TV Upfronts: Networks Place Bigger Bets on Midseason

'24: Legacy' and the DC Comics workplace comedy 'Powerless' are among the new shows being held for later launches.
Clockwise from top left: 'Powerless,' 'Doubt,' 'Downward Dog,' '24: Legacy'

The five broadcast networks unveiled their new shows and fall schedules to advertisers this past week, and while there are still four months until the fall premieres, much of the post-upfronts interest is already focused on midseason.

That's because networks like NBC and Fox are holding an increasingly large number of new shows for midseason premieres. NBC leads the pack with nine rookie midseason premieres, including such spinoffs as Chicago Justice and Blacklist: Redemption, as well as the buzzy DC Comics workplace comedy Powerless and the TV adaptation of Taken.

Fox, meanwhile has eight shows on the docket for later launches, including the Prison Break revival, Lee Daniels' highly anticipated Empire follow-up Star, MLB entry Pitch and 24: Legacy — the latter two of which are being timed with the baseball season and the Super Bowl, respectively. (Despite not airing originals at 10 p.m., Fox also picked up a higher number of shows this season as the network braces for its first midseason without stalwart American Idol, which took up a considerable amount of real estate on its schedule.)

Sports, it seems, also is to blame for so many series being held until midseason. Fox is the annual home to the MLB postseason and in the past has had a challenging time trying to launch new hits in September only to take them off the air for several weeks for consecutive nights of baseball. (See: New Girl's fall from a 4.3 rating among adults 18-49 to a 3.6 rating when it was off the air for nearly the whole month of October). NBC, meanwhile, has limited room on its schedule come pigskin season because for the first time ever, the network will air five Thursday Night Football games — sharing the schedule with CBS and the NFL Network — in addition to its long-standing hit Sunday Night Football.

Now going into its third season of having Thursday Night Football on its fall schedule, CBS has found success with staggering premieres throughout the fall to accommodate around the NFL games. Again, the network will open the season in September with The Big Bang Theory on Mondays, along with new multicam Kevin Can Wait, before moving TV's No. 1 comedy to its regular Thursday home and then pairing Kevin with Matt LeBlanc's new sitcom, Man With a Plan.

The ability to stagger premieres throughout the full TV season, rather than compete to lure eyeballs during an intense two-week period in September, is another reason why midseason may be looking increasingly attractive to networks.

ABC has no primetime sports in the fall — sibling network ESPN is home to Monday Night Football — but that isn't stopping the Disney-owned network from holding four of nine new shows for midseason, including the new Shondaland drama Still Star-Crossed. Two returning Shondaland shows also will be held for midseason — Scandal (due to star Kerry Washington's pregnancy) and The Catch.

Last but not least, The CW has its most high-profile new series (Greg Berlanti's Riverdale) launching midseason and also is holding the most returning series with The Originals, Reign, iZombie and The 100 all on the bench. The 100, as well as iZombie, both enjoyed solid midseason premieres during their freshman runs, and the former has subsequently been relegated to midseason ever since.

Although there typically is the most hype around the fall season and September specifically, The 100 and other recent hits prove midseason shows have staying power, too. Empire opened huge in January 2015 just weeks after the holiday; Chicago P.D. is going into its fourth season after a January 2014 bow; and two of ABC's biggest hits, Grey's Anatomy and Scandal, first bowed in March and April, respectively.

Programmers also have been forced to look beyond sweeps as repeats increasingly fail to lure the reliable numbers they once did. During a conference call discussing his network's new fall schedule, The CW president Mark Pedowitz emphasized his plan for a 52-week programming strategy that even includes scripted summer launches like the upcoming fourth and final season of Beauty and the Beast. 

Simply put, the era of Peak TV and increased competition from cable, premium and streaming platforms means broadcasters have to be ready for battle in the fall, midseason and all year long. Clear out your DVRs now.

Keep up with all the renewals, cancellations and new series pickups with THR's handy scorecard and follow the pilot crop status here. For full Upfronts 2016 coverage, go to THR.com/upfronts

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