Fall TV Countdown: 7 Key Shows to Watch and Biggest Time-Slot Battles
Comedy rules as the networks play it safe and the season's major showdowns are set.
This story first appeared in the June 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
With more than $9 billion up for grabs, the weeklong TV upfront presentations were dominated not by big creative swings and top drama producers but rather the promise of comedy.
In a bid to replicate the early success of Fox's New Girl and the continued strength of ABC's Modern Family, a vast majority of the 2012-13 season's new half-hour offerings feature female voices or fractured families. There were 16 ordered in all, with the tone of Fox's brother-sister comedy Ben and Kate (from 20th Century Fox TV) and the potential broadness of NBC's veterinarian-focused Animal Kingdom (from NBC's Universal Television) garnering the most attention.
Female viewers, says Dana Walden, chairman of 20th Century Fox TV, which produces New Girl and Modern Family, "are more inclined to give something new a shot, but we're also interested in their husbands, brothers, sons and fathers." Still, others voice concerns about the financial advantages of femme-focused fare, which historically struggles in syndication, and the rising costs of single-camera work. A first-year multicam sitcom typically costs $1.3 million to $1.6 million per episode to produce, while a single-cam costs $1.8 million to $2.2 million -- and the latter rarely matches the reach or revenue of the former.
Warner Bros. TV and Universal Television tied for the lead with nine pickups apiece. WBTV's advantage? "The ability to bring the right idea to the right network for the right reason," boasts president Peter Roth. But other studio chiefs say they came away happy, too. CBS TV Studios president David Stapf says he was able "to supply a majority of the shows for our sister networks, CBS and The CW," and Sony scored an impressive 5-of-9 pickup ratio. Still, unlike last year, when the selling point was "something different" -- Terra Nova (dinosaurs!), Smash (Broadway!), Once Upon a Time (fairy tales!) -- this year's offerings were widely perceived as safer and, as one studio executive notes, somewhat lackluster in their presentation.
Key Show to Watch: Partners (CBS), 8:30 p.m. Mondays
Relocating Two and a Half Men (and its 15 million viewers) to Thursday from its nine-season Monday perch sets a high ratings bar for its CBS replacement, a gay-straight buddy comedy from Will & Grace's David Kohan and Max Mutchnick. If viewers tune out, sophomore hit 2 Broke Girls and the rest of CBS' Monday lineup could suffer.
Key Show to Watch: The Neighbors (ABC), 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays
ABC's only premiere-week comedy launch gets the post-Modern slot. ABC Entertainment head Paul Lee called the show the "new gold standard" among the network's comedies, but buyers wonder if its aliens-next-door premise is too one-note. If Neighbors becomes this year's Work It, ABC could squander prime real estate.
Battleground: Touch (Fox) vs. Community/Whitney (NBC), 8 p.m. Fridays
Network executives spoke at the upfronts about revitalizing Friday night. But when NBC moved underperforming comedies Whitney and Community to the 8 p.m. hour opposite Fox's modestly rated drama Touch, graveyard chatter began anew. Still, the Friday perch could take pressure off these niche shows.
Battleground: The Good Wife (CBS) vs. Revenge (ABC), 9 p.m. Sundays
The hole created by Desperate Housewives' departure leaves the field wide open for both femme-facing dramas. CBS scheduling chief Kelly Kahl says the numbers are on his side. Good Wife, he notes, "did just fine against Desperate Housewives," which was "actually doing better than Revenge." Sunday's fierce cable competition also will factor into the race.
Key Show to Watch: Revolution (NBC), 10 p.m. Mondays
NBC is giving its most valuable post-The Voice time slot to a serialized, high-concept big bet from producer J.J. Abrams. Will it be a Lost or another Undercovers or Alcatraz? Greenblatt is said to be particularly high on the show, but some buyers note that recent high-cost sci-fi entries (Terra Nova) have failed to deliver.
Battleground: Happy Endings (ABC) vs. New Girl (Fox) vs. Go On (NBC), 9 p.m. Tuesdays
It's a comedy showdown! The tonally similar Happy Endings and New Girl will battle Matthew Perry's Go On on NBC, which has vowed to make Tuesday night a marketing priority. The competition is just as fierce at 9:30 p.m., with Don't Trust the B---- in Apt 23, The Mindy Project and Ryan Murphy's The New Normal going head to head.
Key Show to Watch: Rock Center With Brian Williams (NBC), 10 p.m. Thursdays
The Brian Williams newsmagazine is the lowest-rated Big Four show to receive a renewal, and it's moving to one of the schedule's most lucrative slots. "It makes no sense," snipes one rival executive. Says another, "It will be a bloodbath." And while Greenblatt preaches patience, affiliates might not be willing to endure such a low lead-in to their local news. Remember the Jay Leno experiment?
Lesley Goldberg contributed to this report.