Mr. TV: Early Planning

Well, here we are…the third week of February, smack in the middle of program development season. It’s time to pinpoint exactly what the network weaknesses are.

CBS, as has been the case for several years, is in the best overall shape and is the one network that actually could make a programming commitment to all-but-abandoned Saturday. But don’t get your hopes up because the goal at present must be to preserve low HUT-level Friday.

Since CBS has reduced the episode order on Numb3rs, a renewal is unlikely. And I have little faith in upcoming replacement Miami Medical, which opens April 2 and does not sound like the best option to end the workweek. While CBS could live with Ghost Whisperer and compatible Medium for another season, it should find something new to anchor the evening. With a spin-off of Criminal Minds and a revival of classic Hawaii Five-O in the works, the built-in branding could be beneficial for Friday.

CBS is so solid from Monday to Thursday, all that needs fixing is Monday at 8:30 p.m. (in place of Accidentally on Purpose and benchwarmer Rules of Engagement) and the Wednesday 8 p.m. hour.  Sunday from 7-9 p.m. works, thanks to granddaddy 60 Minutes and Emmy-drenched The Amazing Race, but 9-11 p.m. needs to be addressed. It’s time for Cold Case to bid adieu.

ABC has a number of key building blocks on which to start a foundation for its schedule, including new sitcom hit Modern Family. Monday is solid, care of Dancing With the Stars and sophomore success Castle, but Tuesday into and out of DWTS needs to be strengthened.
With three of the Wednesday comedies already renewed for next season, the priority is finding an 8 p.m. anchor and a 10 p.m. occupant. The jury is still out on FlashForward, which returns in March, but Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice are keepers on Thursday, as is the network’s aging but still competitive Sunday lineup.

NBC, as you’ve heard, is a complete mess. What is working—and it’s not much—is two hours of The Biggest Loser on Tuesday, Law & Order: SVU on Wednesday (which heads back to 10 p.m. following a repeat in two weeks), The Office on Thursday, Dateline on Friday and, of course, the return of Sunday Night Football. Struggling Parks and Recreation has already been green-lit for season three (star Amy Poehler must have pictures of an NBC exec in a compromising position hidden away somewhere), while 30 Rock and Law & Order are expected back. Meanwhile, Celebrity Apprentice is respectable filler for football.

The jury is still out, of course, on NBC’s upcoming revamped weeknight 10 p.m. rotation. But I would, in the meantime, officially cancel dead-as-a-doornail Heroes, recognize that Chuck and Community will never strike it big, forget about another series in the aging Law & Order franchise, and always remember that scripted programming must be the main ingredient in any prime-time schedule.

Fox’s top priority is finding a replacement next season for America Idol’’s departing Simon Cowell, and I would hold very little stock in the Howard Stern rumor. While he is, of course, a huge name, he is also just too controversial.  

While Fox at present needs more time to make a decision on the futures of freshman dramas Human Target and Past Life, the emphasis must be on kick starting the Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday 8 p.m. anchor spots in fourth quarter.  Save So You Think You Can Dance for the summer and give us more scripted options.

The CW, meanwhile, still has a ton of work to do, but the success of returning The Vampire Diaries is a step in the right direction. In a perfect world, The CW would have the finances to replace half of the 10-hour schedule. But since that won’t happen, swing the ax on tired One Tree Hill, get rid of 90210 and Melrose Place, and avoid ever doing a revival again.

Creativity is always a better network building block than imitation.