Weekend programming starts out strong

As the nets continue to stack their best stuff on the key advertising nights of Monday through Thursday, the weekend comes off as something of an afterthought.

Friday is still the night where once-promising shows go to die, while Saturday remains a wasteland. And then there’s Sunday which, despite the presence of some long-running hits, is difficult for rookies because of so many schedule potholes including the Super Bowl and numerous kudocasts.

If there’s one bright spot on the weekend this fall, it’s that the nets are more aggressive on Friday than any other time in recent memory — even if most of the shows here are past their prime.

Outside of the broadcast nets, USA has perhaps the best-looking show to come on Fridays in a while in con artist drama “White Collar,” which bows in late October.

Here’s a look at the weekend:

Friday

CBS won last fall by comfortable margins despite a weak showing by “The Ex-List” in the 9 o’clock slot. It figures to do better with “Medium,” the former NBC skein that seems like a natural fit on the Eye.

NBC made the right choice in dumping “Medium,” an aging show that likely wouldn’t deliver much more than a mid-2 demo rating anywhere on its sked. But on CBS Friday, surrounded by shows about a medium at 8 (“Ghost Whisperer”) and crime at 10 (“Numbers”), this 9 p.m. show about a psychic crime-solver is a natural and could stay a while.

“Ghost” should again rule at 8 for the Eye, while “Numbers” remains the show to beat at 10, although the net may want to bench it at midseason to try something new.

At ABC, Thursday transfer “Ugly Betty” slides into its new 9 o’clock slot on the night, where it should do OK — especially among women 18-49. It’s paired with “Supernanny,” which remains a solid utility player for the Alphabet, although its 8 p.m. slot seems a bit early. (Isn’t the show’s target parent aud still putting some tots to sleep?)

NBC is on the cop beat, with the original “Law and Order” being asked to kick off the night and provide a decent lead-in for second-year drama “Southland.” Latter fell off after a solid start on Thursdays last spring, but much like “Betty,” it could shine on this low-wattage night.

Fox figures to struggle with the new half-hour “Brothers” at 8 p.m. and the somehow-still-on-the-air “‘Til Death” at 8:30, followed by second-year “Dollhouse.” The niche drama, which fared well in DVR playback, probably deserved a second season but will have to show something in its same-night ratings this fall.

CW’s “Smallville” moves to its new night after splitting its first eight seasons on Tuesday and Thursday. It should provide nice gains for the net, although it too figures to be a fave of DVR users who opt to watch on Saturday or Sunday.

And MyNetwork will stay competitive in male demos with “WWE Friday Night Smackdown.”

Saturday

The less said here the better, but ABC figures to win most weeks with its slate of “Saturday Night Football” college action. Fox, meanwhile, will be competitive with its Energizer-bunny combo of “Cops” and “America’s Most Wanted,” and CBS will do OK at 10 p.m. with real-life crime tales on “48 Hours Mystery.”

Most disappointing is NBC’s approach to this night. The net of “Saturday Night Live” should be able to come up with something better than “Dateline” and crime drama repeats to fill out primetime.

How about clip packages of “SNL” or the best of Jay Leno from the week?

Sunday

“Sunday Night Football” (with action starting at roughly 8:20 p.m. ET) will keep NBC on top in key demos, as the NFL has once again blessed the network with a stacked sked that features three appearances by such popular teams as the Cowboys, Eagles, Giants, Colts and Steelers.

Fox, boosted by NFL overruns and postgame shows on some weeks, should place second. It appears to have boosted its animated lineup with 8:30 entry “The Cleveland Show” — a “Family Guy” spinoff — which should fare better than “King of the Hill” a year ago, and could keep some auds from flipping to football after “The Simpsons.”

ABC is staying put with its solid lineup, even if it could use some freshening up.

“America’s Funniest Home Videos” remains a strong player at 7, but “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” has taken a tumble (beaten last spring by CBS’ “The Amazing Race”) despite remaining a solid performer.

“Desperate Housewives” too has lost sizzle entering its sixth season, but should again rate higher than anything else on the night. And fellow vet sudser “Brothers and Sisters” is back at 10, although it’s at the point in its run where it could soon be replaced if its OK ratings don’t improve.

At CBS, “60 Minutes” and “Amazing Race” are followed at 9 p.m. by “Three Rivers” and “Cold Case” in its new 10 o’clock slot. “Rivers,” a medical show set at a transplant hospital, is well-skedded as a femme alternative to football and disaffected “Housewives” viewers, but its downer themes could get old.

(It also doesn’t help that “Rivers” may start very late in much of the country some weeks due to NFL overruns and the net’s decision to let “60 Minutes” run in its entirety.)

Bottom line

While CBS kicks off the weekend a winner, ABC closes strong with football and the ladies of Wisteria Lane.

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