There are network television time-slots that offer so many longtime favorites, viewers have purchased extra DVRs to accommodate them.
And then there’s 10 p.m. Wednesday.
All three networks competing in that hour will debut series this fall — “The Whole Truth” on ABC, “The Defenders” on CBS and “Law and Order: Los Angeles” on NBC. Even stranger, all three shows are legal dramas, though they each take a different approach to the genre.
Media programming analyst Steve Sternberg, author of the Sternberg Report blog, calls the scheduling “kind of surprising” and notes that 10 p.m. Monday offers a similar predicament of three cop-heavy shows, two of them new (CBS’ “Hawaii Five-0,” NBC’s “Chase” and ABC’s “Castle”).
“You don’t have to have the same type of show going after the exact same audience,” Sternberg says. “It seems when networks are trying to do that, they’re really just trying to hurt the other guy more than build their own audience.”
NBC’s latest installment in the “Law and Order” franchise, nicknamed “LOLA,” needs no explanation — which is a good thing, since it was greenlit in May on concept alone and is still in the process of casting before going into production in late July. However, it is known that “Law and Order” vet Rene Balcer will exec produce the latest piece of the Dick Wolf empire.
“LOLA” will benefit from being something of a known commodity, but with the caveat that the commodity has lost enough appeal that the original “Law” was not renewed by NBC after 20 seasons.
ABC and CBS will be relying on TV acting veterans — from each other’s networks — to draw viewers. “The Whole Truth” brings Rob Morrow back to the smallscreen, with the door barely shut on his five-year run on CBS’ “Numbers.” Perhaps even more compelling is the comeback of Maura Tierney, who had to leave NBC’s “Parenthood” for health reasons last year after filming the pilot, then just came on board “Truth” after Morrow’s original co-star, Joely Richardson, dropped out.
Meanwhile, CBS is uniting two recent ABC sitcom stars — Jim Belushi from the long-running “According to Jim” and Jerry O’Connell from the quickly gassed “Carpoolers” — for “Defenders,” a light-hearted legal hour set in Las Vegas.
“The one thing that CBS does is they do always manage to come up with a new spin on the procedural-type drama and the legal-type drama,” says Sternberg, who adds that he personally preferred “Whole Truth.” “It’s not as sexy as the other guys, not as innovative as the other guys, but at the same time, they get the viewers. The viewers don’t always want the edgiest and sexiest type of programs.”
If any of the three networks has a big 10 p.m. Wednesday hit, it will be the first in some time. A main reason for the trifecta of new shows at 10 is the underperformance of the programs in that timeslot last season — most famously NBC’s short-circuited “The Jay Leno Show,” but also ABC’s “Eastwick,” canceled inside of two months. For the fall, CBS moved the declining “CSI: NY” out of the timeslot to the less-intense 9 p.m. Friday position.
ABC in particular has found it hard to settle on a 10 p.m. Wednesday series. “Lost” and “Boston Legal” each passed a brief time there, but arguably the Alphabet net hasn’t had a consistent presence in the timeslot since “Primetime Live” and “20/20 Wednesday” a decade ago. The last scripted mainstays for ABC in the time period were 1980s series “Hotel” (in the slot 1983-87) and “China Beach” (1988-90). Among the series that have come and gone: “Civil Wars,” “Cop Rock,” “Gideon’s Crossing” and, most recently, “Happy Town.”
Even though each of the networks is vulnerable at 10, don’t necessarily expect a veteran show to move in to try to take advantage.
“That would make sense, but there aren’t that many veteran shows on the air anymore,” Sternberg says. “Less than 20% of programs that have debuted in the past five years are still on. You don’t have that many veteran shows that are doing well that you would move to (that) night.”