most-watched outlet.
NBC: Grade B+
Viewers: 8.67 million (+1 percent); A18-49: 2.3 rating/8 share (rank #1: - 4 percent)
Even with the drop in NFL ratings this season, NBC has remained consistent, so clearly the network is doing something right. Bravo for taking a chance creatively with "This Is Us" and proving there is still such a thing as an immediate hit, both socially and in the traditional ratings.
Naturally, NBC owes much of its success to producer Dick Wolf, whose "Law & Order: SVU" and "Chicago" drama franchise currently account for almost one-quarter of the lineup. No, not every hour screeches creativity. But if it works, why tinker with it? And then there is "The Voice," which at three hours per week is still a force to reckon with. Game show "The Wall" is an added bonus.
NBC, however, remains sorely lacking in the sitcom department (already-renewed "Superstore" and "The Good Life" just do not resonate), and talk of moving forward on an "American Idol" revival only detracts from the net's newfound reputation as a risk-taker. I would nix the "Idol" reboot and continue to focus on sitcom development. Oh, and four "Chicago" dramas is enough.
Fox: Grade C
Viewers: 7.01 million (+10 percent); A18-49: 2.2 rating/8 share (rank #2: + 5 percent)
True, Fox is up year-to-year. But the gains are a result of "The World Series" and "Super Bowl VI," and not the regularly scheduled lineup. Minus the sports, there are holes aplenty throughout the week.
To fix the damage, step one is extending the episode order next season for "Empire," which would avoid another three-month disruption. Moving it up one hour and pairing it with "Star," also from Lee Daniels, would create a seamless flow. "Lethal Weapon," the one Fox newbie from last fall that has resonated, can anchor another evening. Pairing "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy" in the Sunday 8 p.m. hour (into a new scripted drama) might stop some of the bleeding. And recent sitcom entry "The Mick," which the critics have embraced, is certainly a better anchor to Tuesday than not so "New Girl."
Since Fox once made a name for itself by pushing the envelope creatively, recreating past hits is probably not the right direction for the future. I mean, "24" without Kiefer Sutherland…really???
ABC: Grade C
Viewers: 6.50 million (- 5 percent); A18-49: 1.7 rating/6 share (rank #4: -11 percent)
It has been a tough year for ABC; even the "Oscars" were below average. And the latest midseason entry, drama "Time After Time," has plunged to what could be historically low ratings for a regularly scheduled series on Sunday. So, let's start with the end of the week and recognize that aging "Once Upon a Time" is pulling the whole night down. Get rid of it. Since former Sunday occupant "Quantico" is now fading on Monday that, too, needs to go. And no Marvel-themed drama series at this point will even register in the traditional ratings, so I would position the next one, "Inhumans," on Friday, where a show like NBC's "Grimm" survived for six seasons via DVR usage.
While ABC does have a family-themed sitcom presence, the dysfunction formula with kooky Mom and/or Dad is starting to wear thin. And let's make sure "Scandal" begins its next season in the fall. Those target females need their "TGIT"-themed line-up.
CW: Grade C
Viewers: 1.80 million (-10 percent); A18-49: 0.6 rating/2 share (rank #5: -25 percent)
The positive news this season, of course, is the arrival of "Supergirl," which, on a platform housing "The Flash," Arrow" and "D.C.'s Legends of Tomorrow," fits like a glove. So, it makes sense to put into development a fifth D.C. Comics-related drama, "Black Lightning." But the challenge The CW faces, which has not been resolved this year, is finding an identity outside of super heroes. While the critics like "Jane the Virgin" and "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," no one is really watching. And B-level entries like "The 100" and "iZombie" are just not worth continuing at this point.
Before The CW decides to move forward on its reboot of "Dynasty," someone needs to point out that "90210" (based on the original "Beverly Hills, 90210") and the new version of "Melrose Place" did not work. Unless one of these new Carringtons or Colbys is a super hero, I would forget about it.