Five takeaways from networks' next season plans

By Alex Intner, Daily Arts Writer
Published May 14, 2014

Each year around this time, the big broadcast networks invite advertising executives to a presentation where they reveal their schedules for the next season. These presentations usually serve as bragging sessions for the networks and give them an opportunity to share their grand plan for the upcoming season. Here’s a look at some of the stories to come from these announcements:

The Dismantling of the Traditional Comedy Block

For three of the broadcast networks, they changed the structure of their comedy blocks, which serve as major components of their schedule. For CBS and NBC, this meant removing an hour. This will be the first time in several decades that CBS won’t be airing comedies at 9 on Monday (instead, they’re airing the new drama “Scorpion”) and NBC won’t air comedies at 8 on Thursday (airing “The Biggest Loser” instead). At FOX, their Sunday night animation block will now be half animation (with “The Simpsons at 8 and “Family Guy” at 9) and half live-action (with “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” at 8:30 and the new comedy “Mulaney” at 9:30) and their Tuesday comedy block will comprise of only one hour at 9 (with “New Girl” and “The Mindy Project”). The big networks struggled with comedies this season, with each network losing viewers. For them, this is a way to attempt to stop the bleeding, by allowing them to spread their promotional resources over a smaller slate of series.

Even CBS was hurt this season

Each year, CBS usually releases a schedule with a very similar structure to the year before. During this season, the network’s ratings dropped and they responded with an aggressive schedule that removed an hour of their storied Monday comedy block and sent one of their Sunday cornerstones, “The Amazing Race” to Friday. Gaining “Thursday Night Football” for the first eight weeks of the season also meant that they could attempt to help the Monday comedy hour by airing “The Big Bang Theory” at 8 for the first eight weekss of the season before it moves back to Thursday after football ends. They also sent a few dramas on the move, with “NCIS: Los Angeles” moving to Monday and “NCIS: New Orleans” taking its place. This is more movement than CBS is used to doing and is a sign that even the most-watched network is vulnerable.

Biggest Timeslot Battle: 9 PM Thursday: “The Blacklist” vs. “Scandal”

In February, we will see a battle of the network hits when NBC sends their biggest hit in years, “The Blacklist” to take on ABC’s cultural phenomenon “Scandal.” “Scandal” will have an advantage of being the established hit and “The Blacklist” will move into the timeslot directly after a post-Super Bowl airing. Networks don’t often put hit shows head-to-head like this, and it’ll be interesting to see which drama wins, and if DVR viewing will be a factor in deciding this victory.

It’s time to “eventize”

In a time where live viewing is declining, the broadcast networks are starting to fill their slates with so-called “television events”. FOX President Kevin Reilly emphasized this point in a conference call with reporters in which The Michigan Daily participated. He said that Fox is “eventizing our entertainment slate.” He continued to say, “It’s about urgency to view ... we’re going to be bringing more of that to the entertainment side.” FOX, along with NBC, have several series which they will launch as “limited events”, like CBS, did with great success with “Under the Dome” in the summer. These include “Gracepoint,” the remake of “Broadchurch,” on FOX and “Heroes: Reborn” on NBC. This season will serve as the first big test for this tactic, especially for FOX where “event series” will mark a large portion of their drama slate.

Can Paul Lee Create a Strong Schedule?

Over the past few seasons, despite huge launches with “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “Once Upon a Time” and “Resurrection,” ABC has dropped considerably in the ratings. They also have failed to find a suitable companion to “Modern Family”, trying and failing with “Mixology” and “Super Fun Night” in the post-“Family” timeslot last season. They also took “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland”, which was supposed to be a bridge between the two halves of “Once Upon a Time” ’s season and put it on Thursdays where it bombed. This led many to question ABC President Paul Lee’s scheduling choices. However, the network put together a schedule that showed they may have learned from these mistakes. They actually put a family comedy, “Black-ish,” after “Modern Family” and are using “Marvel’s Agent Carter” as a bridge between the two halves of “S.H.I.E.L.D” ’s season instead of getting greedy and launching it on its own. He also created an all Shonda Rhimes night of television by airing “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and the new drama “How to Get Away with Murder” together on Thursday nights. These moves show some sharp scheduling on Lee’s part and will help solve the network’s problems if they work.