Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Upfront Roundup - Night By Night

Well we've seen the networks roll out their new line ups and now it is time to look at what they've wrought with my daring (and hopefully long forgotten come October) Carnac-like predictions about what's going to last and what's headed for TV's version of the great beyond - quick cancellation (times are CST)

Lots of questions here. CBS has dominated the night with its comedy block, one which has always seemed to survive one weak show. I think that The Class might be the weak show this year. The night also boasts the weakest of the CSI shows (largely because it is the one that is least an ensemble piece) but it is still strong enough to beat most competition, perhaps because people like to watch David Caruso for some reason. ABC, which has had to program a Monday for the first time in 30 years has opted not to challenge the other networks with dramatic programming in the first two hours. They're going with veteran reality shows which I'm not sure is the right tactic. That said, I don't expect to see Wife Swap or The Bachelor (or Supernanny) cancelled any time soon. The Fox programs seem to be falling into sort of predictable unpredictability. If shows like Prison Break or Vanished! were about oil men in Dallas or Denver, they'd be called nighttime soaps, but of course they aren't. Prison Break has shown that fans are willing to accept huge plot holes if they like a concept and if Vanished! manages that it should survive. I don't think it will be another Reunion. The one show I'm convinced will die quickly is NBC's Heroes. The concept is too far out there for most viewers and I don't expect it to make it to February sweeps. It remains to be seen if Deal Or No Deal will remain at the same level of popularity that it had this Spring - I will be surprised if it does. Finally The CW made the obvious decision to spend the money and renew the most popular show on the old WB, Seventh Heaven and use it properly - for once - as the lead in for another family drama, Runaway. I don't expect them to win the night but I would expect Seventh Heaven to probably beat Wife Swap and for both shows to be on at the end of the year.

CBS bills their Tuesday night line up as the "most patriotic on TV" with NCIS as the lead and The Unit following. I think the network was very smart to put The Unit on during the second hour rather than putting it opposite Boston Legal and Law & Order: SVU. I don't think that Smith!, the new CBS show in the third hour will have any better luck than Close To Home, Threshold or The Amazing Race did this season. The challenge for NCIS is going to come from Dancing With The Stars rather than NBC's Friday Night Lights or Fox's Standoff. Standoff in particular seems like it could be an early cancellation unless it's quirkier than the bog standard cop show. Having partners sleeping together probably isn't quirky enough to beat a goth forensic scientist and a British medical examiner who seems at times to channel Higgins from Magnum P.I. The second hour on Tuesday could be an interesting one. I think that The Unit and House should make it hard for Kidnapped to get a foothold, and I'm just not sure about ABC's comedies particularly Let's Rob.... As for the CW, I think that the combination of Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars offers something that is different enough from what the other networks are presenting that they could do well (at least by UPN-WB standards) on the night.

The amazing thing about television sometimes is how long it takes for networks to "get it". It's not unknown for them to hitch their wagon to a trend a year or two after another network has created it, by which time the whole thing is losing popularity. Jericho is a case in point. It's close enough to sound like a ripoff of Lost two years after Lost debuted as a huge hit and one year after three other conspiracy based science fiction shows died after at most one full season. Does not bode well for Jericho although it could survive the season due to relatively weak competition. I'm not sure that 20 Good Years will have 20 good episodes for NBC despite a good cast. Competition from Lost and Criminal Minds, and even One Tree Hill might present a problem. The same holds true for 30 Rock, although I suspect that NBC will give this one more of a chance than the always quick on the trigger Fox will give to Justice. The subject matter of the latter is too out of step with what people apparently want if you can believe the Law & Order franchise and these guys don't have the advantage of "fighting the good fight" the way that In Justice did. The Nine is probably one of the more interesting concepts of the season, but unless Law & Order continues what is supposedly a ratings slide, I don't see it finding much of an audience.

Last season the first hour of Thursday was the big battleground of the season with the sharks smelling blood - in the form of Joey and the aging Will & Grace in the water. This year the first hour is comedy central with three of the five networks airing comedies. I think you have to give NBC the edge here (in comedies) with the returning My Name Is Earl and The Office. I think that Fox's two comedies - 'Til Death and Happy Hour - are stronger ideas than ABC's Big Day and Notes From The Underbelly but the Fox shows would probably do better in another time slot. There are already strong rumours that Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip will never see its Thursday night second hour time slot. NBC is apparently so high on this show that they don't want to risk it being out drawn by Grey Anatomy and CSI and so are looking to move it elsewhere. In the third hour, ABC has dropped the aging Primetime and for the first time in years is trying a dramatic series against NBC's aging ER while CBS has moved Without A Trace, which has been beating ER. While ABC's Six Degrees, offering about people who are tied together without even knowing it looks vaguely interesting and will benefit from it's lead in at least initially, I suspect that in the end the new CBS show Shark will have a better time in the time slot.

A couple of interesting things here. NBC has moved Law & Order: Criminal Intent to Friday nights opposite Numb3rs despite the fact that Friday seems to have earned a reputation for killing Law & Order related shows - remember Law & Order: Trial by Jury and Dick Wolf's other show Conviction? Also ABC has abandoned its slate of Friday sitcom and has opted instead for a couple of comedy dramas. While Betty The Ugly has something of a heritage as a Spanish language "teleromance" I don't think it will work well with North American audiences. Men In Trees may have a better chance depending on how "charmingly quirky" they can make it. I don't expect much from the show, but I suppose a slim chance is better than no chance.

CBS and ABC are both taking a bold chance here. CBS is attempting to build an entire night of programming where they had little before and are doing it by moving in existing series. In fact what they've created is a whole night of Bruckheimer, with each of the shows following the venerable 60 Minutes (now starting its 38th year!) being produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. I think The Amazing Race will do well on the night, but remember I'm a huge Amazing Race fanboy. I think the night should flow well for people who don't like football or animation. ABC on the other hand has taken the opportunity to move the stronger show from their Sunday lineup and use Desperate Housewives, which is hoping to rebound from a serious case of sophomore jinx, as the lead for another soapy family drama in the form of Brothers And Sisters. It might have a chance if the audience for Without a Trace doesn't follow the show to Sundays. Finally Sunday nights has The CW's second new series and only new comedy The Game, which is part of their "urban comedy" block. I'm afraid that I'm not convinced that this sort of programming effort is a good thing for a variety fo reasons which I don't really want to go into except to say that the network is engaged in broadcasting and this sort of thing seems to be an exercise in narrowcasting.

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