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May 19, 2010

Top time-period battles next fall

Upfronts_blogNext fall, the primetime TV battlefield will be radically changed thanks to plenty of new shows from NBC and ABC and some bold scheduling moves by CBS (full fall schedule chart here). Below I run down some of the toughest/interesting time period fights.

Keep in mind this is impossible to truly judge at this point since the top factor for winning any time period is the quality of a show -- and pilot screeners for new series haven't been sent out yet, let alone episodes beyond a premiere. That said, there's so many juicy match ups that I have to break some of these down.* Here's what's interesting:

1. Wednesdays at 8 p.m.: NBC's "Undercovers" vs. CBS' "Survivor"

One reason NBC executives said they decided to put "Undercovers" in this time slot was because there were no incumbent hits in this hour. Well … surprise! As announced this morning, CBS is moving "Survivor," which has an almost perfect record for winning 8 p.m. on Thursdays. You can never count out J.J. Abrams, but this is going to make for an uphill battle for NBC to win this slot (though one would think "Undercovers" could best Fox's "Lie to Me" and ABC's comedies, which are also in the hour).

2. Wednesdays at 10 p.m.: CBS' "The Defenders" vs. NBC's "Law & Order: Los Angeles" vs. ABC's "The Whole Truth"

I love this Mexican standoff because there's three new procedurals with no easily predictable outcome. NBC probably has the edge here. "SVU" will provide a solid lead-in for "LOLA," which could benefit if "Defenders" and "Whole Truth" split the legal drama fans. Between CBS and ABC in second place, you'd have to tip the edge to "Defenders" given its strong "Criminal Minds" lead-in and CBS' track record with procedurals.

3. Mondays at 10 p.m.: ABC's "Castle" vs. NBC's "Chase" vs. CBS' "Hawaii Five-O"

If ABC and NBC thought they had it tough airing against "CSI: Miami," they better get ready because a big wave is coming at them. "Hawaii Five-O" is perfectly on brand for CBS and the Oahu setting gets the network out of the grim atmospherics of some of its other procedurals. Sure, "Five-O" could crash, but on paper this a strong replacement for "Miami" in this slot -- even with having a presumably weaker lead-in from a new comedy ("Mike & Molly") than "Miami" enjoyed from "Big Bang Theory."

4. Mondays at 9 p.m.: NBC's "The Event" vs. Fox's "Lonestar"

These two new dramas couldn't be more different. NBC's post-"Lost"/post-"24" serialized adventure against Fox's cable-ish-in-a-good-way Texas soap. If they were at 8 p.m., I'd say "The Event" would open bigger, it aims for a broader audience. But at 9 p.m., "Lonestar" is fueled by "House" while "The Event" has "Chuck." Bottom line: Too far from the starting line to make a call here.

5. Thursdays at 8 p.m.: CBS' "Big Bang Theory" vs. NBC's "Community"

OK, this is more a ratings massacre waiting to happen more than a battle. But comparing these two will be unavoidable next fall because they're both smart, relatively young comedies and CBS is making the bully move by putting its top-rated half-hour against one of broadcast's lowest rated. Also, half-hour comedies have been so rare on broadcast, that just having two to compare against each other was practically unheard of until ABC launched its Wednesday lineup this year (which had some overlap with CBS' comedies -- and look what happened to them).  At 8:30 p.m., when CBS' "Shit My Dad Says" goes against NBC's "30 Rock," we'll see a tighter battle.

6. Fridays at 8 p.m.: Fox's "Human Target" vs. CBS' "Medium."

This is interesting. CBS' "Medium" has been winning its 9 p.m. slot on Fridays and now Fox is putting "Target" in its new cage. On Wednesdays, "Target" performed better than "Medium" this season, but Friday's a whole new arena. This could be close, with "Medium" having the edge.

7. Fridays at 10 p.m.: CBS' "Blue Bloods" vs. NBC's "Outlaw"

It's Jimmy Smits vs. Tom Selleck as the two TV leading men of yesteryear face off. Both CBS and NBC executives used identical explanations for putting these drams in this ultra-tough time period -- basically, "we expect Tom/Jimmy will bring viewers to Friday night." But, hey, no pressure! Again, we're blind to the quality of the shows, but at face value one would bet on "Bloods" (despite its dreadful name) only because CBS has been winning Fridays with dramas for years.

Other interesting face-offs: ABC's "No Ordinary Family" vs. Fox's "Glee," ABC's "My Generation" vs. Fox's "Bones," ABC's "Detroit 1-8-7" vs. NBC's "Parenthood" vs. CBS' "The Good Wife," NBC's "Love Bites" vs. ABC's "Private Practice," CBS' "CSI: NY" vs. NBC's "Body of Proof."

*Yes I'm aware people use DVRs but scheduling still matters. You move a popular weekday show to Fridays and its ratings drop sharply -- even with DVR included. You give a show a better lead-in and its ratings rise, etc.

UPDATE: Here's last year's time-slot battles predictions post if you want to see how I did (pretty good, actually, especially if you're looking at initial performance at start of the season)


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