Mr. TV: Upfront Wrap Up

The good news: I survived upfront week. But what was once a fun and exciting four days has become more and more grueling as the years progress. As Lucy, everyone’s favorite redhead, would say, “I’m a pooped.” Regardless, I have plenty of observations.

It was odd to see Fox kick off the week since it normally presents last. All in all, I was not overly impressed with its fall slate, which is a combo of six new series (three this fall, three in midseason), a roster of declining established series, modest sophomore returnees Fringe and Lie to Me, and a fall edition of So You Think You Can Dance, which could be overkill.
Remember what happened when CBS aired a winter edition of Big Brother in 2008?

While I commend Fox for airing scripted shows on sinking Friday, anchoring the evening with Brothers, a new sitcom, is a suicide mission. Lead-out ’Til Death is just taking up space, and the surprise renewal of Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse does not mean viewers will suddenly tune in. Nice try, Fox, but I would have liked to see more new shows on the lineup.

ABC was more aggressive, with a slate of eight new fall series, including a revamped Wednesday. Going back to the drawing board in midweek is a risk (and airing four new comedies in a row has, to my knowledge, never been done before), but I admire ABC for realizing it must get back into the half-hour sitcom business. Based on the reaction to the clips in the audience at its presentation, Hank, The Middle, Modern Family and Cougar Town could all be worth watching. And high-caliber names like Kelsey Grammer, Patricia Heaton, Ed O’Neill and Courtney Cox-Arquette are likely to give ABC traction.

Elsewhere on ABC, it was wise to surround the live Dancing With the Stars results show on Tuesday with new programming (nonscripted Shark Tank at 8 p.m. and crime-driven The Forgotten at 10 p.m.). Flash Forward anchoring Thursday reminds me of Lost and moving Ugly Betty into the Friday 9 p.m. hour tells me the network is not giving up on the deteriorating evening. But aging Sunday is not the force it once was, and there is no reason to think returning Scrubs and Better Off Ted will generate much interest in midseason.

NBC, which presented its roster of new programs at its “infront” several weeks ago, managed to build a relatively stable lineup around the weeknight arrival of the Jay Leno talker at 10 p.m. But don’t let NBC fool you…its schedule is weak. If Leno does not deliver, I would hate to be in Ben Silverman’s shoes.

The first problem is deteriorating Heroes, which is not strong enough to anchor Monday.
Needless to say, new lead-out drama Trauma will not benefit. While I applaud NBC for attempting a family drama in the Wednesday 8 p.m. hour, the net already aired a half-hour version of Parenthood in fall 1990, and it didn’t work. And I wonder if earlier time periods for Law & Order: SVU (Wednesdays at 9 p.m.), Law & Order (Fridays at 8 p.m.) and Southland an hour later will resonate with an audience accustomed to seeing these shows at 10 p.m.

CBS has the strongest fall schedule, which will feature four new scripted series (three dramas and one sitcom), the arrival of former NBC drama Medium and changes on five nights of the week (excluding Wednesday and Saturday). But I still think it could have done better. Relocated The Mentalist does not need lead-in support from CSI—it would be better off where it currently resides. Two hours of NCIS on Tuesdays from 8-10 p.m. is one hour too many—NCIS: Los Angeles is better positioned out of The Amazing Race on Sunday. And medical drama Three Rivers belongs out of CSI (where viewers were accustomed to NBC’s ER) instead of Sundays at 9.

The CW will remain focused on young females, with its trio of new dramas all targeted to the demo. The revival of Melrose Place out of 90210 and fashion-driven The Beautiful Life out of America’s Next Top Model were no-brainers. But what I didn’t expect was bumping veteran Smallville to Friday in place of The Vampire Diaries, which sounds like a combination of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Charmed.  

Keep an eye on this last one. If it works, and posters at PIFeedback.com have been already buzzing about it for months, The CW could find the momentum it needs. In today’s environment, all it takes is one show.   

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