Popular show anchors night for ABC

“Grey’s Anatomy” has made ABC a major player in the Thursday ratings race, but the net could really own the night next fall if it found the right show to follow it.

“Six Degrees” and “Men in Trees” didn’t do much in the slot this season, while “October Road” did better but probably isn’t the net’s long-term answer there.

The 10 o’clock slot on Thursday is the most intriguing of all hours heading into this week’s upfront presentations, with CBS and NBC also itching to make a change. The Eye wants to take advantage of the still-potent lead-in provided by “CSI,” while the Peacock ponders whether fading “ER” retains a slot it’s held for 13 years.

Of course, ABC has the inside track by virtue of its sizable advantage with “Grey’s” in the 9 o’clock hour, so look for the Alphabet to tap its most promising adult drama (perhaps “Dirty Sexy Money”) for this slot.

Over at CBS, “Shark” has done pretty well in its rookie season, but the net should be aiming higher, perhaps with one of its out-there high-concept dramas like “Swingtown” or “Viva Laughlin” or with its Jimmy Smits family-business drama.

NBC could try a new drama at 10, but that would be putting it at a considerable lead-in disadvantage (with the net’s comedies vs. “Grey’s” on ABC and “CSI” on CBS). It would be better off to start the season with the vet “ER” and then trying something else in the hour at midseason — after it gets a handle on what the other nets have got.

Here’s a look at some other thoughts on what could be shaking on the fall skeds:

ABC

One of the biggest head-scratchers is how to schedule comedy with no anchors to speak of. “Notes From the Underbelly” has performed well enough to think it could come back, while “Dancing With the Stars” might also again be used as a comedy lead-in.

Sundays, where each hour has been winning of late, could remain the same, but the net might consider a bold move to shore up the night by pushing “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” down to 7 o’clock and sliding “Ugly Betty” in at 8.

“Betty,” a success in its first season on Thursday, cooled some as the season went on, but would likely flourish away from the Thursday clutter (which includes Univision’s version of the show). As a family drama with loads of humor, it would fit perfectly between “Home Edition” and comedy-drama “Desperate Housewives.”

That would open up Thursday for something like “Pushing Daisies,” the promising drama about a man who can touch the dead and bring them back to life.

Another weapon is the “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff, which could give the net a solid sked piece Monday at 10 or Wednesday at 9 or 10. The latter looks more likely since, without “Lost” in the fall, ABC will have nothing to count on for this night.

CBS

Tuesday at 10 is the only obvious spot that needs addressing, but the Eye figures to shake things up in a bid to find a breakout hit.

“Close to Home” could be out on Fridays, opening up a natural slot for the comedic zombie drama “Babylon Fields” to follow “Ghost Whisperer.”

CBS could also move any of its many crime dramas if the net feels doing so provides a clearer path for a new series. Friday’s “Numbers” and Thursday’s “Shark” could be on the move.

Tuesday’s combo of “NCIS” and “The Unit” figures to return intact, followed by a new drama, perhaps LL Cool J cop drama “The Man.”

On the comedy side, the real need is something with heat in the 8:30 half-hour between “How I Met Your Mother” and “Two and a Half Men.” And if the comedy development looks good, a second night of laffs (probably Wednesday at 8) could include “Old Christine.”

CBS may also opt for a change Sundays at 8, where a new drama or reality show could take over for “Amazing Race, which could play Thursdays at 8 as a bridge between editions of “Survivor.”

NBC

On Thursday, NBC should slide its best new comedy (perhaps “Lipshitz Saves the World”) in at 8:30 between “My Name Is Earl” and “The Office” as the timing is right to tackle the competitive 9 o’clock slot. “Scrubs” and another new laffer might work on Tuesday.

The best shot at launching a new drama for a needy NBC is Monday at 10 behind “Heroes.” Certainly, the time-travel “Journeyman” is a good possibility, as is the net’s new take on “The Bionic Woman.”

Wednesdays also provides an opportunity, especially with neither of the night’s top shows — “American Idol” and “Lost” — on tap for fall. Net could try to pair “Bionic Woman” here with “Medium.”

Friday could be in for some changes, with “Las Vegas” maybe headed for 10 o’clock. And how about a 9 o’clock slot for “Friday Night Lights”? Not only would the pressure be off in this relatively lightly watched hour, but the title in itself would be promotion for its new night.

Both “Law & Order” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” are on the fence, with Saturday a possibility for one; the net may also like to keep one or both in its back pocket as midseason insurance.

Fox

Net has what looks to be a sure bet in Kelsey Grammer-Patricia Heaton laffer “Back to You,” which might pair nicely with “‘Til Death” on Wednesday. It also would like to punch up its Sunday laffer lineup, with several animated pilots in contention.

On the drama side, the “Terminator”-based “Sarah Connor Chronicles” could go in several 9 o’clock spots, including Monday behind “Prison Break” and Thursday. Latter night has long been problematic for Fox, although “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” gives it an anchor and the net may want to just stick with reality programming.

And it’s time for Fox to aggressively attack Friday, with “Bones” a good choice for the night, perhaps paired with post-Katrina New Orleans cop drama “K-ville.”

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