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Mr. TV: Fine-Tuning Prime

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I want to begin this week with a shameless plug: join me on my latest webcast, Mr. TV’s Midseason Update, which runs live tomorrow, April 28 at 2 p.m. ET (sign up at www.nielsencast.com). If you can’t be there live, you can always listen at a later time. With that in mind, I thought it would be timely to reassess what exactly is going on at the Big Five broadcast networks.

CBS is the only broadcaster to post increases year-to-year, and that comes as a result of an adept combination of good comedies, solid dramas, must-see reality, granddaddy 60 Minutes and the biggest new scripted hit of the season, The Mentalist. CBS, in fact, is the one network that could—and should—step up to the plate and attempt to program Saturday. But I know it won’t—Saturdays are like kryptonite to broadcasters.

Excluding Saturday, only two to three hours of CBS’ prime-time schedule are in need of repair. As always, it can do better than time-period filler Rules of Engagement out of Two and a Half Men on Monday. Comedy is a wise direction in the Wednesday 8 p.m. hour, but current occupants The New Adventures of Old Christine and Gary Unmarried aren’t exactly powerhouses. CBS instead should find new sitcoms and bring back Old Christine in midseason. (TBS, meanwhile, should consider picking up the generic Gary Unmarried.)
Another issue: The Unit doesn’t really work well out of Cold Case on Sunday. But instead of dumping both Cold Case and Without a Trace as rumored (because they skew older), I would ship Cold Case to Friday out of Ghost Whisperer and leave Without a Trace where it is.

The best news at ABC is Dancing With the Stars, which successfully fills up to three hours of prime-time real estate. And Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy and Lost all still deliver decent demos despite shrinking ratings. But the network is sorely lacking in sitcoms. Nothing new this season—comedy, drama or non-scripted—has succeeded. Wife Swap and Supernanny are nothing more than “Band-Aids” on Friday. And Brothers & Sisters is beginning to squander its Housewives lead-in. So, all in all, ABC needs six to eight hours of new programming on its lineup.

If I were running ABC, I would raid the programming closet of corporate cousin The Disney Channel to bring back a whole new iteration of the once-successful TGIF kidcoms on Friday. There’s plenty of well-known talent the network could use for wrap-around commentary. What ABC shouldn’t do is revive lame also-rans like Scrubs.

The big gamble at NBC, of course, is stripping Jay Leno into the 10 p.m. hour on weeknights. If it works, NBC has a better lead-in to its affiliates’ local news. But if it fails, that’s almost one-quarter of its prime-time lineup. Regardless of what happens, anything currently airing at 10 p.m.—Medium, Law & Order: SVU, Law & Order and Southland—will need to find a new home should a renewal come calling. And there may not be a need for two-hours per week of The Biggest Loser.

As I say every year, NBC was wise to re-introduce its two-hour sitcom block on Thursday a few years back. But fading My Name is Earl needs to go, and the net must find something that the masses can relate to. As good as The Office and 30 Rock are, they will never appeal to the masses. Go and find the next generation of Huxtables, NBC.

Fox, of course, might be a very different network if not for American Idol. But, guess what? The net has several established hits to work with, plus freshman dramas Fringe and Lie to Me. That said, Fox is sorely lacking in live-action comedies, The Simpsons ain’t what it used to be, and Saturday occupants Cops and America’s Most Wanted are showing their age. I would roll the dice and ship the two reality veterans to Friday and fill Saturday with anything of a game show nature (such as Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader).

The CW continues to wisely focus on the young female demographic. But with two nights, Friday and Sunday, in need of a complete fix, and holes on Tuesday and Wednesday, now might be the time to give Sunday back to the affiliates. I would rid the schedule of any comedies (there’s nowhere to put them) and populate the entire lineup with female-driven serials and lifestyle shows. And I wouldn’t start the schedule early again, which only resulted in more repeat telecasts during the regular season.

If you want to know more, tune in to my webcast.   

Do you agree or disagree with Mr. TV? Please e-mail mberman@mediaweek.com and let him know if you would like your response published in an upcoming issue.