Prime-Time Matchup

A breakdown of shows going head-to-head



MONDAY 9-10
ABC Dancing With the Stars vs. CBS 2 Broke Girls/ Mike & Molly vs. FOX The Mob Doctor vs. NBC The Voice

As much as you never want to drag a knife through the innards of the golden goose, you also don’t want to let the plucky little revenue source sit around and get too fat to lay eggs. Little surprise, then, that NBC chose to return The Voice for a fall cycle. Not only is it the network’s top-performing entertainment property, it’s literally the only viable lead-in for the new drama Revolution.

Barring an unforeseen catastrophe, The Voice should dominate this particular part of the night. Heading into its 15th cycle, Dancing With the Stars is on the downhill slide, dropping from a 4.5 rating in the 18-49 demo in 2010-11 to a 3.2 this season. And while 2 Broke Girls is the top-rated freshman comedy, it closed out its first campaign at a series low of 3.3. Moreover, 2BG no longer will enjoy the benefit of the How I Met Your Mother lead-in. Instead, the show will be required to build on the new comedy Partners.

Of course, nobody ever got rich by underestimating CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler, so it’s possible that Partners will help maintain 2BG’s big deliveries. (Thematically, the two shows would seem to lock into one another like Lego.)

As it’s the only game in town, Fox could steal share among people looking for drama. Newcomer The Mob Doctor shares DNA with its lead-in, Bones, though that drama is beginning to exhibit signs of osteoporosis. 

TUESDAY 9-9:30
ABC Happy Endings/Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23 vs. FOX New Girl/The Mindy Project vs. NBC Go On/The New Normal

A few short years after resignedly tying a toe tag on the sitcom, the networks are channeling Dr. Frankenstein. Last week, buyers heard any number of variants on the “It’s alive!” theme. The genre is so hot, in fact, that 16 of 36 new scripted series are comedies.

In what could prove to be the most time-shifted block on the grid, three of the Big Four nets are airing sitcoms in the 9 p.m. hour, creating what amounts to a snarl of chuckles. Speaking on behalf of the lone drama holdout, CBS programming chief Kelly Kahl last week predicted that the competition was steering into a “comedy SigAlert,” a nod to L.A.’s dreaded severe-traffic advisories.

The goofball antics of Happy Endings and the merrily profane Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23 are complementary Tetris tiles, while the New Girl/ Mindy Project pairing off ers further evidence that the era of brilliant female showrunners has only just begun. But while Fox assures a victory among younger viewers (New Girl’s median age: 35), NBC could win on reach. Those who have seen the Go On pilot say it is Matthew Perry’s best comic turn since Friends. Generous sampling is all but assured. 


WEDNESDAY 10-11
ABC Nashville vs. NBC Chicago Fire

Oh, to have seen the look on Denis Leary’s face when he was told that NBC was about to revive the long-dormant firehouse drama. The sandpaper-nerved comic’s searing FX vehicle Rescue Me had been off  the air a little more than eight months when NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt announced that Dick Wolf’s Chicago Fire would introduce the neglected genre to a new generation of viewers.

The first look at Chicago Fire was about what one would expect from the man who brought us the Law & Order franchise: workplace drama, blue-collar grit, grim-faced stoicism in the face of danger. Plus, there’s a guy who takes his shirt off  every chance he gets, no doubt catnip for the considerable number of those who fetishize fi refi ghters.

At first blush, ABC’s Nashville seems like the Music City version of Smash. This sudsy musical pits country crooner Connie Britton (in the Shelby Lynne role) against Auto-Tuned pop tart Hayden Panettiere, who portrays a sort of Knight Rider evil twin version of Taylor Swift. Nashville has a good shot at finding an audience in the post-Grey’s Anatomy time slot, though so much has to go right if the show is to sidestep the inherent pitfalls of the genre.


THURSDAY 8-9
ABC The Last Resort vs. CBS The Big Bang Theory/ Two and a Half Men vs. FOX The X Factor

Just when things are at their most insuff erably claustrophobic aboard the nuclear sub Colorado, the crew sets up shop on a tropical island. But this is no beach party. On the run from the U.S. government (skipper Andre Braugher refuses an order to rain hot death on an unsuspecting Pakistan), the rogue seamen establish what is eff ectively an independent nation state.

Shawn Ryan’s premise may be hard to swallow—and an early look suggests The Last Resort might be better served at 10 p.m.—but it’s one of a handful of promising new dramas. A victim of its own hype, The X Factor may have missed its initial ratings guarantees, but it was still one of the season’s rare new hits. With the addition of Britney Spears and Demi Lovato to the judges’ panel, Simon Cowell promises the coming season will “kick butt.” Unless viewers fall prey to talent-show fatigue, the V-necked Brit is probably onto something.

Somewhere in the Deep South, there’s a crossroads where Chuck Lorre sold his soul to the devil in exchange for eternal comedy success. Pairing the veteran series The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men may be less about creating a Thursday night juggernaut than clearing the way for future success on Tuesdays (2 Broke Girls will assume the 2.5 Men slot ahead of newbie Partners), but it’s hard to argue with the kind of numbers these shows generate.

FRIDAY 8-9
CBS Made in Jersey vs. NBC Grimm

Given the atrophied HUT levels, expectations are modest on Friday nights, and even a relatively tiny rating will buy a show a renewal—provided it doesn’t air on CBS.

Case in point: NBC picked up procedural-fantasy- horror mashup Grimm for a second season, even though it was drawing a 1.5 in adults 18-49. It has since stumbled even further, averaging a 1.2 in the dollar demo on May 11. 

Still, Grimm has a vocal base of dedicated fans, and the show nearly doubles its live deliveries upon application of DVR playback data. And the competitive landscape isn’t much to speak of: ABC airs its airless primer on venture capitalism, Shark Tank, opposite Grimm, while Fox and the CW broadcast the on-their-last-legs drama series Fringe and Nikita.

Cue a needle scratching an LP as CBS’ winkingly formulaic Made in Jersey makes its noisy entrance. TV execs have an enduring love for legal dramas and Garden State Italian-Americans—and Madonn’, does this show hammer that home. If CBS can get a Nielsen box in my Aunt Angie’s house, this will be the biggest Friday hit since Numb3rs.


SUNDAY 9-10
ABC Revenge vs. CBS The Good Wife vs. NBC Sunday Night Football

If Revenge is a dish best served cold, it also goes down a lot smoother with a big, dramatic lead-in. ABC is shifting its pulpy Emily VanCamp thriller from Wednesday to Sunday, where it will benefi t from a cozy association with fellow sophomore drama Once Upon a Time.

While Revenge was a modest success for a network desperate to establish a few big hours (Season 1 delivered an average 2.3 rating in the 18-49 demo), Once Upon a Time is a runaway hit, brewing up nearly 10 million viewers every week and a 3.1 where it counts the most.

Along with its bewitching new lead-in, the move to a much more female-friendly time slot should boost Revenge’s profile, though it will likely do so at the expense of The Good Wife. The Emmy-winning legal drama has faced more plot twists than Alicia and Kalinda combined, maintaining a 2.1 rating in its third season despite the ravages of its stuttered starting times. In the fall, The Good Wife—along with the entire CBS Sunday lineup—was often delayed by as much as half an hour due to NFL games going beyond their allotted time.

CBS programming chief Kelly Kahl says The Good Wife is more than up to the challenge, noting that the show held up against ABC’s Desperate Housewives. But both shows are essentially fi ghting for second place; per Nielsen, one-third of the gargantuan Sunday Night Football audience is female.