Let’s check the calendar one more time.
Is this really the second half of September? Then shouldn’t we be a-buzz about the new shows on the big broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox?
That used to be the case, you know. One fall, NBC had banners throughout K-Mart stores … Another, ABC had “Desperate Housewives” ads on dry-cleaner hangers. Grids kept showing us what the day-by-day line-ups would be in the season ahead.
And now? K-Marts are closing, a desperate housewife is in jail and even TV Guide didn’t print a new-season grid.
On Sunday (Sept. 22), the Emmys will mostly ignore the big-four networks; NBC has two series nominations (“This Is Us” and “The Good Place”), the others have none. The next day, their new season starts.
The New York Times reluctantly listed all the new shows, but focused on streaming and cable ones. It added: “There are all the broadcast-network debuts, many of which won’t be spoken of again.”
Is that true? Will the big four shows become invisible and unspoken-of? Fielding questions from the Television Critics Association last month, their programming chiefs begged to differ,
Karey Burke of ABC pointed to a Nielsen list of the regular season’s 50 most-watched shows. “All but six” were on broadcast, she said. “That surprised even me.”
And that’s in the 18-49 age category, where cable thrives. If you simply take total viewers, broadcast has all but three of the top 50. The only exceptions are HBO’s “Game of Thrones” (No. 4), ESPN’s Monday football (No. 13) and AMC’s “Walking Dead” (No. 44).
Burke points to quantity: “At ABC, we reach nearly 150 million people (at least once) every month.”
CBS’ Kelly Kahl tops that. “We love reaching a huge audience, 240 million people this past season.”
He gets there by using a full season (rather than a month) and by being No. 1 overall. That Nielsen list (which includes seven-day delayed viewing via DVR or on-demand) puts his “Big Bang” and “NCIS” at 17.4 and 15.9 million, trailing only Sunday football; only five cable shows top 4.5 million.
That doesn’t mean all is well for networks. Situation comedies are usually their strength; last year, only eight were in the top 50 – including “Big Bang” (now gone) and three CBS shows that inherited the “Big Bang” viewers.
Now even one of the successful sitcoms (Fox’s “Last Man Standing”) is temporarily on the shelf. Fox is starting the season without a single live-action (non-cartoon) sitcom.
Fox’s Charlie Collier claims it’s “an embarrassment of riches”; others might see it as a desperate attempt to stop viewers from time-shifting. They’re most likely to delay viewing scripted shows … so in the fall, Fox will be unscripted for half of each week – pro football on Thursday nights and Sunday afternoons, wrestling on Friday nights, college football Saturday afternoons and nights.
Then there’s half of Wednesdays with “The Masked Singer.” Its success, Collier said, “is influencing the types of unscripted shows that we’re pursuing – bold and brash, risk-taking and fun.”
That reflects the early years, when Fox was the outsider taking chances. Collier points to the upcoming “Moody Christmas,” six comedy half-hours about a chaotic family. “We’re going to show you Christmas … in a very different way that feels very Fox.”
At ABC, Burke agrees that special events are important. She has a family one in November — “Little Mermaid,” which juggles the movie animation and singers working live. Serious mini-series are coming, including one with “the history of the civil rights movement through the eyes of its heroic women.”
NBC has mainly scored with football or reality. Now it hopes to recapture its old Thursday comedy domain. It has the final “Good Place” year, plus the promising “Perfect Harmony” (shown here) and “Sunnyside.”
Yes, there are promising shows on the big four. That includes some more comedies – ABC’s “Mixed-ish,” CBS’ “Bob (hearts) Abishola” — and several dramas, including ABC’S “Stumptown,” “CBS’ “All Rise” and Fox’s “Almost Family.”
Coming soon, I’ll have a big-four schedule and a rundown of the shows. Two weeks later, CW will start its season and I’ll shift the attention that way.
And, of course, there will still be stories on cable, streaming and PBS. Stay tuned,