Upfront Programming: Show Battles

Mediaweek’s own Programming Insider, Marc Berman, zeroes in on the most interesting prime-time matchups of the coming season (including a three-way battle on Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. featuring three shows that offer up cops, lawyers or both). Included at the bottom of each of Berman’s show battles is input from Networked Insights, an independent research outfit that tracks online buzz of television shows. Its SocialSenseTV product, which its executives call an analytical “listening platform” for the TV industry, pulls data from 1.5 billion interactions per month from 300 million people buzzing online. We offer up the percentage of buzz each of the shows gets versus the other, along with a smattering of typical comment from the buzzers.

The Event (NBC) vs. Lonestar (Fox)

Monday Night 9 p.m.

No one ever said launching a new series is easy, particularly if you are facing the most-watched show of the week, the second hour of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, and CBS’ perennial top-10 occupant Two and a Half Men. While counter-programming with new dramas makes sense, survival could very well depend on the 8 p.m. lead-in support. That alone could give Fox’s Lonestar the advantage over rival The Event from NBC.  

Airing out of still-potent House, Lonestar is the unusual tale on a con artist (James Wolk) who juggles two lives in two Texas cities with two different women. The Event—out of surprise returnee Chuck—focuses on an “everyman” (Jason Ritter) who exposes the biggest coverup in U.S. history as he investigates the disappearance of his fiance.  While crime show devotees might trial The Event, soft lead-in support from Chuck and the glut of other new crime solvers in prime time won’t help.   

Given the competition (which also includes young female magnet Gossip Girl on The CW), neither new drama is expected to soar. And Fox’s Lonestar could face an uphill battle for trying something unique since viewers often favor the familiar.  

But if Hugh Laurie as grumpy Dr. House remains a fan favorite at 8 p.m. versus the small cult following for Zachary Levi as nebbish Chuck, the better pick of the two hours is Lonestar. Just don’t expect a top 20 (or 30) finish.

[SocialSenseTV says The Event: 63%; Lonestar: 37%. The Event’s exec producer Evan Katz (Fox’s 24) brings cred; fans are expecting big things. As for Lonestar, a focus group probably sparked the name change from the original Midland. But those online feel the first title was a better fit.]

No Ordinary Family (ABC) vs. Glee (Fox)

Tuesday Night 8 p.m.

This past season’s most lauded new entry, musical dramedy Glee, has a new slot on Fox this fall (Tuesdays at 8 p.m.), where it will keep the time period warm until the return of a 90-minute Simon Cowell-less edition of American Idol in January. (Glee shifts to Wednesdays at 9 p.m. out of the live American Idol results show in midseason.)

Leading out of Idol this year, Glee got a major boost, morphing from a marginally rated critical darling to a bona fide top 10 entry. But opposite older-skewing CBS mega-hit NCIS and NBC’s demo-friendly The Biggest Loser—and minus the support of American Idol—expect to see smaller stats for Glee in fourth quarter. 

ABC, which is shifting the live Dancing With the Stars hour to 9 p.m., is hoping to compete with No Ordinary Family, the story of a so-called typical American family (Michael Chiklis stars as the dad) who discover they have extraordinary abilities after their plane crashes in the Amazon jungle. While clips at ABC’s upfront showcased a drama unlike anything else in prime time, the cartoon-like premise for No Ordinary Family could be limited.

With an expected truckload of Emmy wins (or at least noms), Glee begins its sophomore year with built-in momentum. There is every reason to believe that the underdogs at the Glee club will reign supreme over ABC’s No Ordinary Family. Although NCIS stands to win the hour in total viewers, Glee is the show to beat among adults 18-49.

[SocialSenseTV says Glee: 98%; No Ordinary Family: 2%. Glee is an online buzz juggernaut, ranking third in overall conversation in the recent SocialSenseTV report, after Lost and American Idol. The demo is young and female. For NOF, more male positive buzz draws comparisons to animated movie The Incredibles.]

The Whole Truth (ABC) vs. The Defenders (CBS) Law & Order: Lost Angeles (NBC)

Wednesday Night 10 p.m.

The Wednesday 10 p.m. hour will provide arguably the most interesting battle among the Big Three networks this fall as three surprisingly similar new dramas face off: ABC’s The Whole Truth, CBS’ The Defenders and NBC’s Law & Order: Los Angeles. The Whole Truth is a new Jerry Bruckheimer series that provides equal time to the prosecution and the defense on the same cases. The Defenders features Jerry O’Connell and Jim Belushi as two outspoken Las Vegas attorneys who do whatever it takes to defend their clients. And Law & Order: Los Angeles is, well, Law & Order in a new setting with no confirmed casting yet.

Conventional wisdom would lead you to believe this latest entry in the L&O franchise has the advantage because it feels familiar, yet is expected to look refreshingly different. Plus, the lead-in support from sister Law & Order: SVU is the epitome of compatibility. The Defenders also has a solid lead-in care of underrated Criminal Minds, but the pairing of Belushi and O’Connell seemed awkward in the clips showcased at CBS’ upfront presentation, and the show itself is reminiscent of Fox clinker Head Cases, which came and went after just two episodes in 2005. The Whole Truth comes from the busiest producer in Hollywood, but not everything Mr. Bruckheimer touches turns to gold (think The Forgotten and Miami Medical this season), and lead-in Cougar Town at 9:30 p.m. loses a large chunk of its Modern Family lead-in.

If lead-in support matters—and it really still does, until time shifting becomes the norm—LOLA and The Defenders have a better shot to succeed. But when it comes down to which drama the typical TV viewer will watch, the built-in familiarity gives this new member of the L&O team the edge. Sometimes conventional wisdom counts for something, and LOLA is the show to beat.

[SocialSenseTV, which measures online buzz from 1.5 billion interactions a month, says LOLA’s share of conversation among the three shows is 41% with The Defenders 36% and The Whole Truth 23%. Even so, LOLA has work to do to earn its place in the L&O legacy. The hottest buzz on The Defenders so far is that actor O’Connell is putting law school on hold to play a lawyer on TV. And with The Whole Truth, actress Joely Richardson dominates the conversation. But she quit the show after the pilot.]

$#*! My Dad Says (CBS) vs. 30 Rock (NBC)

Thursday Night 8:30 p.m.

In the biggest surprise move this fall, CBS is shifting top-rated Monday comedy The Big Bang Theory into the untested waters of the Thursday 8 p.m. anchor position. It’s being paired with new sitcom $#*! My Dad Says, which is based on the real Twitterings of a young man who chronicled everything outlandish his dad uttered (William Shatner plays the pop).

The two comedies are unlikely to deliver the same ratings punch as still top-rated Survivor (which moves to Wednesday 8 p.m.). But the good news is they face no huge hits. NBC comedies Community and relocated 30 Rock, which target young demos, both underwhelm. Bones on Fox is solid, and The Vampire Diaries on The CW is that net’s only hit from last season—neither is insurmountable. ABC’s upcoming My Generation is also new.

Despite multiple Emmys, 30 Rock remains a cult show, and trading current lead-in The Office for ratings-challenged Community means the already modest ratings will shrink more. Familiarity ought to give 30 Rock the advantage over unproven $#*! My Dad Says, but The Big Bang Theory ended the season red-hot, which gives the edge to $#*!.

Interesting factoid: The last time CBS slated comedies on Thursday was 1965, with Gilligan’s Island and My Three Sons.

[SocialSenseTV says 30 Rock: 95%; $#*! My Dad Says: 5%. A Twitter-based show should hold sway in social media ratings, right? Well, 30 Rock placed 10th in the recent SocialSenseTV Report. With $#*!, Shatner tops the positive buzz, but many discussing the show are annoyed by the name.]

Nikita (The CW) vs. Fringe (Fox)

Thursday Night 9 p.m.

Historically, Thursday at 9 p.m. has been the most competitive hour in prime time, with two shows alone, CBS’ CSI and Grey’s Anatomy on ABC, once attracting in the vicinity of 40 million viewers, and NBC’s The Office a young-adult winner. But even as ratings have softened recently, the three shows remain intact, as will Fox’s Fringe, which moved into the time period (out of Bones) this past season and performed moderately well despite suffering double-digit losses opposite all that stiff competition.  

Recognizing that even a diluted Fringe on Thursday will likely do better than anything new of a scripted nature, there will be only two new entries in the hour: NBC sitcom Outsourced at 9:30 p.m. and CW drama Nikita, which airs out of sophomore The Vampire Diaries at 9 p.m. Nikita centers on a spy/assassin for a U.S. government agency hell-bent on bringing the powerful operation to an end.   

Although Nikita cannot compete with Fringe on a total viewer basis, if it can attract the young female demo and hold onto about 80 percent of its Vampire Diaries lead-in, The CW could have something here.  

Fringe, meanwhile, is unlikely to gain new viewers, but it should have no trouble beating Nikita in key male demos. With problems expected elsewhere on Fox’s slate, Fringe is not one of them.

[SocialSenseTV says Fringe: 95%; Nikita: 5%. Fringe’s fans are still smarting from the musical episode Fox made the show perform, so the producers fear song and dance more than assassins. The main question around Nikita is, will it be a reboot or a remake?]

Blue Bloods (CBS) vs. Outlaw (NBC)

Friday Night 10 p.m.

Unlike Saturday, which remains a viewing wasteland, the troubled Friday landscape has potential this fall, with five new shows (including ABC’s Secret Millionaire, which briefly aired on Fox last season) trying to rejuvenate the night. Even better, two of those series, Blue Bloods on CBS and Outlaw on NBC, are scripted dramas airing at 10 p.m. opposite ABC’s veteran 20/20.

Blue Bloods stars Magnum, P.I.’s Tom Selleck as the head of a family of New York cops. And Outlaw features former LA Law and NYPD Blue vet Jimmy Smits as a Supreme Court justice who abruptly quits the bench and opens a private practice.

The good news for both dramas is viewers still want to see justice served via the small screen. But the real obstacle is the night itself, with ratings continuing to fall each year. In terms of lead-in help, Blue Bloods has the benefit of airing out of relocated CSI: NY, a stronger option than Outlaw out of the one-hour edition of Dateline.

If 20/20 were a stronger option, ABC could make inroads in the hour opposite the two unproven series. But since the newsmag peaked years ago, Blue Bloods stands the best chance of winning the time period. But it may not be by much, and the expected gains for Outlaw versus The Jay Leno Show last year will be noted by NBC. Consider this matchup a draw.