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The Boldest and Wussiest Network Moves for New TV Season

Upfronts 2015: NBC goes all-in on live shows, ABC adds Sunday programming and CW further sheds its youthful facade

It’s that time of year again, when broadcast networks reveal their big ideas and big plans for the upcoming TV seasons during a week of presentations in New York.

As always, there were surprises, sure bets, big moves and small ones.

NBC raised some eyebrows when it went all in on live programming, adding a full season of “Undateable” live and continuing its tradition of live musicals with “The Wiz,” while CBS gets some credit for finally green-lighting a female-led superhero series.

On the other end of the spectrum, from Fox doubling down on “Empire,” NBC giving up on its glory days of must-see TV comedy, CBS betting on existing properties and The CW not giving many new shows a shot, there were moves that didn’t raise any eyebrows at all.

TheWrap picks each networks’ boldest and wussiest move heading into the 2015-16 TV season.



Bold: Is ABC Ready for Some Football?

ABC is taking a big gamble by sending Don Johnson vehicle “Oil” and Biblical drama “Of Kings and Prophets” up against NBC’s Sunday Night Football. “Oil” has the added benefit of being topical, and “Prophets” will likely attract the Christian audience , but will that be enough to stop the NFL juggernaut? Only time will tell who will win in this David and Goliath matchup.

Wussy: Slow and Steady Doesn’t Win Ratings
If you think ABC’s fall schedule looks a little familiar, you’re not wrong. The network made very few changes in terms of their programming lineup for the fall season. Shonda Rhimes still has a definitive hold on primetime Thursdays, with “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal,” and “How to Get Away with Murder” all returning. Likewise for “Dancing with the Stars” and “Castle” coming back on Mondays. While there is credence to the idea of a sticking with a tested formula, in the internet age, freshness can be key.

Freshman shows “Quantico” and “OIL” will have to stand on their own, unless the Shondaland block wants to make a little room to help them find their audience.


Photo: Bonnie Osborne

Photo: Bonnie Osborne

Bold: “Girl” Power
“Supergirl,” executive produced by the king of CW’s teenage superhero shows Greg Berlanti, is not exactly an earth-shattering idea. But CBS gets points for greelighting a female-centric superhero series starring “Glee” alum Melissa Benoist. Having her running around as a bumbling assistant to Calista Flockhart’s “Devil Wears Prada”-esque boss is just the icing on an already yummy rom-com cake.

Wussy: Too Much of a Good Thing
CBS isn’t taking too many chances this season, relying instead on already established properties. The Tiffany Network is betting on blockbuster movie adaptations for “Rush Hour” and “Limitless,” as well as comic book adaptation “Supergirl,” plus another spinoff of its hugely popular “Criminal Minds.”


Taraji P Henson Empire Cookie
Bold: A Whole New Tuesday

Fox has an entirely brand-new Tuesday night comedy lineup beginning this fall. Here’s how we got here: “Utopia,” which kicked off Tuesdays in 2014-2015, was a phenomenal flop, “The Mindy Project” was canceled in part because Fox’s sister studio doesn’t own it, and “Weird Loners” was an embarrassing disaster. We could go back further if we wanted to. Anyway, Fox is holding “New Girl” for midseason, which opens up all of primetime for its secondary comedy night (behind Sunday, of course). So, “bold” or “forced” — it’s a high-risk, potential high-reward situation on a night Fox regularly does not compete on. Let’s see how “Grandfather,” “The Grinder” and “Scream Queens” fare — we know Fox is excited for them.

Wussy: Why Not Use “Empire” as Lead-In to Launch New Show
We need to add the caveat right upfront here that this “wussy” move could also fall under “smart.” But we’re calling out Fox for it anyway because they’re playing it safe with the one property that could really breathe life into their next season, which the fourth-place network desperately needs. “Empire” is staying untouched in its Wednesday, 9 p.m. timeslot — Dana Walden and Gary Newman just upped its order from 12 to 18 episodes this time around and are starting the run earlier in the season. Newman told reporters recently that he didn’t think the content of the show would be an issue at 8 p.m. — he just wanted viewers to know where to find it. Understandable, but how about using the show as a lead-in somewhere? Yes its a risk, but one that could pay off with retention numbers.


Bold: “We Are Live!” Doubling down on Live Programming
NBC will bring back sophomore comedy “Undateable” for a third season. The catch? The entire season will consist of live episodes. The series aired one live episode at the end of season two, which while not a blockbuster, did provide the Peacock a slight uptick in their nightly ratings.

NBC will also air a live staging of the 1978 Motown musical “The Wiz.” The network struck ratings gold with a live staging of “Sound of Music” in 2013, with 18.62 million people tuning in. A live version of “Peter Pan” bac in December only attracted 9.1 million viewers, though that was still enough to provide NBC with a ratings win for the night.

Wussy: Comedy Flies the Peacock Coop
Long gone are the days of NBC’s Thursday night comedy dominance. Shows like “Seinfeld,” “Friends,” and “Will and Grace” used to provide the network with a no-brainer win in the ratings. Lately, however, the network has strayed further and further from its comedy glory days. This coming season, NBC will only debut one new comedy at the start of the fall season (Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s “People Are Talking”). Other shows like Eva Longoria’s telenovela comedy “Hot and Bothered” and Patrick Warburton‘s “Crowded” are waiting in the midseason wings, but the other nets will roll out 8 new comedies before those shows see the light of day.


The CW

Bold: Class Dismissed
The CW has been talking about expanding its demographic and growing up from the signature high school-set teen shows that launched its network for several years now, but it has never been more clear than in the latest season, when new shows like “Legends of Tomorrow” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” feature grown up characters in grown up situations. “Containment” is probably the most obvious example of this, with the quarantine drama looking and feeling like it could be a good fit on any other broadcast network with their 18-49 demographics firmly in tact.

Wussy: That’s It?
The CW only has three new series orders for this coming season. Three. And two of them won’t even premiere until midseason! That made for one brief upfront presentation on Thursday. The network and its chief, Mark Pedowitz, will tell you that they didn’t have to replace many shows this year because the broadcast channel had such a successful season. That’s half true. Some of the shows (“The Flash”) did do quite well in the ratings, while others (“Jane The Virgin”) garnered critical acclaim. Neither can be replaced, obviously. But are you telling us that the “Reign” or “Vampire Diaries” timeslots aren’t worth taking a flyer on? To us, that sounds like there’s just not much of substance in the pipeline.