THR's Midseason TV Report Card: Where the Networks Stand Heading Into TCA
NBC prays for a "Smash" and the other broadcast nets arrive with a sense of (cautious) optimism.
A fall season sprinkled with much-needed breakout hits -- from Fox's New Girl to ABC's Revenge to CBS' 2 Broke Girls -- will give the broadcast chiefs some talking points at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour, Jan. 4 to 15 in Pasadena.
There is one conspicuous exception: NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt, who is largely peddling his predecessor's fare, saw ratings for his network drop 11 percent during the first 13 weeks of the 2011-12 season. Still, he has high hopes for the musical Smash, part of a wave of big midseason bets that also includes ABC's spooky thriller The River and Fox's J.J. Abrams mystery Alcatraz.
"The biggest criticism last year was lack of imagination," says Horizon Media senior vp research Brad Adgate. "This year, there has been much more effort made to invest in the shows, and so far it's paying off."
Where It Stands: After a rocky 2010-11 season featuring such flops as My Generation, Off the Map and Mr. Sunshine, the network's fall slate served up promising freshman building blocks: the soapy drama Revenge, satirical comedy Suburgatory and fairy-tale fantasy Once Upon a Time. "We know that we have some aging franchises," says Jeff Bader, ABC's executive vp planning and scheduling, referencing long-in-the-tooth dramas Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy and its spinoff, Private Practice. "So the fact that we have three new shows that seem to be getting some traction is fantastic." (Missing from that list are the fall misfires Man Up!, Charlie's Angels and Pan Am.) While Paranormal Activity director Oren Peli's The River, clearly a favorite of chief Paul Lee, has the potential to broaden ABC's female-skewing viewership, GCB -- another sexy soap -- is more likely to draw eyeballs to its 10 p.m. Sunday slot. Ashley Judd's thriller Missing won't debut until March, a post-Academy Awards strategy that benefited the Dana Delany coroner drama Body of Proof last year.
What It Needs: ABC must breathe new life into eroding franchises or find ways to launch new ones. Dancing With the Stars and The Bachelor were down during their previous cycles, but like many reality franchises, ratings can spike with a bit of inspired casting or a storyline that catches the zeitgeist. (Is Bristol Palin available again?) At the same time, Lee must convince audiences to sample six new midseason shows competing for attention ("Too many," says one network insider).
What to Look For: If the cross-dressing comedy Work It fails -- rather, when Work It fails -- expect Lee to sub in new episodes of Cougar Town, Bill Lawrence's third-season comedy that is waiting in the wings. Bader suggests the projects left off the schedule -- Shonda Rhimes' drama Scandal and the Krysten Ritter comedy Don't Trust the B-- in Apartment 23 -- will debut after the Feb. 26 Oscars, allowing ample promo time from what many consider the Super Bowl for female viewers.