In broad strokes, the 2004-05 prime-time network schedule is a lot like last year’s lineup, only more so. There are more reality shows, more spinoffs, more franchise dramas and more family hours. The only things there are less of are comedies and original Saturday night shows. Following is a breakdown of the new season by day, highlighting some of the more contested time periods, as well as shows that stand out because of their perceived quality (or lack thereof). Guessing what will connect with an audience is always dangerous, but these are some of the network offerings insiders expect to make ratings news over the coming season.
With only four new shows across all six major networks, Monday remains a stable night that CBS is likely to dominate, thanks to its comedy block and “CSI: Miami.” Although “The Benefactor” has been called a shameless rip-off of “The Apprentice,” ABC is banking on the reality show playing well among younger football fans looking for something at 8 p.m. before the game, especially if they tire of NBC’s “Fear Factor,” which also plays from 8-9 p.m., now that “Fear” is on cable and in syndication.
“Why not try this?” said Brad Adgate, senior VP, corporate research director, for Horizon Media, New York. “Clones don’t do as well as originals, but it may bring in an audience that’s compatible with `Monday Night Football.”‘
UPN’s “Second Time Around,” a comedy starring Nicole Parker and Boris Kodjoe as a couple who married, divorced and marries again, , fits naturally at 9:30 p.m. in the network’s urban comedy night.
Fox hopes bringing back summer drama “North Shore” and the second installment of “The Swan,” which surprised many in the industry with a 4.4 rating/11 share in the adult 18 to 49 demo, according to Nielsen, will make for a younger female skew that could build if Shannen Doherty creates a “Melrose Place”-like Heather Locklear buzz around her joining “North Shore.”
NBC is hoping for some of its own Locklear magic with “LAX,” which is going to have to battle one of last year’s biggest new hits, “CSI: Miami.” “I think any new dramatic show will have a difficult time, especially if it has to go against an established franchise show,” said Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for the Katz Television Group. And despite plenty of insider talk that the Jason Alexander comedy “Listen Up” looks weak, Mr. Carroll said its failure is far from certain. “No one knows how ‘Listen Up’ is going to play out,” he said. “Obviously, they have put it in the best position to succeed.”
Summer reality hit “Trading Spouses” should continue to do well in the fall, and lawsuits notwithstanding, Fox’s “The Next Great Champ” should get plenty of attention in the 9 p.m. time period. But if early industry buzz means anything, so should CBS’s “Clubhouse” and UPN’s “Veronica Mars.” Mr. Adgate said he wonders how “Clubhouse” will do in terms of network fit. “This is a little outside what their core viewer is,” he said. “Is that really a CBS show? And that’s not to say it’s not a good show.”
NBC is looking for summer performer “Last Comic Standing” and in November “The Contender” to do some business at 8 p.m., but “Father of the Pride” will have to overcome mixed reviews and the Tuesday 9 p.m. curse (“Whoopi” and “Emeril” both failed there). A weak “Pride” could hurt the shuffled “Scrubs.” Mr. Carroll calls “Father of the Pride” a “gamble” that could pay off for NBC. “I’ve noticed they are now positioning it in the vein of `Shrek,”‘ he said. “If they can pull that off-‘Shrek for TV’-they’ll do just fine.” Either way, “Law & Order: SVU” should do fine itself at 10 p.m.
The WB changes nothing with “Gilmore Girls” and “One Tree Hill,” while ABC is going for a shuffled comedy block with “My Wife and Kids,” “George Lopez” and “According to Jim,” which leads into its newest put-upon-dad show, “Rodney.” ABC might also get some buzz off the nonrepeating finale season of “NYPD Blue,” which could eventize the final season as viewers tune in to see how Detective Andy Sipowicz’s decade-long story line finally plays out. “You hope for ABC’s sake the show didn’t stay on a year too long,” Mr. Adgate said. “As long as Dennis Franz is in the show, it will do respectable numbers. ABC has a nice lineup with a whole bunch of male-oriented comedies on Tuesday nights.”
Can CBS conquer the “Law & Order” steamroller at 10 p.m.? The fact that the question is even being asked bodes well for “CSI: New York.” The 8 p.m. hour is competitive, thanks to the Fox comedies, the critically praised “Lost” on ABC and the heavily promoted “Hawaii” on NBC, but the return of UPN’s reality hit “America’s Next Top Model” as well as the weakened but still kicking “Smallville” on The WB cannot be ignored. “The mini-networks on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. have some real ammunition,” Mr. Adgate said.
At 9 p.m., time will tell if audiences react positively to UPN’s “Kevin Hill,” the way critics and executives have. Fox is probably in the most jeopardy, especially if “Method & Red” continues to perform poorly. Mr. Carroll said NBC’s focus on restoring “The West Wing’s” luster could help the show regain its past ratings, but UPN’s “Top Model”-supported “Kevin Hill” may be the big surprise of the night. “It has a real shot to do well,” he said.
ABC is hoping “Wife Swap” at 10 p.m. does as well as “Trading Spouses” did for Fox this summer. “The Bachelor,” which traditionally pulls its ratings weight, at 9 p.m. should help. Even with “CSI: New York,” it would be a mistake to prematurely take the ratings mantle away from NBC. The “Law & Order” number is going to continue to be solid,” Mr. Carroll said. “There are just going to be alternatives.”
Whether “Joey” at 8 p.m. can dominate the time period for NBC is a less important question than it could have been had reality hit “The Apprentice” not come along to take 9 p.m. duties. The halo effect of “Apprentice” at 9 could help both its lead-in “Will & Grace” and lead-out “ER.” CBS should do fine with “Survivor,” but the “CSI” franchise could risk being spread too thin, thanks to all its spin-offs.
ABC is taking its best shot for the night, with strong lead-off “Extreme Makeover.” A little uptick from “life as we know it,” however, could go a long way. “Outside of `[Who Wants to Be a] Millionaire,’ it’s been a tough night for them,” Mr. Adgate said of ABC. But even if “life” is a slight success among a young demo, it may be worth it. “It may deliver a small niche,” he said.
Fox is hoping to pick up some “Friends” refugees with “The O.C.” at 8 p.m., and is thinking happy thoughts for the shuffled “Tru Calling.” The WB’s “Blue Collar TV” has had a good start this summer, but the network is going to need something at 9 p.m. now that “Studio 7” is gone.
The WB could go the repeat route or even push up the midseason launches of reality projects such as the next cycle of “High School Reunion” and newcomer “Big Man on Campus.” According to Mr. Carroll, UPN’s “WWE SmackDown!” is what it is. “That younger male audience is watching `SmackDown!”‘ he said. “It is one of the most consistent numbers.” NBC has the most to lose, particularly among younger female viewers, while Fox and even ABC, have more to gain.
Friday could be renamed the “evening of new shows and time-period switches.” The relocated “8 Simple Rules” on ABC and The WB’s “What I Like About You” lead off their nights.
Fox starts with reality home makeover competition “The Complex: Malibu” before running repeats of “The Next Great Champ,” which it hopes turns into the heavyweight of the evening. The male-skewing comedies “Complete Savages” and “Commando Nanny” will probably duke it out at 8:30 p.m., while the medical dramas “dr. vegas” on CBS and “Medical Investigation” on NBC are facing off at 10 p.m.
“That’s a really hard time period,” Mr. Adgate said. “I don’t know how long either is going to survive. You could see one of those moving to another night if either network think
s it has potential.”
UPN is hoping “Enterprise” fans will find the show after its move from Wednesday. Science fiction fans along with the high-fashion “Model” at 9 p.m. are likely to bring better numbers for the network than last season’s weekly movie. CBS is still likely to perform best, thanks to the Emmy-nominated “Joan of Arcadia” and perennial ratings performer “JAG.”
It has finally happened. Saturday night ratings have gotten so low networks have deemed it no longer feasible to run original scripted programming on that night. CBS is going for franchise drama repeats at 9 p.m., while NBC’s entire night is repeats of “The Apprentice,” “Law & Order” and other dramas. ABC goes for kiddie library product and the occasional made-for-TV movie through its “Wonderful World of Disney” franchise.
The only original programs on are from Fox, with its indestructible “Cops” and “America’s Most Wanted,” and CBS, which is starting the night with “Amazing Race.” But because “Race” has done so well this summer, word is it might be moved someplace more profitable during the week. “There’s no money to be made with original shows, so I guess you repurpose,” Mr. Adgate said of Saturdays. “I guess at this point, now that the networks are owned by huge media conglomerates, this is a business decision. I don’t think it’s going to go on other nights-I hope not.”
A fairly stable night overall, except in the 9 p.m. hour, when three of the five networks launch new shows.
The prize for most buzz goes to The WB’s “Jack & Bobby,” with ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” coming in a close second. Fox’s 9 p.m. reality entry “The Partner” has a weakened or aging comedy block lead-in (which could benefit “Steve Harvey’s Big Time” on The WB) but may thrive on its time-period uniqueness. CBS’s “Cold Case” at 8 p.m. and NBC’s “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” at 9 p.m. are still the shows to beat, but ABC has a chance to make some noise at 8 p.m. with “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and at 10 p.m. with its own extreme makeover: network edition, David E. Kelley’s “Boston Legal.” The overall stability means a likely ratings repeat of last season.
“Obviously, NBC has the younger audience, and CBS has the most viewers,” Mr. Adgate said. “They are both keeping their lineups intact, which shows you how they feel about their programming.” But an outside force may be a deciding factor in which wins the 9 p.m. hour. “The thing that really runs 9 o’clock on Sunday nights,” he said, “is what HBO is putting on.”