Big TV networks announce new fall schedules — and assume defensive positions

Posted: May 21, 2012

In an annual rite known as Upfront Week, NBC, Fox, ABC, CBS, and the CW just presented their lineups for the 2012-13 TV season to advertisers in New York. The ceremonies took place in some of the city’s most august concert Halls (Carnegie, Avery Fisher, Radio City Music) over four days.

The broadcast companies introduced only 20 new series for the fall (down from 27 last season). NBC led the pack with six new shows. Fox and the CW had half that many. Like it or not, an awful lot of familiar faces will be returning in the fall.

“The one thing that stands out to me is how many bubble shows survived this year,” says Alan Sepinwall, TV critic at the entertainment website HitFix, via e-mail. “ABC brought back Happy Endings and Don’t Trust the B---- in Apt. 23; NBC brought back Community and Parks and Rec (and also Whitney and Up All Night), etc.

“And in tandem with that, we’re getting a lot of short seasons announced [orders for 13 episodes or less]. It seems like some of the networks — particularly NBC and ABC, which are struggling much more than the other two — have realized that in this day and age they can’t be scheduling shows with long gaps of repeats anymore, and they have to rotate different shows in and out of timeslots to get as many originals on as possible each year.”

Not only are the portions smaller, the food isn’t that great. “Overall there was a little less enthusiasm for the new series this year than last time around,” says Andrea Morabito, programming editor for Broadcasting & Cable magazine. “Last year there was buzz around shows like New Girl, 2 Broke Girls, and Smash. This week we haven’t seen a breakout show.”

At least the laugh tracks will be busy.

“The biggest trend is comedy,” says Brad Adgate, senior vice president of research at Horizon Media. “With the exception of CBS, we’ll see more comedies than in recent years. “ … It wasn’t long ago we were wondering if comedies were going to disappear from prime time the way variety shows and Westerns had,” continues Adgate. “This year in particular there are a lot of strong comedies. It’s just a genre that works financially for the networks. It brings in a younger audience, and it repeats well.”

Among the fresh batch of laughers, NBC’s Go On with Matthew Perry (Friends) and CBS’s Partners with Michael Urie (Ugly Betty) got positive receptions from the ad agency people and assorted media. ABC’s Neighbors, about aliens living in suburban New Jersey, drew uncomfortable silence.

“I really don’t get that as a lead-out from Modern Family,” says Adgate. “That’s valuable real estate.”

As always, one of the most interesting aspects of Upfront Week is the strategic jockeying it reveals. Networks constantly counterprogram against each other, probing for weaknesses, trying to steal away eyeballs.

Age and a proliferation of imitators have slowed the juggernaut that was American Idol. So currently the only unassailable programming property out there is CBS’s Tuesday night NCIS double dreadnought.

The shows’ acronym might as well stand for No Competition in Sight. Next season, the other networks will throw no fewer than eight different sitcoms up against CBS’s dominant franchise. Call it Stick Your Head in Bubblegum and Show it to the Navy.

In one of the most highly anticipated battles of the fall, ABC has shifted Revenge to Sunday nights at 9 p.m., where it will do battle with CBS’s The Good Wife.

The CW has simply tossed its schedule up in the air like a bundle of pickup sticks. The Vampire Diaries is the only series that will return in the same time slot (Thursday at 8 p.m.) as this season.

How did the broadcasters stack up against one another? We go to our sideline reporter, Marc Berman, editor in chief at TV Media Insights.

“CBS stands well above the others once again,” Berman says. “ ... NBC, it seems like they just threw a dart at the wall. Their schedule is very haphazard. They have too many new comedies and too many low-rated comedies returning. That’s a mistake. Fox was way too lazy. They only introduced three new shows. They’re depending on The X Factor. They need to find new projects.

“The CW is interesting. Ninety percent of their schedule is new or relocated. That’s good. However, their schedule is littered with low-rated series like 90210, Hart of Dixie, Nikita and others.

“ABC did some smart stuff like bringing back comedy on Friday nights,” Berman says, “although I think one of the big turkeys of next fall, based on the audience reaction at Lincoln Center, is Neighbors, which looks bizarre.”

Let’s hope the show survives until November, when we could use a turkey.

Contact David Hiltbrand at 215-854-4552 or dhiltbrand@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @daveondemand_tv. Read his blog, “Dave on Demand,” at www.philly.com/dod.

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