Midseason bows on slippery slope

Rival nets shuffle new shows in wake of Olympics

The annual flurries of new TV programs that rain down every January have been a little more sporadic this year, as networks wait out the Torino tornado.

NBC and its sister nets are promising to televise a record 416 hours of Winter Olympics coverage from Feb. 10-26. That provides the Peacock web with a major promotional launching pad exiting the Torino Games, while establishing a formidable obstacle for the competition.

As such, CBS and ABC are holding perhaps a larger-than-usual portion of midseason entries — or at least those programs given the best shot at sticking — until after the Olympics, when viewers can expect a mini-deluge of new fare.

Similarly, industry sources say that some series being introduced prior to the Olympics — such as CBS’ somewhat offbeat comedy/drama “Love Monkey” and NBC’s “The Book of Daniel,” which has generated controversy among religious conservatives — are being run now precisely because there is relatively little to lose.

More resources, meanwhile, are being marshaled toward early spring, when CBS — which has few timeslots to fill — will roll out “The Unit,” a drama about an elite Special Forces group from highly pedigreed producers David Mamet and “The Shield’s” Shawn Ryan; and “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” featuring “Seinfeld’s” Julia Louis-Dreyfus in a new sitcom vehicle.

For its part, ABC has four programs tentatively set to make their debut this spring: the improv comedy “Sons & Daughters,” light drama “What About Brian,” medical reality show “Miracle Workers” and crime procedural “The Evidence.”

Fox, by contrast, with “American Idol” rejoining its lineup, has somewhat less to fear from the Winter Games — proceeding with plans to run the thriller “24,” for example, straight through May after its Jan. 15 bow, even if that means adding figure skaters and the luge to Jack Bauer’s roster of adversaries.

“We don’t think that we need to do anything differently,” says Preston Beckman, Fox’s exec VP of strategic program planning and research. “We have a commitment to run ’24’ non-stop and we will honor it. Four years ago ’24’s’ ratings were not affected by Olympics, and the show is stronger.”

Fox will schedule some reruns of its Sunday comedies, giving the network more originals to play through the more significant May sweeps. The net is also bringing back the serialized drama “Prison Break” in March, ending an extended hiatus after its fall cliffhanger.

NBC plans to return “The Apprentice” after the Olympics, but is keeping its cards close to the vest about what will go where following the Games. Among the moving parts waiting in the wings are “Friends” spinoff “Joey” — having lost its Thursday home — and the gameshow “Deal or No Deal,” a surprise hit in December.

Throw in ABC’s Super Bowl telecast Feb. 5 and the Oscars — which avoid the Games by shifting from late February to early March — and the network calendar becomes a bit of a minefield.

“This season is kind of like a NASCAR race,” says CBS exec VP of scheduling Kelly Kahl. “There are a lot of stops and re-starts.”

Of course, dodging the Olympic onrush could create its own headaches, especially with so much high-profile product hitting the shelves in March. Beyond new network shows, HBO’s sixth season of “The Sopranos” and the premiere of “Big Love,” starring Bill Paxton as a polygamist, arrive that month, as does “Thief,” an FX drama starring Emmy winner Andre Braugher.

As for the long-term benefits to NBC, rival broadcasters note that the Olympics do a terrific job in helping build awareness for new shows but don’t do much to ensure their success, citing NBC’s “Hawaii” and “Father of the Pride,” which wiped out soon after they started following the Summer Games in 2004.

Even so, as with most major sporting events, networks continue to hope that viewers will stay tuned for the post-Games show.

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