Running out of slots for comedy series and striking out with new dramas in the fall, NBC and ABC in midseason expanded their existing two-hour comedy blocks on Thursday and Wednesday, respectively, to three hours, to largely uninspiring results. Going into next fall, the 10-11 PM comedy hours are being scrapped in favor of opening up more traditional 8-9 PM comedy blocks on other nights. In another sign of the resurgence of the comedy genre, for the first time in six years, each of the Big Four broadcast networks will have two comedy blocks on the fall schedule. Interestingly, both NBC and ABC opted to launch their new comedy blocks in the time periods where they most recently ran comedies. And just like the last time, both NBC and ABC populated the blocks with new comedies. In fall 2006, NBC launched 30 Rock and Twenty Good Years from 8-9 PM on Wednesday, the same time slot the network is using this year for new comedies Up All Night and Free Agents. ABC, which is going with the Tim Allen vehicle Last Man Standing and Chris Moynihan’s Man Up Tuesdays 8-9 PM, last tried comedies on the night in the fall of 2007, with then-newbies Cavemen and Carpoolers.
Something else happened this season: the return of the 10 PM drama. Scores of new dramas met their demise trying to get off the ground in the hour over the past few years, with the only shows to make it were modest hits Brothers and Sisters, Castle and The Good Wife. Uncertain about the prospects of 10 PM dramas, NBC even tried a Jay Leno talk show in the slot two seasons ago and had since kept the hour comedy/reality branded. But this season, all four freshman dramas to make it to Season 2 were 10 PM shows: CBS’ Hawaii Five-0 and Blue Bloods, ABC’s Body of Proof and NBC’s Harry’s Law. What’s more, for the first time in five years, all Big 3 networks have scheduled dramas in the 10 PM slot every night Sunday through Thursday. (NBC has The Firm slated following the football season.)
Additionally, the Big 3 nets are unscpooling four new dramas – Terra Nova, Once Upon a Time, Charlie’s Angels and A Gifted Man — at 8 PM, which has become a graveyard for new drama series, claiming such high-profile casualties as FlashForward, No Ordinary Family and Undercovers. The last time an hourlong scripted series successfully launched at 8 PM was ABC’s comedic Ugly Betty in September 2006. While ABC, NBC and CBS are getting bold with putting new dramas in the 8 PM and 10 PM hour, surprisingly, there will be only one freshman drama on the three nets airing in a protected 9 PM slot that has been the most successful drama launching pad for the past few years with such shows as NCIS: LA, The Mentalist and Private Practice starting there. That is CBS’ Person of Interest, which is shaking things up on Thursday by taking over the not-so-protected anchor 9 PM slot from veteran CSI.
Some intriguing face-offs next season.
Sunday 9 PM ‘Battle of the Wives’: CBS’ The Good Wife vs. ABC’s Desperate Housewives. In the past couple of months, I noted several times that CBS should move The Good Wife away from the Tuesday 10 PM slot where its audience is being cannibalized by NBC’s similarly sophisticated and female-skewing Parenthood. I was happy to see that CBS is taking the legal drama starring Julianna Margulies off Tuesdays. But CBS pitted it against one of the stronger female-centered scripted series on TV, ABC’s Desperate Housewives, on Sunday. I am a little worried to see a vulnerable series like Good Wife slated against Desperate Housewives and football but, on the bright side, the ABC dramedy is on its last legs.
Wednesday 8 PM ‘Battle of the Harried Moms‘: ABC’s The Middle vs. NBC’s Up All Night. Both single-camera comedies center on a woman who tries to juggle work and family and are headlined by former sitcom stars, Everybody Loves Raymond’s Patricia Heaton and Married … With Children’s Christina Applegate, respectively. In the duel between a white-collar (Up All Night) and blue-collar working mom, Middle has a leg up because it’s the incumbent and is part of an established two-hour block anchored by hit Modern Family. But Up All Night boasts additional star power, with Will Arnett and Maya Rudolph joining Applegate.
Sunday 10 PM ‘Battle of the 1960s Dramas‘: This is an intriguing potential midseason clash between new ABC drama Pan Am and AMC’s Mad Men. Since the praised AMC drama is credited with sparking the current pop culture popularity of the 1960s and contributing to two 1960s-set series, Pan Am, and NBC’s The Playboy Club, landing on the broadcast schedules, it will be interesting to see the ad agency drama face the airline soap. Of course, the face-off would be symbolic and not a real ratings battle since, for all its critical acclaim, Mad Men normally attracts no more than 1 million viewers per episode.