As some fall bows falter, NBC and other nets look to midseason
While TV’s fall frame is barely a month old, restless webheads are already preparing to make some major schedule shifts.
Gone are the days when webs could afford to be patient. Now, like mall owners trotting out Christmas decorations even before Halloween arrives, the Big Six begin plotting their midseason moves almost immediately after getting their fall frosh off the ground.
That’s certainly the case at NBC, where entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly rightfully anticipated many of his new fall shows would flop fast. And with the Winter Olympics coming in February, the net has another incentive to step things up in the second half of the season.
It’s no surprise, then, that the number of midseason backup series the Peacock has on deck actually exceeds the six frosh players it rolled out in September. With no fewer than 10 new and returning skeins on the bench, don’t be surprised if the net rolls out an average of two new shows a month between December and May.
“NBC, by necessity, is going to have to shake things up,” says one network insider, who notes that much is riding on the decisions Reilly and his team make.
Quips one exec: “They could find themselves with UPN nipping at their butts if they make the wrong moves.”
Peacock scheduling chief Mitch Metcalf says the net is looking at the season in three distinct frames: fall, January and post-Olympics.
“Spreading the resources of our development over these three periods is something we always planned to do,” he says. “It was a conscious strategy.”
Helping — and complicating — matters for NBC is the unexpected success of new Tuesday comedy “My Name Is Earl.”
As happy as the hit-hungry Peacock is to have a much-needed building block, figuring out what to do with its new weapon won’t be easy. Some in the industry are already predicting “Earl” could move to Thursday nights by spring, if not sooner, as NBC looks to replace the all-but-dead “Joey” and the departing “Will & Grace.”
Metcalf admits changes are coming to Thursday, but says there’s no timetable for shifts. And he won’t give any hint as to just which shows might be on the move.
“We don’t want to make any rash moves,” he says. “We want to make changes that are in our long-term best interest.”
After NBC, the net with the most intriguing midseason game to play is ABC.
For the first time in more than 30 years, Alphabet execs will unveil a Monday night sked in January that actually has a chance of sticking around for fall. That’s because “Monday Night Football” leaves the net in January, finally giving ABC the chance to put together a year-round, seven-night-a-week lineup.
In May, ABC Entertainment prexy Steve McPherson announced a post-football Monday sked that included “The Bachelor,” two comedies and the J.J. Abrams dramedy “What About Brian.” But even then, McPherson cautioned that the sked was a work in progress.
McPherson won’t say what he’s thinking about Mondays these days, but he concedes he has difficult choices. His biggest decision: Whether to break up his super successful Sunday sked by shifting either “Grey’s Anatomy” or “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” to another night, possibly Mondays.
“Moving a hit show is always a tough decision,” he says. “You want to do what’s right for the show first and what’s right for the network second.”
McPherson says his midseason goals include “doing a better job promoting some of our comedies,” and working on troubled timeslots (think all of Thursday night).
Overall, while ABC has a sizable number of midseason shows in its arsenal — nearly as many as NBC — it’s general strength makes wholesale change unnecessary.
Same thing is true at CBS, which has the most stable and consistent sked of the Big Six. Eye’s big question marks include whether to replace the ho-hum “Close to Home” with a sexier drama — possibly the promising romantic dramedy “Love Monkey” — and whether to finally ditch its Sunday movie franchise.
Complicating matters for almost every net: The January return of Fox’s “American Idol.”
“Hurricane Idol hits in January. We know it’s coming,” NBC’s Metcalf says.
Fox’s smash is one reason some believe NBC will move “Earl” to Thursday. “Idol” often expands to two hours on Tuesday nights, and getting a nascent hit like “Earl” away from the eye of the storm might make some sense.
Not squirming, of course, are Fox execs such as scheduling guru Preston Beckman. For him, “Idol” — and the annual return of “24” — are weapons of mass attraction that make it much easier for Fox to map out midseason strategy months ahead of time.
Beckman says Fox is still planning to implement the January shifts it announced last spring, including moving “House” to 8 p.m. Mondays and slotting “Bones” behind the Tuesday night edition of “Idol.”
“The one big thing we didn’t anticipate was how strong ‘Prison Break’ would be,” Beckman says, referring to Fox’s new Monday night hit.
For now, “Prison Break” is to take an indefinite break starting in mid-December.
Beckman says Fox is mulling the idea of keeping the show off the air until spring, allowing some original episodes to run in the summer. Unconventional laffer “Free Birds” could also get a late start.
“We’re trying to be much more methodical over here than we’ve been in the past,” Beckman says.