Friday, May 17, 2013

2013 Upfront Answers, General Thoughts

All of this week's Upfront Answers: NBC | Fox | ABC | CBS | CW

Thanks so much to everyone for reading, commenting, linking and RTing all of this upfront stuff. It keeps getting so much bigger every year, which is hugely flattering. I'll have my annual super-quick look at the matchups next week, but this post is the "official" end of the upfront coverage. Here are some final thoughts on the week as a whole:

Who won the week? I could've sworn I had letter grades for the networks' schedules last year, but I guess I deleted or never got around to that part. Anyway, based on last year's upfront answers posts it feels like I would've said in the B-range for NBC/CW, in the C-range for ABC and in the D-range for CBS and Fox.

These grades are based not on how the networks will line up, but just based on how they arranged the pieces they had. I'm not going to be too redundant with the network-specific posts, but here are a couple additional thoughts:

This year:

CW: A-. It would be hard to nick this network much considering their only huge decision was what to do with the "big four" shows, and they were arranged exactly the way I hoped. It was the perfect amount of risk for this network. The only thing is they could have considered flipping The Carrie Diaries over to Monday with more compatible Hart of Dixie and Beauty and the Beast over to Friday, but even if that's a "mistake," it's not a big deal since those shows are very much on the margins anyway.

CBS: B+. Last year, I was more down on the CBS sked than anyone, and this year I think I'm more up on it than anyone! Part of that might be because I was resigned to the stupid Sunday lineup staying intact from the moment The Mentalist got early-renewed, so I've had some time to calm down. But there was good news aplenty: the comedy expansion happened, the comedy arrangement is pretty good (though Friends with Better Lines would've been better in the post-HIMYM slot), and the drama movement was kept to a minimum. There's no real torpedoing of the new shows, which has been tradition at the conservative eye net.

NBC: B. NBC recognized their problems; they went in a new and likely better direction with the post-Voice shows, they revamped Thursday (but shored up the tough 10/9c hour with a known quantity), and they gave Grimm a companion on Friday. Their fixes weren't necessarily optimal; one that stands out is now that The Big Bang Theory is still at 8:00, they really ought to move Michael J. Fox. But the fixes were mostly pretty reasonable.

ABC: C. Like NBC, ABC recognized what needed to be addressed: Dancing with the Stars, Sunday and Tuesday. But their execution was weaker. They punished Dancing with the Stars rather than actually putting forth what could've been a very reasonable effort at repairing it. The three hours of newbies on Tuesday is certainly a big move, but the arrangement is sort of mystifying. And while the long hiatus will help the Sunday shows deal with event season, there are other big problems on that night.

Fox: C-. Fox had the only egregious "head in the sand" decision of the week by essentially doing nothing with their crumbling singing shows. That's an even bigger mistake now than when they did it last year. But in terms of comparing the sked with last year's, they still did a better job due to their greatly increased quantity of new shows. The flexibility is a big positive.

Generally speaking, the grades are higher than last year; in other words, the schedules as a whole lined up more closely with my opinion of what the nets should do.

2012's problems, addressed in 2013! I was out of town right smack in the middle of upfront preview time, so I ended up having to cut the "General Thoughts" post from the Upfront Questions week. But I may as well just link back to the 2012 post, because most of the questions last year were answered in a truly befuddling way, and many of the problems got even worse in the 2012-13 season.
  • Who attacks Tuesday? Last year's "attacks" included an ABC comedy block that was wildly incompatible with Dancing and a four-comedy block on Fox led off by the very mediocre-rated Raising Hope. In the end, that drove the average for originals on the night below the league average, the first weeknight in years with that dubious distinction. This year's feel a little stronger. It doesn't get much more aggressive than three new hours, which is what ABC provides. Even if the last two hours bomb but ABC emerges with a strong foothold in SHIELD, that could be considered a solid win. CBS looks to shore up its long-troubled 10:00 hour with Person of Interest, NBC hopes to grow promising sophomore procedural Chicago Fire, and the CW tries to stake claim to a third strong night with a shrewd combo of The Originals and Supernatural. Fox... well, I doubt this two-hour block's gonna go that well, but at least two new shows in the 8:00 hour makes the ceiling a little less clear than Raising Hope did.
  • New shows. Following the genuinely strong new show class of 2011-12, broadcast TV put together what I have to assume is one of the worst new classes in TV history in 2012-13. Just ten scripted newbies were renewed, and even that number is inflated by the CW's generosity. (On the big four, it was just seven shows out of 28, a frighteningly low 25%.) While I am never cynical enough to truly assert these things at the time, there were reasons to be alarmed after last year's upfront week: as I noted, the number of series ordered took a surprisingly large dip, and most of the preferential scheduling was given to sophomores from the previous class.
    The class of 2013-14 seems a different beast, at least in terms of the networks' perception. Aside from the increase in volume (including six more scripted newbies in the fall), there's also more confidence in the scheduling. ABC of course made the really big splash with a three-hour night of new shows. CBS anchored their new sitcom hour with a new show, something that they by no means had to do. NBC has three new sitcoms back-to-back on Thursday. Fox goes from leading off its comedy Tuesday with a known mediocre quantity to an unknown quantity. And the CW again throws its best new show into a lead-off role.
    • Will the rerun count finally substantially decline? Though the number of new series is drastically on the rise, just looking at that number is perhaps exaggerating it a bit because many of these fall under the big buzzwords of this year at the upfronts: "limited series." Despite the ever-depreciating power of entertainment series reruns, the light new show ordering meant the networks frustratingly aired slightly less entertainment original programming in 2012-13 than the previous year. They figure to move back in the other direction with the drastic increase in new shows and many planned timeslot-shares. It'll be interesting to see how many of the upfront-announced timeslot-shares actually come to pass in the way the networks plan. In the end, most will probably end up happening in the old-fashioned way: due to the failure of fall programs.
    • The networks didn't get the memo about the sitcom boom being over. It's an oversimplification, but perhaps not that much of one, to say that the failure of the 2012-13 season really came down to the networks following up a remarkably strong amount of returning sitcom strength with a historically weak year of new sitcoms. The two networks with the best returning framework, CBS and ABC, saw their development classes topped by Partners and The Neighbors, respectively. This has led to a lot of media hackery about how sitcoms are back on the downswing, never mind the fact that The Big Bang Theory was having easily the best relative sitcom season since the end of Friends. The networks clearly aren't buying this, with the new fall sitcom count surging from nine in 2012 to 14 in 2013. I'm very glad they didn't overreact to one bad development class, because the sitcom is a form where broadcast still appears to have the inherent upper hand over cable. While the content restrictions give cable an advantage in drama, they don't seem to matter nearly as much in comedy, at least from a Nielsen standpoint.

Another frontier under siege? If the networks wised up on Tuesday a little bit, they consistently handed the "shockingly conservative" baton off to another weeknight: the fast-crumbling Sunday. Though Tuesday's ills were chronicled earlier in the season, the disastrous spring for Sunday night broadcasters nearly caught all the way up to it. (Right now that night's original series average just a 100 A18-49+!) The response? ABC hangs with Once Upon a Time/Revenge/new drama, CBS hangs with The Good Wife and The Mentalist, and Fox hangs with the same four cartoons. Though the toons seem to roughly follow the league average decline for the most part, it'd be pretty surprising if ABC doesn't continue to depreciate. This night is likely to drop sub-league average next season.

It's the same story as Tuesday last year, but the reasons are clearer in this case: cable is just plain taking over. It's getting so crowded that even some cablers are retreating. (For example, A&E will move its The Glades/Longmire drama lineup to Monday this summer.) There's no reason to believe this won't become a permanent problem for broadcast, and it's unclear how much power they have to "schedule their way out of it," so to speak. These schedules certainly don't suggest much confidence.

Another side to this: perhaps they'll make up for phoning in Sunday by trying a little harder on Friday. We've been talking about how Friday and Sunday have become practically the same, priority-wise, on CBS. This was the best season for Friday originals on average since before the writer's strike. This season of Shark Tank was the biggest Friday hit in a very long time, and it's actually staying put. Sunday and Friday have both become very difficult nights (for exactly opposite reasons), so maybe the networks' treatment of the nights is converging at a level somewhere between the "full-strength Sunday" and "dead zone Friday" ways we traditionally use to think of them.


Spot said...

On the whole, I also think the networks did a better this year compared to last year with their scheduling moves and series pickups.

CBS: A-. They concentrated on expanding their comedy block while also utilizing existing shows to shore up the problem slots of Tuesdays at 10:00 and Fridays at 9:00. Plus they showed resistance to picking up shows solely for the brand (NCIS: Red, Beverly Hills Cop). And the network's trying to go broader with single-camera shows and more serialized dramas.

The CW: B+. This is mostly wrapped up in renewing The Carrie Diaries, which to me was like ABC renewing Body of Proof last season: a flop that stuck around for non-ratings reasons. I think that Carrie will crash just as hard on Fridays than Mondays, so I think BatB "won" out by getting the higher HUT night.

NBC: B-. I like the vote of confidence that Chicago Fire is getting since NBC needs a new hit procedural, and having no fear about moving a weakening show from the best timeslot on the network is ballsy. But the network's going to continue its streak of being in last place among the Big 4 on Wednesdays.

Fox: C. It's good move of picking up many more shows to avoid having to let flops like The Mob Doctor limp along is canceled out by not starting the process of shrinking the 2-hour performance shows.

ABC: D+. Ironically, this is the "head in the sand" network. Their upfront looked like a midseason roll out by dropping new shows into the current ratings holes instead of actually scheduling its existing pieces. The Alphabet net only peeked out to see how bad its Tuesday was and will actually try next season. Of the five networks, this is the only one that has no fear about completely remodeling a night; it'll be the third time in less than ten years that a night has all-new shows (or fourth time if you redefine it as new-to-the-night shows when Grey's Anatomy was bookended with Ugly Betty and Six Degrees/Men in Trees).

Spot said...

My theory about Survivor's ratings:

According to this blog, 34% of the viewers of Survivor: Caramoan were in the demo. We assume that it means that almost all the rest were above the demo. However, I think that there is a largely unknown group of Survivor Fans between 15 and 18 right now. Think about it. Survivor premiered when I was 4 (I am 17 now), and was a mega-hit for years. While these people maybe did not watch the very first seasons, it was always on in their houses when it was a mega-hit with a MUCH younger audience. I expect that as these people enter the demo, we will see the year-to-year drop slow or stop. This season only dropping 9% may have been the start of that trend.

In my grade at school, there are 76 people. I have had conversations about Survivor with at least seven of them this year. I know that we are a small sample size, but (if an average of 6 watch an episode), that is a 7.9 rating. If we assume that two others watch that I do not know about, that is a 10.5 rating (just two tenths shy of the highest non-Super Bowl lead out entertainment program since I have followed ratings.

I expect this fall's season, if promoted well, to hover around a 2.8 to a 3.0. Then, the spring season should average about a 2.5 to a 2.6.

Spot said...


Monday: A
Tuesday: A
Wednesday: C
Thursday: D
Friday: B
Sunday: Inc. (won't happen, so I'll say C)

I'd say B-


Monday: C
Tuesday: C
Wednesday: C
Thursday: C
Friday: C
Sunday: B

Grade: C


Monday: D
Tuesday: C
Wednesday: C
Thursday: B
Friday: B
Sunday: B

Grade: C

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