Fall slates were set in stone and timeslots and pitches were pushed on both media buyers and TV reporters last week. Now that we’ve had a few moments to recover from the mania of 2015’s upfront presentations, TheWrap looks back on the trends and takeaways, broken down by each broadcast network.
ABC is pretty pleased with where it sits despite lacking the big ratings benefit of NFL football — and Paul Lee, Ben Sherwood & Co. made sure to let reporters and media buyers see their smiles during their presentation. The Disney broadcast network which, notwithstanding sports, stands atop the heap, is clearly continuing to build its brand based on family-friendly half-hour comedies.
New offering “The Muppets” is definitely an 8 p.m. show and finds a home this fall on Tuesday evenings. The rest of the night is a mixed bag. At 8:30 is “Fresh Off the Boat,” which performed fine in that timeslot during its freshman run, but then the night continues with an about-face to “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD,” which has humorous elements but is in no way a sitcom. That will serve as lead-in to far-darker terrorist drama “Quantico.”
At least the night flows steadily from light to heavy.
The net’s other new comedy, “Dr. Ken,” got shoved into the Friday timeslot that proved to be a black hole for last season’s canceled “Cristela.” If the new Ken Jeong vehicle is to have a prayer, execs had better hope “Shark Tank” viewers decide to tune in a half hour early. Arguably ABC’s most-anticipated new comedy, “Uncle Buck,” was the last of the network’s shows to receive a series order and won’t arrive until mid-season.
On Sundays, the forever-running “America’s Funniest Home Videos” leads into the totally unrelated staple “Once Upon a Time” — though “AFHV” often just jumps on the grenade of competing against NFL overruns on other networks. Then, two new dramas, “Oil” and biblical series “Of Kings and Prophets,” finish the evening off against NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.”
What ABC lacks in sports, however, it makes up in Shonda Rhimes, which was pretty much the entire theme of the network’s upfront. The hottest showrunner in town is the network’s second strategy, with the new midseason offering “The Catch” adding to her top-rated Thursday block.
Have you heard that CBS is America’s most-watched network? Well it is, again — a point that Les Moonves was more than happy to reiterate. With Super Bowl 50 coming in February, it’s safe to say that Moonves & Co. will probably be able to add another season victory at the 2016 upfronts.
CBS backed off a bit from the trendy “millenial” chatter, but it went all-in to tout the younger-skewing new show “Supergirl” as well as rattling off stats about how its average viewer is magically reverse-aging. “Scorpion” helped reel in a younger demo last fall, “Thursday Night Football” didn’t hurt and being first-to-market with over-the-top CBS All Access is something that can be used in Moonves’s favor should that whole “geezer network” argument arise again.
Network brass know what butters their bread, dedicating much of their upfront event and after-party to ratings powerhouse “Big Bang Theory” and the National Football League. The gang from the network on which the first Super Bowl ever aired was positively giddy at having the next one, a beautifully round 50th anniversary contest — a gift to the network’s ad sales and marketing/promotions teams.
Plus, CBS has addressed its late-night issue, a glaring weakness that it had put up with for far too long. Craig Ferguson had a loyal cult following, which lent the network some alt-comedy cred. But here’s the thing about cult followings: They’re not big enough to be a full congregation. James Corden has begun to re-shape and modernize that timeslot, and already has a few running gags (“Carpool Karaoke” and “Every XX Movie in XX Minutes”) that have proven web-friendly. Meanwhile, David Letterman always will be an icon, but he doesn’t seem to have the energy or interest for today’s viral video market. Comedy Central breakout star Stephen Colbert may have those goodies; we’ll see how he works out when not in character.
Both Corden and Colbert played key roles at the 2015 upfront — not uncommon for late-night hosts, but of particular importance for these two newbies to the network. The crowd who buys commercial time loved the one-two punch — we’ll see soon if those with Nielsen set-top boxes do, too.
Like a senior during the last week of school, the CW pretty much did nothing this upfronts season. The youngest-skewing network ordered a mere three new series for next season — three! — and two of those won’t even debut until mid-season.
Instead, network president Mark Pedowitz did more looking back (and back-patting) than looking forward, devoting a lot of time to his two most important 1-year-old properties: ratings hit “The Flash” and critical darling “Jane the Virgin.”
New property “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” will serve as a lead-in for the ratings-challenged “Jane” this fall, and the show is quirky enough and star Rachel Bloom is adorable enough to make a potential impact. The biggest payoff is likely to come when “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” bows in mid-season. A spinoff from the DC universe of “Arrow” and “The Flash,” the superhero series could (and likely will) open the door to a CW mega-crossover.
After all, TV ratings are all about events and appointment viewing these days, and the three-way has worked for NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU,” “Chicago Fire” and “Chicago P.D.” Why not take a page out of the big boys’ books, CW?
The only other interesting aspect of the CW’s upfronts season is that “Cordon” was renamed “Containment;” that, too, will debut in 2016. In other scheduling news, “Reign” and “The Originals” were shuffled to new nights, while “The 100” will wait for mid-season.
Fox has some ground to make up this coming. Pause for a minute to imagine 2014-15 for Fox if “Empire” did not exist. We’re shuddering at the very thought, one that would be enough to keep co-CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman up at night.
Fortunately for Fox, “Empire” does exist — and in a big way. Fox has elected to leave its crown jewel exactly where it was on the schedule — Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. — but it will return earlier in the fall rather than midseason with an increased 18-episode order (Smart move!). The increased order and earlier launch were no-brainers for Fox execs, who announced that Chris Rock, Alicia Keys and Lenny Kravitz will be among the A-list guest stars for the sophomore season.
The two channel chiefs also wisely moved the 2015 Primetime Emmy Awards back to September, offering another helping hand to kick off the season. Should Sunday afternoon NFL games run into primetime, the network ought to be off to a strong start this fall. Mid-season, the network has the NFC Championship game — a huge viewer draw — which will serve as lead-in for the “X-Files” revival.
An interesting trend that appears to be taking greater shape this season is the halving of orders, especially for Fox. Most of Fox’s show runs will be split right down the middle, with a heavy break in between, allowing for two mostly equal mini-seasons of original episodes with limited interruptions week to week. The hope is to create anticipation and appointment viewing for two “premieres” and two “finales,” with predictable, habitual viewing during both runs. A strategy that has proved to be successful for cable networks such as ABC Family, MTV and AMC.
Fox is also trying something new this fall on Tuesdays: all new shows. The network has an entirely shiny new comedy lineup that the bigwigs seem genuinely excited for: “Grandfathered” starring John Stamos, “The Grinder” with Rob Lowe, and Ryan Murphy’s “Scream Queens.”
Of course, probably the biggest scheduling news is the farewell tour for “American Idol” as it enters its 15th and final season. “It was not an easy decision,” Newman told reporters.
NBC entered the upfronts in first place in the key 18-49 demo — for the second year in a row. Last year, the Peacock had the Sochi Winter Olympics and this season it lucked out with a nail-biter Super Bowl. Plus, “Sunday Night Football” is still TV’s top series.
The challenge will be three-peating. NBC will have the Summer Olympics next year, but those don’t take place until after upfronts. Without anything else entirely special on the schedule, NBC may struggle to claim the demo ratings crown again.
Schedule-wise, NBC is handing the coveted Monday post-“Voice” timeslots to super-producer Greg Berlanti’s “Blindspot” and Melissa George medical drama “Heartbreaker” on Tuesday. The network seems particularly optimistic about the former drama. The latter, well, let’s just say that it doesn’t look like a slam dunk. Following “Heartbreaker” on Tuesday is fun Neil Patrick Harris vehicle “Best Time Ever,” which could succeed simply based on a marriage of talent and genre.
Later in the week, the highly anticipated “Heroes Reborn” will lead into the critically beloved “Blacklist,” with Wesley Snipes’ drama “The Player” keeping the night edgy at 10. The following evening, NBC will try to keep people inside on Fridays with all-live episodes of “Undateable” at 8, giving birth to Mark-Paul Gosselaar dirty-talk comedy “People Are Talking” at 8:30.
Mid-season will bring a new Eva Longoria telenovela comedy and the updated version of classic sitcom “Coach.” All in all, the schedule appears to be an attempt for NBC to move on from its “must-see TV” days without completely abandoning nostalgia. We’ll see if advertisers will buy it.