After years of playing off Simon Cowell and Ryan Seacrest on the “American Idol” stage, Paula Abdul will be in the smallscreen spotlight as the broadcast TV calendar turns to 2011 and a wave of premieres looks to find some January traction.
Whether looking to bolster their existing lineups or shake up a key timeslot, the broadcast nets are hoping the new year brings new opportunities. NBC is looking to launch a new sitcom, “Perfect Couples,” on Thursdays while introducing hero drama “The Cape” on Mondays. Fox cooks up comedy toon “Bob’s Burgers” on Sundays in January (as well as Shawn Ryan-created cop show “The Chicago Code” on Mondays in February). And ABC will bow its latest from “Grey’s Anatomy” maven Shonda Rhimes.
But for CBS, January brings the high-profile roll of the dice on Abdul and “Live to Dance.”
“Dance,” Abdul’s first regular TV gig since ankling Fox’s “Idol,” premieres Tuesday before moving into a regular 8 p.m. timeslot for six weeks of Wednesdays.
“Live” will attempt to parlay TV’s dance fever (as seen in ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” and Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance”) with Abdul’s kooky-to-be-kind personality.
Though it is a collaborative effort in reality, “Live to Dance” will also no doubt become a referendum on how much of a standalone player Abdul can be in TV.
In addition to taking on exec producer duties on the Reveille-produced series with Elisabeth Murdoch, Howard T. Owens, James Sunderland, Anthony Dominici and Robin Ashbrook, Abdul will also serve as the face of the series, at least at the outset, relative to fellow judges Travis Payne and Kimberly Wyatt and host Andrew Gunsberg (who happens to have co-hosted “Australian Idol”).
If that sounds like a heavy burden for Abdul to carry, it’s worth noting that when “American Idol” premiered in June 2002, the singer-dancer had a larger national profile than Seacrest, Cowell or Randy Jackson (let alone Brian Dunkleman).
Judging by advance clips made available by CBS, “Live to Dance” will mimic “Idol” in offering some carnival-like performances to be sifted through onscreen while trying to find the ultimate champion. Unlike “Idol,” however, the grand prize is not a long-term record deal but cold, hard cash: $500,000.
For CBS, whose reality hits have been tilted heavily in the direction of competitive endurance tests (“Survivor,” “The Amazing Race,” “Big Brother”), the Abdul-centered show presents a low-risk gamble toward unearthing an unscripted success in performance — one that could sit well on the network that broadcasts the Tonys and Grammys each year.
Should it approach the 13 million viewers “Survivor” has averaged since moving to Wednesdays in September, CBS would have another weapon in its arsenal. Should “Live to Dance” die, it has a safety net in that the next season premiere of “Survivor” is right around the corner, on Feb. 16.
In its bid to exploit Abdul’s TV fanbase, “Live to Dance” launches 15 days before the season premiere of “Idol” on Fox. “Idol,” which itself has undergone a revamping — with only Seacrest and Jackson remaining from its original quintet — has moved to a Wednesday-Thursday schedule for 2011. Though questions about its long-term viability are everywhere, “Idol” remains a huge threat not only to “Live to Dance” but everything else against it on the rival networks.
In particular, the hourlong 8 p.m. Thursday edition of “Idol” will make it even more difficult for NBC to launch (on Jan. 20) its new 8:30 p.m. sitcom “Perfect Couples,” which the Peacock sneak-previewed Dec. 20 to imperfect ratings. “Couples” is a piece of NBC’s new six-sitcom sked for Thursdays, with “Parks and Recreation” returning to the air at 9:30 p.m. and “30 Rock” and “Outsourced” moving to the 10 o’clock hour.
On the flipside, NBC will get the jump on Fox as the two networks once again try to launch new dramas at 9 p.m. Mondays. In the fall, after debuting on the same night, NBC’s “The Event” survived while Fox’s “Lone Star” quickly vanished. This time around, new hero series “The Cape” will sneak on NBC Jan. 9 and move into its Monday slot Jan. 17, three weeks before Fox’s cop skein “The Chicago Code” signs on. NBC will also preem Kathy Bates starrer “Harry’s Law” on Jan. 17.
ABC’s only launch in January attempts to find a solution for the network’s 10 p.m. Wednesday woes. “Off the Map” comes Jan. 12 with a Shonda Rhimes pedigree, and its success would mean that Rhimes-produced shows would account for one-third of ABC’s drama programming.
While Fox has shifted some series to new midseason timeslots, its only new January premiere will be animated comedy “Bob’s Burgers” at 8:30 p.m. Sundays starting Jan. 9.
Cable television, meanwhile, will have no shortage of originals launching — not to mention an entire network in Oprah Winfrey’s OWN:
• Showtime debuts “Episodes” with Matt LeBlanc and “Shameless” with William H. Macy and Emmy Rossum on Jan. 9.
• FX rings the bell Jan. 11 on boxing drama “Lights Out.”
• Syfy gives birth to its adaptation of the U.K.’s “Being Human” on Jan. 17.
• MTV parades its Stateside version of Blighty hit “Skins” the same night.
• “Retired at 35,” TV Land’s would-be companion to “Hot in Cleveland,” launches Jan. 19 behind stars George Segal and Jessica Walter.
• Sarah Shahi starrer “Fairly Legal” bows on USA on Jan. 20.
• IFC assays another offbeat comedy in “Portlandia” on Jan. 21.
• CMT plays inaugural sitcom “Working Class” (starring Ed Asner) on Jan. 28.