Of the major broadcasters, few are making any radical changes to their linear schedules for the fall Nielsen season, which begins Sept. 23. They’re relying instead on mostly established hits. No doubt the nets are looking to stanch the bleeding of linear viewers to digital and streaming platforms by providing continuity from season to season. Here’s a breakdown of each network’s programming plans.
ABC has kept most of its 2018-19 schedule intact, with the highest-profile move being “The Rookie” going to Sundays at 10 p.m., while “American Housewife” joins the Friday-night comedy block alongside “Fresh off the Boat.”
The network will also see the biggest drop-off in the number of shows debuting this fall compared with last year, going to four in 2019 from seven in 2018.
“We’re screaming in a room full of screaming people, and if we’re screaming about fewer things, it makes it easier to make our voices louder,” says Andy Kubitz, executive vice president of programming strategy for ABC Entertainment. “By reducing our launches this year, it gives us a chance to be more successful.”
“Dancing With the Stars” will also return from a yearlong hiatus this fall, though the new season has already attracted controversy. Kubitz says the goal is to attract more “zeitgeisty talent,” which includes former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, infamous for his repeated lies and mischaracterizations on behalf of the Trump administration.
CBS is focusing primarily on Mondays and Thursdays this season, with the network going into the fall for the first time in 12 years without flagship Thursday comedy series “The Big Bang Theory.”
“‘Big Bang’ was a huge strength, so we are continuing to build ‘Young Sheldon’ to be the new Thursdays-at-8 p.m. kickoff show,” says Noriko Kelley, executive vice president of program planning and scheduling for CBS Entertainment, of the “Big Bang” spinoff.
“Young Sheldon” will serve as the lead-in for freshman comedy “The Unicorn” on Thursdays, while the veteran sitcom “Mom” will lead into the Patricia Heaton-led multi-cam “Carol’s Second Act.” Those comedies will precede new supernatural drama “Evil,” from Robert and Michelle King.
Freshman legal drama “All Rise” will take the Monday, 9 p.m., slot formerly occupied by “Magnum P.I.,” which has been moved to Fridays. New Chuck Lorre series “Bob Hearts Abishola” will air at 8:30 p.m. following sophomore “The Neighborhood.”
Fox had to do some creative scheduling this year, with WWE’s “SmackDown” taking over Fridays, the day after “Thursday Night Football.”
And while the network had ordered just five new shows last year, it has 10 on deck this year, with just three debuting in the fall — dramas “Prodigal Son” and “Almost Family” and animated comedy “Bless the Harts.”
According to Dan Harrison, executive vice president of program planning and content strategy for Fox Entertainment, one of the network’s top priorities this year is maximizing the visibility of last season’s surprise smash hit “The Masked Singer,” which returns Wednesdays this fall after airing in the spring in its inaugural run.
“It’s not often that a network is blessed with an asset like that,” Harrison says. “Our primary objective is to make sure that ‘Masked Singer’ comes back very healthy.”
NBC is again debuting only three new shows in the fall: legal drama “Bluff City Law” and comedies “Sunnyside” and “Perfect Harmony.”
The two comedies will join the Thursday-night laff block anchored by “The Good Place” and “Superstore,” with the former going into its final season. Neither of the established shows scores particularly large live-plus-same-day numbers, but NBC is unconcerned.
“We’re not just a linear business anymore,” Jeff Bader, president of program planning, strategy and research for NBC Entertainment and chief research officer for NBCUniversal, says. “When you look at the overnight ratings, it may not be a big number, but over time they’re some of our highest-rated shows.”
The CW is launching two new shows after delivering three last fall, when the network expanded its programming into Sunday nights. Highly anticipated freshman series “Batwoman” will team up with “Supergirl” on Sundays this season. Kevin Levy, The CW’s executive vice president of program planning, scheduling and acquisitions says the network hopes to draw more linear viewers to the night despite its recent emphasis.
“I think as the programming environment gets more and more textured, it becomes more of a challenge to wrangle viewers,” he says. “With Sundays, we’re very hopeful we’ll be able to improve that night.”
Meanwhile, new series “Nancy Drew” will get the choice post-”Riverdale” time slot on Wednesdays, cementing a night of teen melodrama for the younger-skewing network.