May 5, 2014

NIELSENWAR: Pre-Upfront – What Will the Networks Do?


The network averages for last week are significant because they represent a full week of sweeps programming, which means reruns were at a minimum and some stunting (although not a tremendous amount of it: a Chicago Fire/PD crossover here, the IHeartRadio Music Awards there) boosted the numbers.  In other words, barring really big events like the Oscars or football, this is about as well as the broadcast networks are capable of doing right now.  And that’s a pretty sad statement, because none of them was able to even hit a 1.65 average for the week, putting us ever closer to the tipping point where the highest-rated cable series, on a nightly basis, will be above the broadcast network averages (as it is, last week’s first-round NBA Playoffs on TNT and ESPN topped quite a bit of network programming).  ABC was on top with 1.62 (up 0.11 from last week), with CBS at 1.57 (up 0.14), NBC at 1.55 (up 0.21) and FOX at 1.21 (down 0.20, but this week’s number is the more accurate one–the previous week included a Saturday inflated by a NASCAR race).  CW trailed at 0.56 (up 0.02).

We’re again comparing season to date averages to last season and to the network averages earlier in this season, specifically as of March 2):

NBC:  2.36 (up 16% from last season with the Winter Olympics, but down 0.33 from this season as of March 2)

FOX:  2.08 (down 1% from last season despite having this year’s Super Bowl, and down 0.29 from this season as of March 2)

CBS:  1.88 (down 23% from last season, partly because of having had the 2013 Super Bowl, and down 0.05 from the March 2 season average)

ABC:  1.64 (down 9% from last season, but down just 0.01 from this season as of March 2)

CW:   0.52 (down a mere 0.04% from last season, and down 0.01 from this season as of March 2)

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We’re just a few days from the Upfront announcements of the fall network schedules, and news will be trickling out all week about what the new shows will be (FOX let it be known today that GOTHAM, its DC Comics-driven Batman prequel centering on Commissioner Gordon to be, will as expected join its fall line-up, and the network will run the first promo for the new series during tonight’s premiere of 24: Live Another Day).  Push, in other words, has come to shove for the networks, and here’s a snapshot look at the most important holes each of them needs to fill.

NBC:  If NBC chooses to move THE BLACKLIST away from the post-Voice slot on Mondays, it will need to name a replacement, but that’s a good problem to have–Blacklist is the first Voice show that seems likely to be a hit without its lead-in.  (Considering The Voice‘s significant drop this season, the network may have to start thinking about life after its peak, but that issue is at least a season away.)  Tuesdays are probably fairly set (Growing Up Fisher is still on the bubble, but About A Boy is almost certain to return), while REVOLUTION seems like a goner in the Wednesday 8PM slot.  (If the network and its in-house studio are unable to come to terms with Dick Wolf on his new deal for SVU, that may have to be replaced at 9PM as well.)  The black hole on the NBC schedule is Thursday, especially 8-10PM.  (PARENTHOOD seems likely to survive one more season, although it’s not impossible that NBC will move Blacklist to the night.)  PARKS & RECREATION, while beloved and renewed, is watched by a sliver of viewers, and nothing else even has a pulse.  The biggest question for NBC is whether to throw more sitcoms on the fire, airing against the new CBS THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL game in the fall and THE BIG BANG THEORY later in the season, or throw in the towel on that part of its legacy and try drama or reality programming in those hours.  If DRACULA isn’t renewed on Friday, the network will likely put another low-cost genre show at 10PM.  Sundays are of course covered for fall with SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL, but will need to be completely replaced for early 2015, since AMERICAN DREAM BUILDERS, BELIEVE and CRISIS are all DOA.

CBS:  Mondays aren’t going to be the same without How I Met Your Mother (even if the new parallel universe Father sitcom is plugged in at 8PM), but FRIENDS WITH BETTER LIVES has shown more stamina than expected, and has a chance of returning, despite how bad a piece of news that would be for western civilization.  The 10PM slot is empty and will need a new drama.  Tuesday and Wednesday are probably as is, and Thursday will need something new at 9:30PM, unless the network decides to stick with THE CRAZY ONES (unlikely).  There may be a substitution on Fridays for one of the network’s aging hours, but if so it’ll just be one procedural for another.  Speculation is that THE MENTALIST will be replaced on Sunday, and the interesting question will be whether CBS opts for another procedural or something that could be more of a prestige fit for THE GOOD WIFE.

ABC;  Oddly, even though ABC is the lowest-rated of the 4 major networks for the season, as last week’s rankings show, it’s by no means a wreck.  The network has at least one successful show on every night of the week–it just doesn’t have any night where everything is working.  RESURRECTION will probably return on Sundays despite its scary ratings drop (possibly for a limited run), and the consensus seems to be that REVENGE will survive for a 4th season, more for syndication reasons (it’s produced in-house) than because of its network ratings.  Mondays are likely to stay as-is.  Despite its disappointing showing, AGENTS OF SHIELD has done well enough to survive on Tuesday, and in recent weeks its creative quality has improved sharply, suggesting the producers have finally figured out how to make the show work.  THE GOLDBERGS will certainly be renewed, and TROPHY WIFE might escape the axe, but is unlikely to keep its Tuesday berth, while 10PM on that night is a dead zone.  The network once again needs to find something to pair with MODERN FAMILY on Wednesday, although MIXOLOGY isn’t necesssarily dead; SUBURGATORY‘s survival likely depends on how much the network likes its comedy pilots.  NASHVILLE, like Revenge, is doing just well enough to keep breathing.  Thursday 8PM is wide open, but GREY‘S ANATOMY and SCANDAL remain a potent double bill (the buzz is that a 3rd Shonda Rhimes drama will join the network line-up next fall, and that might affect Thursday scheduling).  Friday has become a strong night for ABC thanks to SHARK TANK, although THE NEIGHBORS, alas, will probably fly its spaceship to oblivion.

FOX:  Where to start?  Sunday and Monday are probably more or less set, although AMERICAN DAD needs to be replaced (it’s moving to cable), and the network could decide to pair SLEEPY HOLLOW with something new rather than with Bones this fall, allowing Bones to help establish another new show elsewhere on the schedule.  Tuesday is a disaster, but GLEE, NEW GIRL, BROOKLYN NINE-NINE and THE MINDY PROJECT are all renewed, so it’s not clear that FOX plans to change much.  Wednesday and Thursday require replacement of 3 hours’ worth of The X Factor (and the rest of Thursday isn’t set either), and there will need to be a new hour on Friday, unless FOX is going to air 2 hours of cooking reality.  So… a fixer-upper.  FOX has picked up a great many projects straight to series for next season (apart from the new Gotham announcement, BACKSTROM and HIEROGLYPH are the ordered dramas, and there are several comedies as well), so with little in the way of veteran shows to build on, its scheduling of those will be interesting.

CW:  It’s anyone’s guess which of BEAUTY & THE BEAST, HART OF DIXIE, THE TOMORROW PEOPLE, THE CARRIE DIARIES or STAR-CROSSED will be canceled, since they all have similar ratings (well, Carrie Diaries is probably dead), but Monday and Friday are the problem nights for the network.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."