As people increasingly watch favorite television shows on their own timetables and platforms, they are less beholden than ever to a network schedule. But timeslots still matter in the business of television, and where a show resides in a lineup can still be a key factor in its success or failure.
Here’s a look at the three biggest showdowns of premiere week:
3. Sunday, Sept. 29 at 9 p.m.
“Breaking Bad” (AMC) vs. “The Good Wife” (CBS), “Homeland” (Showtime) and “Revenge” (ABC)
There are no blockbusters here, but there’s a little bit of something for every drama fan — at least those not watching football — as three returnees take on the finale of AMC’s acclaimed drama.
“Breaking Bad” has been on a ratings roll in the lead-up to its finale, hitting a series-high 6.4 million viewers last week — more than double what it was drawing at the close of last summer. And “Homeland” kicked off its second season a year ago with 1.7 million and then hit a series high of 2.3 million for its finale in December.
It’s odd that CBS-owned Showtime would slot the return of “Homeland,” its most critically acclaimed show, directly opposite the season premiere of the Eye’s critical fave, “The Good Wife” — but this is actually the second straight year it has done it.
This is a key season for “Revenge,” which lost some of its buzz in season two and has a new showrunner to go along with some key cast changes. The season premiere provides the sudser its best opportunity to win back over some frustrated viewers.
What will happen? Nothing will beat NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” on this night, but “Breaking Bad” figures to finish with series highs and lead among the dramas in young adults while dominating in all male categories. “Good Wife” should be the leader in total viewers, while “Revenge” likely will have the edge in young women.
2. Thursday, Sept. 26 at 9 p.m.
CBS’ “The Crazy Ones” and NBC’s “Michael J. Fox Show” are the fall’s most anticipated new comedies, “Grey’s Anatomy” is broadcast TV’s most popular drama among young adults (yes, still), and “Glee” is sure to attract more viewers than usual this fall as it is addresses the death of Corey Monteith’s character.
Robin Williams vehicle “Crazy Ones” and “Michael J. Fox” won’t face each other regularly, but thanks to some scheduling one-upsmanship, they will do battle on the opening Thursday of the season.
Back in May when CBS and NBC were prepping the release of their fall skeds, it was clear that neither network wanted to give its rival a clear shot with their new comedy. NBC scheduled “Michael J. Fox” for 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, figuring that it would likely go up against a new comedy on CBS. The Eye countered later that week by slotting “Crazy Ones” for 9 p.m. — its first comedy to premiere in the half-hour since “The Gregory Hines Show” on a Friday in 1997 — and slotting veteran “Two and a Half Men” at 9:30 against the Michael J. Fox program.
But the scheduling shenanigans didn’t stop there, as NBC announced in June that the premiere of “Michael J. Fox Show” would be an hour, from 9 to 10. This put the two new comedies head-to-head for a half-hour. And CBS followed about a month later by announcing that megahit 8 p.m. Thursday comedy “The Big Bang Theory” would get an hourlong premiere — bumping new comedy “The Millers,” which was to have bowed at 8:30 p.m. on the first Thursday of the season, and providing “The Crazy Ones” with the network’s best possible lead-in.
“Grey’s,” which always does well with its season premieres and finales, will provide the comedies formidable competition for female viewers. And at Fox, the death of Monteith delayed “Glee’s” production schedule and pushed back the start of the show’s fifth season by a week. Now, Fox joins ABC, CBS and NBC in bowing its Thursday 9 p.m. show during premiere week.
And while Fox has said that the death of Monteith’s character Finn won’t be addressed until October, “Glee” figures to get more eyeballs than last year’s opening weeks.
What will happen? “Grey’s” and “Glee” will be the first choices to be DVR’d, while the new comedies will see more live and same-night viewing. “Crazy Ones” will have a huge lead-in advantage with “The Big Bang Theory” and should win, but it will be interesting to see how the second half of the NBC comedy fares against CBS vet “Two and a Half Men” at 9:30.
2. Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 8 p.m.
The agents of “NCIS” take on “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” in a drama showdown that figures to produce the largest combined audience of the week for any two entertainment series in the same time period — perhaps more than 30 million viewers.
Last year, “NCIS” opened to a whopping 20.4 million viewers, and while that would seem a tough number to match this fall, don’t count out TV’s most popular scripted series even if it is in its 11th season. Actress Cote de Pablo and her character Ziva are exiting the show in its second season, and anticipation of her good-bye figures to boost viewership for the first two weeks.
No network has been too aggressive in scheduling a drama opposite “NCIS” — for good reason — but ABC feels it has something that can shore up a time period that has been a drag on its weekly average. Last season. the Alphabet struck out in Tuesday’s leadoff hour with “The Taste” and “Splash.”
Joss Whedon’s “SHIELD” has been pretty well received by both critics and viewers who have seen the pilot. It should be the rare ABC drama that derives a sizable chunk of its audience from men, and there does figure to be some crossover audience between it and “NCIS.”
What will happen?: There’s nothing on television like “NCIS,” and its loyal audience will tune in on Tuesday and help CBS dominate the hour in total viewers. Still, “SHIELD” should open well — and give its veteran competition a tough battle in younger demos.