CBS and Fox have been primetime’s ratings leaders for years now, but they have done it mostly without stepping on each other’s toes.
That could change this fall.
The Eye should remain the season’s most consistent broadcaster, but the Murdoch net, which traditionally rules the second half of the season with “American Idol,” has prepped its most aggressive fall slate to date.
Presumed juggernaut “The X-Factor” — featuring the return of Simon Cowell — kicks off the Fox sked on both Wednesday and Thursday, airing on the same nights as “Idol” and thus giving the net a season-long music competition presence there. Fox is also adding Steven Spielberg-produced dino drama “Terra Nova,” which anchors Mondays.
These three new high-profile 8 o’clock hours could make life difficult for the competition, including the two new CBS comedies (“2 Broke Girls” on Monday and “How to Be a Gentleman” on Thursday). Also, the Eye’s “Survivor” will now have to do battle every week with either “X” or “Idol.”
Of course, CBS is the net that has most effectively countered the “Idol” steamroller in the second half of the season — so it should be able to withstand Fox’s fall flurry.
The Eye was No. 1 in 18-49 on four of five weeknights last fall (and five of five in 25-54), while Fox narrowly led CBS on Tuesday but placed third or fourth on four of seven nights.
Big changes at CBS include Ashton Kutcher taking over for Charlie Sheen on “Two and a Half Men,” and the net is airing something other than “CSI” on Thursday at 9 for the first time in a decade.
Here’s a look at both nets:
Airing just 15 hours most weeks, the net’s averages are subject to larger fluctuations than its 22-hour rivals. Last fall, insta-bombs “Lone Star” and “The Good Guys” weighed down Monday and Friday, respectively, resulting in year-to-year declines of more than 30% on both nights. The World Series also proved a downer, and the net finished fall down 18% in 18-49.
It’s hard to imagine Fox not improving on just about every weeknight, though, with “Terra Nova” positioned well for family co-viewing Monday at 8, leading into “House,” which shifts an hour later. Though “House” has faded, it gives the net a solid player in a crowded slot, and Fox is the only Big Four net offering drama at both 8 and 9.
Tuesday’s “Glee,” which cooled some in its second season, could benefit from 9 p.m. rookie “New Girl,” which looks to be the most promising new comedy of the fall. The skedding should also give Fox a better idea of how strong 9:30 laffer “Raising Hope” is after it did OK in the more comfy post-“Glee” 9 o’clock slot a year ago.
As for “X Factor,” it doesn’t have to be in the range of “Idol” to be a factor in the ratings race; even half an “Idol” number would make it a potent performer. It will air two hours on Wednesday, and on Thursday it leads into “Bones,” which won’t have to face another forensic crime drama, as it did a year ago (“CSI”).
Friday should improve with two known commodities (“Kitchen Nightmares” and “Fringe”) and Sunday should be OK, with “Allen Gregory” the latest newbie to get the 8:30 sandwich slot between “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy.”
Fox also has added the Pac 12 and Big 10 college football championship games, giving it a nice early-December boost.
The biggest unknown is how “Two and a Half Men” will perform come November, after the novelty of Kutcher has worn off. It should get pretty good support from compatible rookie “2 Broke Girls” at 8:30 and solid soph “Mike & Molly” at 9:30.
CBS has had a good gender balance with its Monday comedies (which it promotes during NFL football), but that could begin to change this fall. The Kutcher-for-Sheen trade combined with “Broke Girls” could swing things in a more femme direction.
Tuesday should stay strong, with the two “NCIS” shows leading into newcomer “Unforgettable.” This “Mentalist”-like crime drama with a female lead could perform better than “The Good Wife” last fall, but it’s too bad CBS didn’t have a drama with more male appeal to go here.
Net’s best move for fall was relocating “CSI” behind “Criminal Minds” on Wednesday — though new lead Ted Danson may not be the best choice to bring in new, younger viewers. “Law & Order: SVU” will be tough demo competish, but “CSI” should dominate in total viewers.
Thursday is looking shaky with new half-hour “How to Be a Gentleman” leading into OK new drama “Person of Interest,” which must deal with established dramas on ABC and Fox. With “CSI” declining, though, the time was right to try something new on Thursday, and “Big Bang Theory” and “Mentalist” still offer support as bookends to the night.
New drama “A Gifted Man” should improve Friday, where “CSI: NY” and “Blue Bloods” will again do as well as anything else on the night.
The shift of “The Good Wife” to Sundays isn’t ideal, but following “60 Minutes” and “Amazing Race,” it puts the net’s three most upscale-skewing shows on the same night, so there should be some audience overlap. Football overruns could be a problem, as the net struggles to begin its Sunday entertainment series on time in most of the country when “60 Minutes” starts late; and in New York, “Good Wife” will likely start at different times each of its first three weeks.
Bottom line: Fox is well positioned to finish fall as the 18-49 leader, but CBS should still have enough to win in adults 25-54.
Next week: ABC and NBC