overthinking the idiot box

May 8, 2006

Dudes in suits, ratings games, scheduling dances — all of the real drama happens...

Behind the Screens
Visions of Fall 2006 Dance In My Head

A Primetime Prospectus
by Michael Adams

What follows is the fall schedule that I would like to see announced when the networks make their upfront presentations beginning May 15. Who knows? If this catches on, maybe next year at this time we'll all be laying down bets in Vegas.
With fantasy sports so popular these days, I thought it would be fun to tailor the concept to fit within the parameters of this column, namely network scheduling. Let me start by saying that the job of a network programmer is much tougher than I ever thought it was. Granted, I was trying to create an entire five-network fall schedule, but the process is much more complicated than filling holes and playing musical timeslots. With dozens of pilots to choose from, deciding which shows will make the cut must be both exhilarating and heartbreaking; so many potentially deserving shows never even get to see the light of day. What follows is the fall schedule that I would like to see announced when the networks make their upfront presentations beginning May 15. Who knows? If this catches on, maybe next year at this time we'll all be laying down bets in Vegas about which shows will be renewed and which will be sent to that great big TV tube in the sky.

Monday

8:00

8:30 9:00 9:30 10:00

ABC

Wife Swap

Secrets of a Small Town

Men In Trees

CBS

My Ex-Life

How I Met Your Mother

The Class Old Christine CSI: Miami

NBC

Heroes Las Vegas Kidnapped

FOX

The O.C. 'Til Death Julie Reno: Bounty Hunter  

CW

Everybody Hates Chris Girlfriends America's Next Top Model  

This is the first time in more than thirty years that ABC will start the season with entertainment programming on Monday night. Putting two new dramas on the night is a risky proposition, but Secrets of a Small Town has the makings of the next Desperate Housewives, which was pretty much a self-starter two years ago, and the Anne Heche-led Men in Trees (think of a gender-flipped Northern Exposure) feels like a good fit on a female-skewing night. CBS's comedies have lost ground as of late, so some fresh meat could help punch things up: The Class, from Friends co-creator David Crane, is about a group of third-grade classmates who reunite 20 years later, and My Ex-Life deals with the relationship between friendly divorcees. With Heroes, about a group of ordinary people who just happen to have superpowers, NBC has what will almost certainly be one of the fall season's sure things. Las Vegas should return to the timeslot that made it a consistent performer, and Kidnapped could be the next 24.

Fox can make a last-ditch effort to bring more viewers to The O.C., while Til Death brings Brad Garrett back to Monday in Everybody Loves Raymond's old timeslot, albeit on a different network; lead-out Julie Reno: Bounty Hunter is a fairly self-explanatory sitcom. Much has been made about The CW's potential abandonment of UPN's black programming, but there's no reason to believe that what worked fairly well for UPN can't do the same for the startup network. To that end, The CW can start the week off strong by pairing its two biggest comedies with Top Model.

Tuesday

8:00

8:30 9:00 9:30 10:00

ABC

Bonnie Hunt Project

Sons and Daughters Women of a Certain Age Scrubs

Boston Legal

CBS

NCIS

Shark The Unit

NBC

Community Service Prodigy/Bully Studio 60 on The Sunset Strip Law & Order: SVU

FOX

On the Lot House  

CW

Gilmore Girls Everwood  

As I write this, there is speculation that NBC may yet renew Scrubs for another season, but I think the show would work better as part of a completely revamped ABC comedy lineup. Sons & Daughers gets a second-season reprieve because it's the only one of ABC's sitcoms that's fresh enough to merit another shot. Paired with Bonnie Hunt's new comedy (her last effort, Life with Bonnie, was a moderate Tuesday hit before it was shipped off to TGIF), S&D should attract more viewers. Scrubs, which for years was a victim of NBC's unwillingness to keep the show on Thursday, could draw attention from its lead-in, Women of a Certain Age, wherein Heather Locklear gets back into the dating game a year after her husband's death. After a season of floundering at 10pm, CBS might finally be able to build a wholly successful night by moving The Unit back an hour and inserting the James Woods legal drama Shark. Fox can keep American Idol's timeslot warm with the Steven Spielberg-Mark Burnett short-film competition On the Lot, which comes complete with a Wednesday results show.


You might have noticed that this is the third time we've used this particular picture. We are very excited about this show.
NBC's sitcoms sound broad and ordinary (Community Service is about a man who gets stuck in a small town performing the titular task, while NBC's press release says Prodigy/Bully, from John Wells (ER), centers on a "child genius with a knack for intimidation." The Peacock does, however, have a likely hit in Aaron Sorkin's latest dramedy, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, a Sports Night-esque look at a Saturday Night Live-style production. Perhaps the most surprising decision I would make is not to carry Veronica Mars over to The CW. The show's ratings simply don't support a renewal, no matter how loudly its cult fan base screams. Everwood has proven much more dependable over the years, including nicely handling a move to a tough Thursday slot last fall.

Wednesday

8:00

8:30 9:00 9:30 10:00

ABC

Girls on the Bus

The Guys Lost

60 Minute Man

CBS

The Amazing Race

Criminal Minds Jericho

NBC

20 Good Years Chris Sheridan Project The Black Donnellys Law & Order

FOX

Bones On the Lot:
The Results
More, Patience  

CW

Supernatural

Untitled Aquaman Project

 

ABC has an easy promotional opportunity with its Girls and Guys combo. The former revolves around a political campaign, while the latter focuses on men adjusting to fatherhood. The Alphabet can also try once again to take advantage of the Lost lead-in, this time with 60 Minute Man, starring David James Elliott (JAG) as a man who can't account for one hour out of each day. NBC tries to establish a comedy hour on a night where it has had no sitcom success in recent years; John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor bring the funny as two friends who realize that 20 Good Years may be all they have left, while writer/producer Chris Sheridan (Yes, Dear) tells the story of two brothers, one an agent with the FBI, the other a thief. CBS may choose to keep The Amazing Race in place, despite ratings that aren't what they used to be. The Eye network's most high-concept drama, Jericho, tells the story of what happens in a small Kansas town after America suffers several nuclear attacks; the show should be a good fit coming out of Criminal Minds, which should have no trouble beating NBC's mob drama The Black Donnellys, from Crash director Paul Haggis. After some inconsistent scheduling, Fox should leave Bones in its current timeslot, where it is slowly becoming a modest performer; More, Patience, with Jennifer Esposito (Related) as a therapist with personal problems, is timeslot filler until American Idol starts again in January. The CW should find moderate success with a pair of sci-fi dramas, though the somewhat troubled Aquaman drama will likely pale in comparison to Smallville's debut ratings.

Thursday

8:00

8:30 9:00 9:30 10:00

ABC

Six Degrees

Grey's Anatomy

Primetime

CBS

Two and a Half Men

The Weekend CSI Without a Trace

NBC

Andy Barker, P.I. Alpha Mom My Name is Earl The Office ER

FOX

Prison Break 13 Graves  

CW

Smallville Runaway  

Though the move may be a scary one, ABC might finally be able to take CSI down a notch by shifting Grey's Anatomy here. Lead-in Six Degrees is the latest venture from Lost co-creator J.J. Abrams (and will hopefully be better than What About Brian). CBS can take care of NBC's sitcom vulnerability by positioning hit comedy Two and a Half Men with the compatible The Weekend, about three friends who live for those two blissful days. Fox and The CW have competing dramas, with The CW's Runaway (a family of fugitives) likely to prove more popular than 13 Graves, typical Fox pap (come on, the network's got one guaranteed flop on its schedule every year) about treasure hunters. NBC takes the hard road back to calling Thursday "Must See" again, with the Andy Richter comedy Andy Barker, P.I. and Alpha Mom, in which a woman tries to successfully balance her career and home life, followed by returning hits My Name is Earl and The Office. As for why the network should keep long-in-the-tooth ER on Thursday, one look at what happened to The West Wing this season provides the answer.

Friday

8:00

8:30 9:00 9:30 10:00

ABC

Dancing with the Stars

In Case of Emergency

20/20

CBS

Ghost Whisperer

Smith Numb3rs

NBC

Deal or No Deal Friday Night Lights Medium

FOX

The Winner Union Jackass Vanished  

CW

WWE Friday Night Smackdown  

Fox is the hardest to program on a night where the network has been without a hit since The X-Files a decade ago. It would be easy for the network to give up altogether and put movies here, but Vanished, a genre cousin to NBC's Kidnapped, could hook viewers with a killer promotional campaign. The 8:00 sitcoms Union Jackass, about a Brit who moves to Santa Monica, and The Winner, from Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane will likely do no better than any other comedy Fox has tried on Friday of late, but give the network points for trying.

New CBS crime drama Smith should provide a comfortable bridge between returning hits Ghost Whisperer and Numb3rs. NBC would be wise to limit Deal or No Deal's exposure to one night a week (especially with rumors of a daily strip version coming in Fall 2007). It would be just plain silly to put a show called Friday Night Lights, based on the movie of the same name, on any other night; it should do well enough to allow Medium to become NBC's highest-rated Friday drama since Law & Order: SVU. ABC has the potential to bring close to 20 millions fans of Dancing with the Stars to one of TV's least-watched nights, with In Case of Emergency (people realize they have no one to list on a form's emergency contact line) the potential benefactor of an enormous lead-in. The CW sticks with UPN's signature two-hour wrestling block, an easy way to avoid programming what was historically a difficult night for both UPN and The WB.

Saturday

8:00

8:30 9:00 9:30 10:00

ABC

America's Funniest Home Videos

Dancing With the Stars:
The Results

Invasion

CBS

A Hero's Welcome

Close To Home 48 Hours Mystery

NBC

Dateline NBC Law & Order: Criminal Intent Crossing Jordan

FOX

Cops Cops America's Most Wanted  

This Saturday schedule is a total pipe dream, but a guy can hope, right? With NBC handing over Sunday to the NFL, it's a perfect opportunity to move two popular dramas to Saturday in lieu of reruns of those same shows. ABC's Dancing with the Stars: The Results is in a position to bring a huge audience to the night and provide a strong lead-in to Invasion, which survives for a second season but gets shifted to TV's toughest night. CBS can bookend the night with reality (A Hero's Welcome reunites people with those whose lives they saved) and news; a second season of Close to Home is a better alternative than repeats. Fox remains true to old faithfuls Cops and America's Most Wanted.

Sunday

7:00

7:30

8:00

8:30 9:00 9:30 10:00

ABC

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

A Day In the Life Pink Collar

Desperate Housewives

Brothers & Sisters

CBS

60 Minutes

Survivor Cold Case CS: NY

NBC

Football Night in America NBC Sunday Night Football

FOX

Football Overrun/
Comedy Repeats
The Simpsons Big Handsome Guy... Family Guy American Dad  

CW

Reba She Said, He Said Palm Springs Beauty and The Geek  

With football back in its arsenal, NBC takes control of the male demographic (and should win the night overall), while ABC counters with a female-driven lineup, including the introduction of two new sitcoms, A Day in the Life, which takes a season-long look at a couple's wedding day, and Pink Collar, starring Alicia Silverstone. Desperate Housewives can be used to launch another drama, Brothers & Sisters, featuring the return of Ally McBeal's Calista Flockhart. Getting rid of its movie franchise gives CBS a chance to further capitalize on the success of its procedural dramas, while giving Survivor the opportunity to spread its wings in its first timeslot change since its second edition. The CW stands to benefit from the return of Beauty and the Geek and the new serialized drama Palm Springs, from Kevin Williamson (Dawson's Creek); the 7:00 hour, though, will likely be one of the network's sore spots, as perpetually low-rated as it was for The WB. Fox should stick with what works, only replacing The War at Home with The Adventures of Big Handsome Guy and His Little Friend, a single-camera comedy with a cartoonish title that should fit in well with its animated lineup.

More difficult than filling out those elusive NCAA brackets, putting together an entire prime time schedule has given me newfound respect for a job that comes with a lot of outside criticism. It's easy to say, "Why don't they move that show to another night?" Or, "That show was renewed?" It's much harder being on the end that's actually making those decisions. It's like praying for the stars to align perfectly when you know there's not a chance in hell of that actually happening. I can't wait to see how my proposed schedule stacks up next to those that the networks will soon announce. I'd also like to know what you readers think of my schedule. What would you do differently? Are my ideas absolutely brilliant or just plain boneheaded? Go to the forums and tell me if you think I have what it takes to be a network programmer.

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