This week, I'm gonna add my voice to the slew of pre-upfront articles out there with "Upfront Questions," in which I break down each night of the current schedule. THIS IS NOT A PREDICTION. I'm just listing the potentially returning puzzle pieces each network's got on the nights they last aired, then laying out what I see as the issues the schedulers have to deal with on each night. Rather than commit to one possibility, I'll try to help with the range of possibilities and considerations. Since I'm not really that interested in development, I think that's about the best I can do. Next week I'll do "Upfront Answers" posts and take a look at how they addressed my questions.
Shows in green are already renewed for next season. The ones in BOLD are (in my opinion) very likely to return to their current timeslots. The ones with a question mark (?) have genuine doubt about their renewal.
Other Upfront Questions: NBC | Fox | ABC
8:00 - How I Met Your Mother
9:00 - Two and a Half Men?
9:30 - Mike & Molly
10:00 - Hawaii Five-0
Question: What's up with that 9:00 show?
I don't think we're going to get much of a definitive answer on this one at the upfront. I feel pretty confident that it'll be on the fall schedule that CBS presents at the upfront. They'll be asked about it and they might give a lot of detail if the plans for a post-Charlie Sheen Men are particularly firmed up. And if it's not on the fall schedule presented at the upfront, I'd take that as a really bad sign for the future. Based on how much the comedy lineup has crumbled without Men originals, it seems unlikely CBS will present a Men-less schedule unless they're pretty sure it's beyond saving. If it's not there, they're gonna have to sell something as a second anchor on this evening, and aside from a Big Bang Theory return (another long shot), they really don't have any good candidates.
8:00 - NCIS
9:00 - NCIS: Los Angeles
10:00 - The Good Wife?
Question: How strong are the two sophomore shows?
On ABC it seems like I blathered on endlessly about the good-not-great pairings that networks are always a little more reluctant to break up than the trigger-happy Internet scheduler wannabes like myself. NCIS and LA seem another such pairing, as LA continues to lose about 15% of the mothership demo on average but is still a solid option. Solid enough to lead off a night? Solid enough to move to 10:00 with a new drama at 9? Or just in the right ratings place that they keep this pair together? I think they're all possible. Then there's The Good Wife. I put a question mark with it, but I think it's getting renewed, and I don't think first-run ratings are really the reason why. But does it have enough ratings juice to still be a reasonable Friday show? Or will CBS continue to try getting something out of it on a higher-priority night? I like it for Friday, but I don't like the show in general as much as CBS seems to.
8:00 - Survivor
9:00 - Criminal Minds
10:00 - Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior?
Question: How old will the 10:00 drama be?
CBS seems to have a nice thing going with the first two hours of the evening, but that last hour has become a bit tricky since the move of CSI: NY (a move that still was totally warranted, btw). Do they plug in a declining veteran like the CSI mothership, a shaky sophomore like the Minds spinoff, or do we see the third new show here in a year? It seems likely that it'll be a crime drama whichever way they go, but that could be tough sledding if NBC keeps Law & Order: SVU here.
8:00 - The Big Bang Theory
8:30 - $#!* My Dad Says? / Rules of Engagement?
9:00 - CSI
10:00 - The Mentalist
Question: Are there any good options left for 9:00?
CSI has lasted one more year at 9:00 on Thursday than many expected, and I think that was because CBS wanted to avoid moving/deprioritizing all three shows in the franchise at one time. Now I think it's time for a 9:00 transition; fourth place for CSI has basically been a guarantee when all the other networks are in originals. It's a respectable fourth place, but it's still one of CBS' weakest 9:00 shows. The problem is that so many of the previous heir apparents seem a little shakier now. When CBS moved over The Mentalist two years ago, it looked like it was being groomed become the next big Thursday thing. It's turned out be merely a decent (but very good for 10:00) player that probably wouldn't improve the 9:00 hour much for CBS. Many thought last year's Big Bang Theory move to Thursday was the beginning of a two-year plan to create a Thursday two-hour comedy block. Maybe that was the thinking at the time, but the Charlie Sheen problems on Two and a Half Men has left the state of CBS comedy in much more doubt, and they just don't seem to have nearly enough bankable anchors to go up to four hours. If they've got a big-name new drama that they think can step in and compete, go for it. That seems the best play left.
9:00 - CSI: NY?
10:00 - Blue Bloods?
Question: Can CBS overhaul Fridays for a second straight year?
CSI: NY and Blue Bloods have not set the world on fire in the last two hours of Friday, but they've done decently. Maybe one goes, but I just don't think there's much upside to axing them. It's become clear that the toughest show of their old guard on Friday to replace was Ghost Whisperer. Nothing since then has even come close to matching its numbers at 8:00, one of primetime TV's least-viewed hours. Perhaps one of the returnees can be shifted down to 8:00, but I think it's going to be tough sledding for anything. I'd look for a returnee like The Good Wife, Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior or even maybe the mothership CSI to join these two; they happened to have a very Friday-suited new show in Blue Bloods, but I'm not sure they can bank on a new show doing that kind of work every year.
7:00 - 60 Minutes
8:00 - The Amazing Race
9:00 - Undercover Boss
10:00 - CSI: Miami?
Question: Who's the real Undercover Boss?
Plenty of people (self included) have been questioning since the debut of Undercover Boss whether it was a "long-term concept." It seemed like I would hear that almost every time it dropped off even a little, but the reality is that from about October to April, it was quite consistently right around a 3.0 demo. Then its last two weeks went 2.0, 2.0 for no apparent reason. That creates a bit of a headache for CBS schedulers. If they go with another September-to-May plan for the Boss and it's the 3.0 version that shows up, they're in good shape. If it's the 2.0 version, they're right back in the middle of their many troubled Sunday years with the likes of Shark, Three Rivers and latter-day Cold Case. We're not gonna know till whenever it airs next who's the real Undercover Boss, but I think the upfront tells us who CBS thinks is the real Undercover Boss.