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Savvy scheduling still matters

Counterprogramming can make a new show

Primetime scheduling might seem to be a lost art at a time when networks are challenged to meet viewers’ demands to watch their favorite shows at any time on just about any platform they please.

But one of the big lessons from the season that wraps this week is that savvy sked decisions still make all the difference in the fate of a show, particularly a young one.

The 2007-08 primetime schedules reinforce this understanding, despite the nets’ newfound focus on digital bells and whistles that threaten to kill the webs’ old “tune in Wednesday at 8!” business model. Yes, counterprogramming still matters.

After last week’s parade of schedule unveilings, observers were quick to note the moving and shaking on Wednesdays. There are a lot of new shows bound for the night, but most of them are aimed at slightly different auds.

ABC has an all-new, femme-focused lineup opening with offbeat dramedy “Pushing Daisies.” The night’s anchor is “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff “Private Practice,” followed by “Dirty Sexy Money” with former “Six Feet Under” heartthrob Peter Krause.

CBS is much more hardboiled, sticking with its successful 9-11 p.m. drama block of “Criminal Minds” and “CSI: NY.” Its 8 p.m. newcomer “Kid Nation” looks to be channeling “Lord of the Flies” and may prove “Survivor”-esque, with appeal to both genders.

NBC is aiming straight down the middle, leaning toward femmes, and will probably skew a little older than rivals. Peacock’s sked leads with gameshow “Deal or No Deal,” followed by the remake of “Bionic Woman,” which has the tough assignment of going against the Stylish Women of ABC’s “Practice”; followed by new character-driven detective drama “Life.”

Fox will zig against the drama tide on Wednesday by introducing an 8-9 p.m. comedy block led by newcomer “Back to You,” featuring the return of Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton, paired with the sophomore year of Brad Garrett starrer “Til Death.” The 9 p.m. placement of forensic drama “Bones” is a puzzler, but it’s a placeholder until the “American Idol” armada arrives.

Consider the big showdown of the 2006-07 season: CBS’ “CSI” versus ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” in the 9 p.m. Thursday slot. ABC took the bold step of moving its hotshot into direct competition with what had been TV’s most-watched scripted series.

“CSI” dropped 21% in adults 18-49 from its 2005-06 season average (from an 8.4 average last season to 6.6 this frame, per Nielsen) while “Anatomy” eased 10% (8.9 vs. 8.0). The bigger-picture point is that neither show collapsed. In fact, the overall level of adult 18-49 viewers tuning in to the Thursday 9 p.m. hour is up 2%, according to an analysis by media buying firm Magna Global USA.

Sure, both shows have a largely female fan base, but the nation’s femmes are hardly monolithic in their appetite for primetime. Tonally, “CSI” and “Anatomy” couldn’t be more different: true-crime grit versus a character-driven soap in scrubs.

NBC is banking on diversity in the tough timeslot with its shift of slow-building comedy hit “The Office” to the 9 p.m. Thursday tentpole position. “Office” draws a young-hipster aud, split down the middle between men and women.

Indeed, the vibe around “The Office” these days is similar to that of “Seinfeld” at the end of its third full season on NBC, when it finished the season at No. 25 among all series. A year later, after sliding back a half-hour to succeed “Cheers” in the Thursday 9 p.m. berth, the show about nothing finished the 1993-94 campaign at No. 3, with a bullet.

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