It’s War! Prime-Time Show Battles Loom

Twenty-seven new series on the five broadcast networks (three more than last year) will be vying for an audience this fall.  There are still more new dramas (14) than sitcoms (11), but this is the most new comedy development in five years. There are also two new nonscripted entries: singing competition The X Factor on Fox and the comedic H8R on The CW.

ABC leads the pack with seven new series, followed by NBC (six), CBS and Fox (five each), and The CW (four), which is the most ever for the ratings-challenged outlet.  Wednesday and Thursday have the most concentration of new series with seven each.  Once again there is no new product on the wasteland that is Saturday.

To whet your appetite, here are six pivotal show rumbles.

Hawaii Five-O (CBS) Vs. The Playboy Club (NBC)

Hawaii Five-O , CBS’ rare revival success, faces NBC’s nostalgic The Playboy Club, no doubt another nod to Mad Men. But Mad Men is not a mass appeal hit, so you have to wonder if Playboy’s viewership will be loyal, but small. Since Hawaii Five-O tends to attract older demos, NBC is hoping Playboy will draw 18-49ers after lead-in The Sing-Off. Considering recent time-period occupant Harry’s Law was a modest hit, NBC should put Playboy somewhere else on the schedule.

The New Girl (Fox) Vs. The Ringer (The CW)

Perhaps no new comedy is better positioned than The New Girl, which stars Zooey Deschanel and enjoys the plum lead-out slot after Glee. After CBS passed on The Ringer, sibling network The CW pounced, committing to what could prove to be its most adult drama to date. Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar in a dual role, Ringer centers on a woman who assumes her twin sister’s identity after her (apparent) suicide. Rather than lead out of the vapid 90210, Ringer would be better served by a Gossip Girl pairing on Monday night.

Suburgatory (ABC) Vs. Free Agents (NBC)

Nestled between The Middle and Modern Family, Suburgatory has a real shot at winning over an audience. A family comedy stocked with familiar faces (Jeremy Sisto, Cheryl Hines, Rex Lee), its biggest hurdle may be the awful title. A few clicks down the dial lurks time-slot rival Free Agents, a smart, stinging comedy starring Hank Azaria as a newly minted divorced guy who hooks up with a co-worker (Kathryn Hahn).

Charlie’s Angels (ABC) Vs. The X Factor (Fox)

It’s the battle of beauty versus the Brit. Since Fox’s American Idol has never aired in the fall, the validity of a singing competition like The X Factor in fourth quarter is a concern.  But there is only one Simon Cowell, and he has a built-in chemistry with wacky co-host Paula Abdul. Charlie’s Angels will certainly outdeliver short-lived fall 2010 occupant My Generation.  Even so, viewers love a good singing competition, and Simon and Paula are a force to reckon with. There is every reason to think The X Factor will clip the wings of the three new angels.

A Gifted Man (CBS) Vs. Chuck (NBC)

After recent Friday failures, it’s back to the drawing board for CBS, which is hoping warm and fuzzy is the right combination with A Gifted Man, and its focus on a surgeon whose deceased ex-wife begins teaching him the meaning of life from the hereafter. Competing for the available audience is what NBC is billing as the final season of low-rated Chuck.  Since NBC has no grand illusions of Chuck generating added interest in the low HUT-level Friday 8 p.m. hour, chances are A Gifted Man will hold an advantage—but it won’t be by much.