Networks turning to escapist fare
For a second straight fall, Wednesday is where it’s at for the broadcast nets — but this time around, their prospects look brighter. And so do the shows.The night was home to some dark, serialized dramas a year ago — “Jericho,” “The Nine” and “Kidnapped” — but none of these did well enough to warrant a second season. This time around, the nets have largely turned to flights of fantasy or other escapist fare on a night when CBS does well from 9 to 11 with crime dramas, but there’s little other competition until “American Idol” rears its head in January. In one hour alone — 8 o’clock — you’ll find the fall’s most anticipated new comedy (Fox’s “Back to You”), the most buzzed-about new drama (ABC’s “Pushing Daisies”) and what figures to be the most controversial new reality skein (CBS’ “Kid Nation”). And then at 9, ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff “Private Practice” takes on new dramas “Bionic Woman” on NBC and “Gossip Girl” on CW. Toss in crimeshows on CBS (“Criminal Minds”) and Fox (“Bones”), and this is the most crowded hour of drama on television. Will any of the nets budge, perhaps shifting a comedy or reality show to the hour? Closing out the night, crime vet “CSI: NY” on CBS welcomes competish from NBC’s new detective drama “Life” and ABC’s sudsy “Dirty Sexy Money.” This has potential to be a windfall for ABC, which has lined up arguably its three best-looking new prospects on one night and no doubt will make it the cornerstone of its summer marketing plans. Such a radical overhaul would usually be a recipe for disaster, but if “Private Practice” works, the net would need only one of the others to click to make for a strong night. And then, of course, it could always add “Lost” to the mix at midseason. Some other early thoughts on the fall skeds: ABC The network just keeps getting more and more femme-centric (not that this is a bad thing) particularly with its Wednesday lineup and shows like new drama “Women’s Murder Club,” which is well-skedded Fridays at 9. In comedy, Tuesday’s combo of “Caveman” and “Carpoolers” is a low-risk longshot, but as the only comedies in a not-so-formidable timeslot, they will get their shot with auds. Monday’s “Sam I Am” looks stronger and is well-positioned between “Dancing With the Stars” and “The Bachelor.” Why ABC can’t come up with a good family comedy, though, remains one of the great mysteries of our time. CBS In a different year, when it wasn’t taking some swings in other timeslots, the return of “Without a Trace” to Thursday might have seemed like a retreat; but this offers CBS its best chance to grow on the key night. Among the more offbeat Eye selections of the fall, “Viva Laughlin” seems to be the longest shot, while vampire detective skein “Moonlight” could click. And “Cane” has the clearest path to success, opposite fading vets on the other nets. NBC It’s disappointing that NBC doesn’t have a laffer it can plug in at 8:30 between “My Name Is Earl” and “The Office.” Net should crank up development to make sure it takes a couple of cracks at comedy next season. The new dramas seem to be inspired by the net’s success with “Heroes” — each has fantasy/sci-fi elements and no big names in the cast. “Journeyman” got the plum post-“Heroes” slot on Monday, but don’t be surprised if another new hour also gets a shot in this timeslot. Fox The all-new, all-music reality lineup on Friday is risky, but pairing them could make it a two-hour block for many viewers — and at least reps a strategy for a night on which the net has long struggled. Best move is the Thursday skedding of “Kitchen Nightmares” at 9, giving the net a reality alternative to the big scripted skeins on the other nets. The new dramas on Monday and Tuesday could be tough sells, but “24” and “American Idol” will be there to replace them come January. And “Back to You” would likely be a bigger hit in CBS’ Monday lineup but should do fine for Fox on Wednesday. CW Its pickup and sked choices make more sense, across the board, than any other net — especially opening Tuesday with “Beauty and the Geek.” It also has other promising reality skeins on the bench, which could help fill out some holes and cut down on repeats. Now if the new scripted shows can deliver on their promise, CW will at last be seen as something more than a melding of two failing weblets.