First in a three-part analysis
HOLLYWOOD — Traditionalists would like NBC to return to a four-comedy Thursday lineup, but it’s not gonna happen this fall.
Net can’t hide from the fact that, with “Friends” gone, no comedy can match the numbers “The Apprentice” can put up on TV’s biggest night.
Plus, if every other net’s highest-rated night features its hottest reality series, why shouldn’t NBC’s?
In the first of a three-part series looking at the broadcast nets prior to the announcement of their fall skeds, here’s a peek at NBC and Fox:
The Peacock is a well-rounded No. 1 in 18-49, but it certainly will miss “Friends” next season and could be challenged by Fox or CBS. After a slow start in the unscripted arena, NBC has arguably become the strongest net in the hot genre, but it needs some fresh scripted blood.
Among its marginally performing scripted skeins, “American Dreams” and “The West Wing” will return, and “Whoopi” is a fairly long shot to get a second season. Door has already closed on “Happy Family” and “Tracy Morgan.”
“The Apprentice” almost certainly will return to Thursday at 9 (following “Friends” spinoff “Joey” and vet “Will & Grace”) as the net stacks the night with its top comedy, drama and reality series.
NBC should use Tuesday as a minor league for its comedies, eventually transferring one that’s of “Must-See” status over to Thursday if and when the laffer block expands to two hours again on the night.
Now in danger of airing the fewest comedies of any of the major nets for the first time (just six), NBC should at some point consider trying two original comedies in Saturday’s 9 o’clock hour (following repeat laffers from 8 to 9). Clip packages of the net’s latenight standouts (Leno, Conan and “SNL”) or drama repeats could fill out the night.
The loss of “Frasier” will sting a bit, but the show was two years past its prime when it called it quits. “Scrubs” should be able to fare similarly at 9 — and perhaps put up even bigger numbers if surrounded by stronger, more compatible sked mates.
In one sense, the older-skewing “Frasier” limited what NBC could pair with it on Tuesday; now the net can, and must, go younger with its comedy. Shows like the CGI-animated “Father of the Pride” and Macaulay Culkin sibling sitcom “Foster Hall” would seem to be great partners for “Scrubs.”
On the drama side, net will likely add an hour on Wednesday at 8 (possibly airport tale “HUB,” starring Heather Locklear and Blair Underwood) and an hour on Friday at 9 (psychic drama “Medium” is a possibility) leading into “Third Watch.”
“Las Vegas,” a strong first-year performer, is expected back on Mondays, while “Crossing Jordan” should be back on Sundays after a successful return this midseason.
The fourth edition of “Law & Order,” the courtroom-based “Trial by Jury,” could come off the bench in January, possibly replacing “Third Watch.” Also coming midseason is boxing reality skein “The Contender,” which could get a Thursday premiere (between editions of “Apprentice”) before moving to a regular slot (possibly Mondays at 10).
Bottom line: Net doesn’t need to change much, but it could really use a hot Tuesday comedy and a solid Wednesday drama.
No net has been as aggressive in changing the rhythms of the fall rollout more than Fox, which will get a jump on its rivals by launching several scripted shows in June. In success, these skeins could ramp up production later in summer and return to the sked in the winter.
And that’s a good thing, because when you look at the anchors for Fox’s fall sked, you don’t see too many. Sure, there are the usual sitcom suspects and successful rookie sudser “The OC,” but beyond that there’s not much meat on the bone.
Sunday, in particular, could use some help as “The Simpsons,” surrounded by a weaker supporting cast, is slipping and can’t be expected to carry the night forever. Net’s comedy pilots include four animated entries, so it’s a safe bet that at least one will become a “Simpsons” skedmate.
Fox could move a drama to Sundays at 9, but may stick with its unique six-comedy lineup if it feels it has the goods. It also needs to find a place for “Arrested Development,” which deserves to return (on creative merits, anyway) although perhaps not in such a high-pressure spot as Sunday at 9:30.
Another question mark is the skedding of “24,” which has performed well down the stretch. “American Idol” doesn’t seem to be the most compatible lead-in, but there isn’t another obvious place on Fox’s 15-hour sked, so a return to Tuesday is possible.
First-year drama “Tru Calling” has attracted a loyal aud in the tough Thursday-at-8 hour and should be invited back for a second season, perhaps paired with something like the mysterious “Point Pleasant” or maybe even “The OC,” if Fox wants to program Thursdays more aggressively.
Fridays could be movies and specs, although the net could try a reality series into a drama.
Bottom line: Between baseball and the arrival every January of “American Idol,” no net’s sked is more fluid than Fox, but this season it needs to put down anchors on both Monday and Thursday.