Analysis: Better new shows give Alphabet the edge

While Fox and CBS figure to again finish on top of the primetime ratings heap this fall, it’s also a pretty safe bet that ABC and NBC will be battling for the bronze.

And they’re going about it in a strikingly similar manner.

Each has an entertainment prexy who’s a relative rookie, and new programs that include a drama set in the 1960s, three new comedies that will air midweek (including a head-to-head Wednesday faceoff), a fairytale drama that won’t bow until October (naturally over the same weekend) and a remake of a well-known drama property that will air on Thursday. Among returning shows, both ABC and NBC have moved a veteran series to Friday, and the only reality contests on each will air Monday and Tuesday — where they will, of course, butt heads with each other.

ABC, with returning hits “Modern Family” and “Dancing With the Stars,” would seem to have the upper hand over NBC, but the Peacock’s “Sunday Night Football” is such a monster it can make up for a lot of weakness elsewhere. The nets were neck and neck last fall in both adults 18-49 and 25-54, with the Peacock flat or up in most categories vs. 2009 and the Alphabet down about 5%.

Here’s a look at both nets:

ABC

This is the first sked entirely engineered by Paul Lee, who joined the network 14 months ago from ABC Family. ABC has added a few promising shows and skedded them smartly in timeslots where the bar is low based on recent performances.

Of the seven series bowing on the Alphabet, four (two apiece) will play on Tuesday and Sunday — the nights on which ABC placed fourth in adults 18-49 last fall. The net also is making key shifts on Wednesday and Thursday while keeping its successful Monday (“Dancing With the Stars” and “Castle”) intact.

There’s nothing fresh or exciting about Tuesday’s new half-hours “Last Man Standing” (with Tim Allen) and “Man Up,” but considering how poorly ABC has fared kicking off the night in recent years, it’s worth a shot to see if any of Allen’s “Home Improvement” magic can work in this century.

The rest of the night is fairly solid, with the “Dancing” results show leading into “Body of Proof,” a nothing-special soph crime skein that could do better than last year’s “Detroit 1-8-7.”

Wednesday’s 8-10 p.m. comedy block looks to be as good as any network’s, with the new “Suburgatory” a great fit between “The Middle” and “Modern Family.” And it was a good idea to bring back “Happy Endings” and slide it behind “Modern” at 9:30; this “Friends”-like skein may not do much better than last year’s “Cougar Town” early on, but it deserves a shot in the slot.

The Alphabet also has an intriguing new soap at 10 in “Revenge,” though it will be up against two vet crime dramas on the competition. Setting the bar low, ABC has bombed Wednesdays at 10 in recent years (think “Cashmere Mafia,” “Eastwick” and “The Whole Truth”).

The net’s “Charlie’s Angels” update kicks off Thursday, giving ABC a high-concept show in a crowded hour. The Alphabet could use support at 8, as “Grey’s Anatomy” is slowing, though in its eighth season, it remains the favorite to win the 9 p.m. hour in 18-49.

Friday sees “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” moving over from Sunday, where it will join “Shark Tank” and “20/20″ for a decent alternative to the scripted fare on other nets.

ABC waited a year too late to juice up the Sunday hours surrounding “Desperate Housewives,” but gives it a try with the good-looking fairytale skein “Once Upon a Time” at 8 and “Pan Am” (the better of the fall’s two period dramas) at 10. The net needed to make changes, because even though “DH” was the top-rated entertainment series in the 9 o’clock hour last fall, ABC slid to fourth for the night because football boosted its rivals.

NBC

Former Showtime chief Robert Greenblatt joined NBC in January, and he’s doing the best he can with what he has to work with.

The Peacock’s best hopes (dramas “Smash” and “Awake”) hold for midseason, which is a good idea since football keeps the net in the game during fall, and its biggest needs will come in winter and spring.

What NBC could use most, though, is a top-20 scripted hit, and other than “The Office” — which itself will be challenged without lead Steve Carell — it doesn’t have one. Its best hope is the new show airing Thursday at 9:30 after “The Office,” the somewhat bawdy and appealing comedy “Whitney,” though the multicam relationship show isn’t an ideal match with the single-camera workplace vet.

And closing out the night is the net’s new take on classic crime series “Prime Suspect,” starring Maria Bello; it could do OK at 10, especially if it can hold a decent chunk of the 18-49 male aud that watches the net’s laffers.

Monday will see three new hours for a second straight fall, as two-hour competition series “The Sing-Off” (which aired a handful of times last December) is paired with “The Playboy Club.” Though mismatched, each can be promoted rather easily to the net’s Sunday football aud.

At first blush, however, “Playboy” isn’t all that alluring, and faces tough dramas on ABC and CBS.

Tuesday should remain OK with “The Biggest Loser” and “Parenthood,” though the former has been overused and its ratings are starting to reflect that.

Opening Wednesday with two mediocre new comedies (“Up All Night” and “Free Agents”) is a recipe for disaster — especially when they face better laffers on ABC and tough reality shows on CBS and Fox. The rest of the night makes sense, as “Harry’s Law” leads into “Law & Order: SVU,” with NBC promoting the pair’s Emmy-nommed lead actresses (Kathy Bates and Mariska Hargitay).

Friday is problematic with the final episodes of “Chuck” leading into dark fairytale drama “Grimm,” whose title pretty much sums up its prospects.

“Sunday Night Football,” stocked with some of the season’s best matchups, should dominate the night for a network that likely will finish third or worse on every other evening.

Bottom line: The Alphabet has done more to improve itself in the fall, so look for it to emerge ahead of a pigskin-pumped Peacock.

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