Fall broadcast programming scorecard
A trip across Broadcast's fall spectrum to check in on network strategy, rookie-show buzz -- and who's still doing the executive shuffle.Download 2007-08 primetime schedule (PDF)
It was a busy first year for CW executives, who had to get a new network off the ground while getting the word out to viewers. Now they can focus their efforts on what really matters: "Our top priority has been creating new shows," says CW president of entertainment Dawn Ostroff. The CW launched only two series last fall -- returning comedy "The Game" and short-lived drama "Runaway" -- with execs choosing to load the 2006-07 schedule primarily with shows from the WB and UPN, which had merged to form the CW. Another scripted drama, "Hidden Palms," failed to catch on with viewers. But this year, the network is moving forward with four new scripted series, all of which "can be network-defining series in terms of quality, attitude and style," Ostroff says. Indeed, critics have been buzzing about "Reaper," "Aliens in America" and "Gossip Girl," which could give the CW a boost in its sophomore year. Meanwhile, new family-friendly drama "Life Is Wild" could fill the void left by the recently departed "7th Heaven." Although its target viewer is younger than that of the other broadcast networks, the CW also is playing with new formats, as with "CW Now," its young-adult-targeted entertainment newsmagazine, and "Online Nation," which features user-generated videos found on the Web. "The addition of these new shows will help us strengthen the schedule, enable us to grow and further shape our brand identity," Ostroff says. "The key to our future and success is in our shows."
For its sophomore go-around, MyNetworkTV's schedule is getting a nearly full makeover. The network launched a year ago with a lineup solely comprised of drama strips, but in light of underwhelming ratings, execs decided to cut the dramas back from five nights a week in the spring, just ahead of the upfronts, rather than waiting until the fall. Execs added unscripted series "IFL Battleground," which brought in more male viewers, and two nights of theatrical airings. Now, MyNet has all but done away with the scripted telenovelas -- the final two might finish their run later in the season on a weekly basis -- in favor of reality programming and theatricals. New unscripted series include "Celebrity Expose," from the producers of "Access Hollywood" and "Jail," from John Langley, creator-producer of Fox's "Cops." "Our goal is to expand our audience and reach," says Greg Meidel, the former CBS Paramount Domestic Television senior executive who was named president of MyNet in January. "The bottom line is that we are moving forward, and our new season will reflect MyNetworkTV in the post-telenovela era." Meidel says the "big action movies" that air on Thursday nights serve as good counterprogramming to the hit dramas airing on other broadcast networks, adding that viewership is already up 60%-100%."I don't think we'll outdo (ABC's) 'Grey's Anatomy' or (CBS') 'CSI,' but these are working for us," he says.
After years of solid ratings and little buzz, CBS is shaking things up this fall with an unconventional slate of new series, including murder-mystery musical "Viva Laughlin," couple-swapping period drama "Swingtown," vampire P.I. drama "Moonlight," Cuban-American family drama "Cane" and children's society reality show "Kid Nation." "We really looked for projects that were different, a little bit daring," says CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler. "We have a very strong and stable schedule, and it really seemed like the right time." CBS finished the 2006-07 season No.1 in total viewers -- the network's fifth straight viewership win -- and ranked second among adults 18-49, behind Fox. And while the concepts of its new scripted series mark a vast departure from CBS' bread-and-butter procedurals, "at the core of every one of these shows, they have a very strong and relatable narrative, great storytelling, relatable characters," Tassler says. "And the concepts give us a little bit something juicier, a little bit more potential to attract new audience." In terms of its executive leadership, CBS continues to be the epitome of stability. In July, the network officially handed over the titles of senior vps drama to Christina Davis and Robert Zotnowski, who had been shepherding CBS' drama development since fall 2006, when then-senior vp drama Laverne McKinnon left the network.
Fox is enjoying strong momentum heading into the fall. The network is coming off its third consecutive season atop the ratings among adults 18-49 and a 28-week winning streak in the key demo. It boasts the biggest show on television, "American Idol," as well as white-hot drama "House," and will host Super Bowl XLII next year. There are some new faces in Fox's executive suite. A month after his ouster at NBC, Kevin Reilly joined Fox as entertainment president, reuniting with his former boss at FX, Peter Liguori. After a two-year stint as Fox entertainment president, Liguori was elevated to entertainment chairman. In one of the most closely watched contract negotiations, Fox's executive vp alternative programming Mike Darnell remained at the network with a president title and greater autonomy after considering leaving the executive ranks for a career as a producer. Additionally, former NBC Universal Television Studio senior vp Laura Lancaster took the reins of Fox's drama department, replacing Ted Gold, who left in May. Despite its ratings victories, Fox has often struggled in the fall, when its programming is interrupted by postseason baseball coverage. The network's fourth quarter woes will be alleviated by fewer pre-emptions this year. "The fact that we're going from 26 possible pre-emptions down to 14 helps," Liguori says. "But the single biggest thing that's going to help us in the fourth quarter: great programming." This fall, Fox will rely heavily on reality programming, holding back most of its new scripted series, including the "Terminator" feature series offshoot "The Sarah Connor Chronicles," the Julianna Margulies starrer "Canterbury's Law" and the supernatural cop drama "New Amsterdam," until midseason. Fox's fall lineup features two and a half hours of unscripted fare -- its most ever -- including a game-show night on Thursday and an all-reality Friday.
ABC is heading into the new season with re-established stability thanks to freshman success stories "Ugly Betty" and "Brothers & Sisters," which solidified an already potent lineup led by "Grey's Anatomy." "We have a much more stable schedule this year, returning a lot more shows and returning nights that are already dominant, without a lot of the big navigational changes like we had last year with 'Grey's,'" says Stephen McPherson, president of ABC Entertainment.Unscripted hits provide another layer to the schedule's bedrock foundation, with "Dancing With the Stars" and "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" on tap for fall. An extra boost will come in 2008 with the return of "Lost," which will run without repeats. ABC will look to build gains into time slots where it has solid lead-ins in place, like Thursday, where new drama "Big Shots" will get the coveted post-"Grey's" 10 p.m. berth. "Grey's" also leaves its mark on Wednesdays: Spinoff "Private Practice" has the 9 p.m. slot, with the pressure already on to boost new 10 p.m. entry "Dirty Sexy Money." Still, ABC continues to suffer a drought in the half-hour comedy area, lacking a single successful entry in the genre. The network is clearly hoping to remedy that omission on Tuesdays with an 8-9 p.m. twosome in "Cavemen" and "Carpoolers." But the new series to keep an eye on may be the last one ABC will add to the schedule this fall: "Pushing Daisies." With an off-kilter sensibility that is already drawing buzz and a Wednesday 8 p.m. time slot -- where "Lost" first took root -- "Daisies" may have the fresh feel that translates to sleeper success. McPherson emphasizes that the key to launching hits is taking creative risks. "I think with 'Ugly Betty' last year and 'Pushing Daisies' this year, we've got to continue to find the next thing and not kind of regurgitate stuff that we already have," he says.
NBC is coming off a roller coaster 2006-07 season. The network got off to a good start last fall on the strength of "Deal or No Deal," freshman hit "Heroes" and the reintroduction of professional football with "Sunday Night Football." But then the peacock lost momentum in the second half of the season, to finish in fourth place among adults 18-49 for a third consecutive year. Shortly after the end of the season, a surprising Memorial Day-weekend executive shakeup led to the ouster of entertainment president Kevin Reilly (who has since joined Fox) -- four months after he had signed a new multiyear contract with NBC -- and the installment of "The Office" and "Ugly Betty" executive producer Ben Silverman as co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios alongside NBC veteran Marc Graboff. The switch at the top triggered other executive moves at the company, including NBC Entertainment's executive vp Katherine Pope taking over UMS as president and Silverman's top lieutenant at his Reveille production company, Teri Weinberg, joining him as executive vp of NBC Entertainment. Meanwhile, former UMS (then NBC Universal Television Studio) president Angela Bromstad was tapped to head NBC Universal's London-based international production division. For the first time in almost 30 years, NBC doesn't have a new comedy series on its fall schedule. Plus, to avoid a repeats-related spring ratings slump, the network ordered extended seasons of its top comedies "The Office" and "My Name Is Earl," as well as "Heroes: Origins," a spinoff of its hot sci-fi series. That move is also considered a good strike contingency in the face of contract negotiations between the WGA, networks and the studios. Ratings aside, NBC has been enjoying great critical acclaim with "The Office" and freshmen "Friday Night Lights," "30 Rock" and "Heroes." "I am so happy to build on the legacy of quality that has been NBC's hallmark," Silverman says.
MORE FALL TV SEASON COVERAGE
FUTURE TENSE: Networks battle new media for viewer eyeballs
FEED THE WEB: Networks pursue total online immersion
REMOTE CONTROL: Scorecard on networks' fall strategies
GRID LOCK: Media buying experts survey the fall season
DIGITAL REALM: Film giving way to digital ... slowly
CREDIT CHECK: Studio and producer credits for the fall season