Fall TV 2019: The 6 Most Intriguing Time-Slot Matchups

'This Is Us' vs. 'Empire,' 'Young Sheldon' leading CBS and 'The Rookie' in a tough spot: These are the nightly battles to watch.
NBC; Fox; ABC
'This Is Us' (left), 'Empire' and 'Mixed-ish' will square off on Tuesday nights in the fall.

One of the key messages of the broadcast upfronts was that networks aren't just about the primetime schedule anymore. With more ways than ever for viewers to watch programming — NBC research head Jeff Bader said his team tracks 14(!) different digital platforms to measure the audience for The Good Place — the traditional schedule grid is now more of a starting point than the be-all, end-all for broadcasters.

Which is not to say it doesn't matter. Networks still put considerable thought into where to place shows to ensure that viewers stick around and to placing new shows behind strong, established series. And sometimes, as with NBC stacking all three of its Chicago shows on Wednesday nights in 2018-19, it can resuscitate a show or even a whole night.

The level of gamesmanship in scheduling has also declined; it's pretty rare in the last decade that one network reworks its grid in response to a rival's moves. There are, however, several interesting matchups to keep an eye on in the fall. Below is one for each night of the week (excluding sports- and rerun-heavy Saturday).

Monday: All Rise vs. Prodigal Son
The 9 o'clock hour will feature the second halves of The Voice on NBC and Dancing With the Stars on ABC, plus these two new dramas. Fox's Prodigal Son, about a criminal profiler (The Walking Dead's Tom Payne) whose dad (Michael Sheen) is a serial killer, will likely have a lead-in advantage from 911 over CBS' All Rise, which follows new comedy Bob Hearts Abishola. All Rise, about the workings of L.A.'s main courthouse, makes sense in that spot because, at least to judge by its trailer, it's not a heavy drama and can flow nicely out of a comedy before leading into another legal show in Bull.

Tuesday: This Is Us vs. Empire's final season vs. Mixed-ish
Network TV's top-rated drama, This Is Us, declined significantly in its on-air ratings in 2018-19, but it's still very much the show to beat at 9 p.m. It will be interesting to see how Empire fares opposite another serialized family drama (not to mention CBS' very solid FBI) in its final season — and first not to air on Wednesday nights. Mixed-ish, a spinoff of Black-ish set in the 1980s and following the younger version of Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross), could have some trouble breaking through against fairly stiff competition.

Wednesday: The Masked Singer vs. Survivor
Survivor, it should be said, will probably be fine. The longest-tenured reality competition on network TV will air its 39th edition in the fall, and it has a very steady and loyal audience. It's been several years, though, since it has faced a show with as much momentum as The Masked Singer, the top new series of 2018-19 in adults 18-49 by a wide margin. Will Fox show keep its buzz up and eat into Survivor's audience, or will other shows pay the price?

Thursday: Young Sheldon vs. expectations
No one is — or no one should be, anyway — expecting the Big Bang Theory spinoff to replicate its parent show's incredible run or instantly become network TV's top show. Comparisons are, however, probably inevitable. Young Sheldon will have the mantle of TV's top returning comedy in the fall, and it will be one of only two returning series (along with NCIS) that average more than 10 million same-day viewers. CBS has positioned it well to succeed thus far, but labeling it the next huge hit probably does the show a disservice.

Friday: WWE Smackdown vs. the field
Over its past 12 airings on USA, Smackdown has averaged a 0.7 rating among adults 18-49 and a little over 2.1 million viewers — figures that are below Fox's Friday average for the current season. It's reasonable to expect a bit of a bump for Smackdown when it moves to a broadcast network, but the WWE audience may not steal that many viewers from the other networks. Where wrestling — which doesn't do reruns — will help Fox most is in summer and other normally down times when it would otherwise have filler on Fridays.

Sunday: The Rookie vs. football
Airing at 10 on Tuesday nights this season, The Rookie provided a ratings bump and some stability for what has been ABC's worst time slot in recent years. Naturally, then, the network moved it to another tough spot: Sundays at 10, where no ABC scripted show has lasted longer than a season and a half this decade. If the Nathan Fillion-led cop show can stabilize that hour as well opposite NBC's primetime NFL broadcast, it will be a low-key MVP candidate for ABC.

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