NBC sliding 'Office' into crowded timeslot

It’s hard to imagine, but the strongest hour of broadcast television is about to get another upgrade this fall.

One year after ABC shifted television’s No. 1 drama, “Grey’s Anatomy,” to Thursday’s middle hour to take on CBS vet “CSI,” NBC is looking to make a big statement of its own by sliding “The Office” into the crowded timeslot.

The Peacock’s move, while not as bold as ABC’s of a year ago, underscores the importance of the night, which attracts more advertising coin than any other.

But is it simply too much popular programming in one hour? And who will get hurt if viewers have to choose one fave over another.

“The Office” aside, the broadcasters are taking a fairly conservative approach this fall to Thursday, with just one new show — ABC 10 o’clock drama “Big Shots” — set to bow.

Elsewhere, CBS is looking to bolster its perf by moving “Without a Trace” back to the night after it spent a year on Sundays, and Fox had added summer series “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” to the night, pairing it with last season’s unscripted success, “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”

ABC narrowly topped CBS on the night in adults 18-49 last season (5.3 to 5.1), with the Alphabet having a more decisive advantage in weeks when it aired original episodes, according to Nielsen.

The Alphabet shot up by 83% while CBS declined by 23%. Still, the Eye carried the night among adults 25-54 as well as total viewers.

Here’s a look at the night:

8-9 p.m.

The durable “Survivor” won this hour a year ago, and there’s no reason to think it can’t do so again in its 15th season (set in China), even though it will face tough reality competish from Fox’s “5th Grader.”

ABC’s “Ugly Betty” experienced some ratings turbulence in the second half of its rookie season, but still posted an impressive average for a first-year scripted hour leading off a night.

“Betty” should be able to parlay its water-cooler buzz and awards bounty into a strong second season, winning in women 18-49; it also could help that NBC has replaced “The Office” at 8:30 with the less formidable “30 Rock.”

As for “30 Rock,” the 8:30 hammock slot between “My Name Is Earl” and “The Office” provides a good growth opportunity, although this narrow comedy could have a tough time opposite more mainstream competish. Show has smartly recruited Jerry Seinfeld for its season preem, ensuring more sampling.

CW’s “Smallville,” with some notable guest-casting lined up, should not be ignored, especially in the hunt for young men not watching “Earl” or “Survivor.” And Fox’s “5th Grader” should scoop up some parent/child family viewing.

9-10 p.m.

“The Office” is poised for a strong season, but at whose expense?

The older-skewing “CSI” would seem to be less affected, but it’s also the more male of the dramas, so it could lose some of its men 25-45. And the aud will be there for “Grey’s” at the outset, but fickle fans could flee if the show isn’t delivering on the level it was a year ago — and “The Office” will be waiting to scoop up any disgruntled young viewers.

NBC is kicking off “The Office” with four hourlong segs, which may be too much of a good thing but will at least position the net as a force to be reckoned with opposite the dramas. It should run second to “Grey’s” among adults 18-34 while closing in on the still-potent “CSI” in 18-49.

Fox’s “Lyrics” and CW’s “Supernatural” are solid shows, but they’ll be battling for crumbs in this brutal hour.

10-11 p.m.

There’s nothing all that riveting here, which could be a good thing for fans of multiple shows in the 9 o’clock hour, who could use this time period as “Playback Theater.”

“Without a Trace” probably lost a step since it last aired here, but it’s the show to beat since it meshes so well with its lead-in. If “Trace” can hold about 90% of the “CSI” aud, it should hold off “Big Shots” and trounce NBC’s fading “ER.”

Wild card is “Big Shots,” which could turn out to be this year’s “Brothers & Sisters”: The pilot doesn’t quite come together, but there’s enough to like in the cast and soapy storylines to keep watching.

And although “Big Shots” will skew heavily female like the rest of the net’s Thursday lineup, it was probably a good idea for ABC to at least offer up something with a male point of view to close out the night.

Bottom line

It’s ABC and CBS in a close battle for the 18-49 lead, with “Big Shots” the swing show.

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