Let The Shows Begin – new network television shows

Marc Berman


In a business where new series can come and go at the speed of an El Duque fastball, even an eternal optimist might be skeptical following the recent week of network upfront presentations.

After all, there was only one bona fide hit from fall 2000, CBS’ CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. The freshmen return rate is just 36 percent–that is, 12 of last fall’s 33 new series will be back for a second season. Why should the upcoming crop prove any better? If Geena Davis, John Goodman, Michael Richards and the Divine Miss M couldn’t cut it this season, why would the new (or returning) faces of fall 2001–Richard Dreyfuss, Marcia Gay Harden, Jason Alexander, Ellen DeGeneres, Bob Saget, Dana Delaney, Reba McEntire and Emeril Lagasse–be any different?

Overall, network television could use a shot in the ratings arm. Although last year’s superhero, Regis Philbin, single-handedly stopped audience bleeding (while making ABC the No. 1 network), the six main networks, in total, are off by 1.8 million viewers year to year. And while it’s fair to put most of the blame on sliding Millionaire levels–ABC is down by 12 percent vs. marginal growth for Fox, The WB and Survivor-fueled CBS–cable and the Internet continue to eat away at the networks’ slice of the audience pie.

A total of 36 new series will debut on the seven networks this fall: 16 comedies, 16 dramas and four reality/ game-show series. Two movie staples-NBC’s Sunday night and CBS’ Wednesday night-have been eliminated; Millionaire and 20/20 have been downgraded; and we’ll see changes in 46 percent of the overall schedule.

While nothing could be better than the new shows awaiting us, according to the wisdom of network spin, the question to ponder is, Who will be the weakest programming link? As in every season, a good portion of these so-called winners will be extinct by midseason.

Here’s our network-by-network breakdown.

ABC 2000-01 to date (through May 13):

HOUSEHOLDS: 8.4/14 (No. 2, down 10% from 1999-2000)

TOTAL VIEWERS: 12.57 million (No. 1 tie, down 12%)

ADULTS 18-49: 4.5/12 (No. 2 tie, down 18%)


FALL 2001 PROGRAMMING PERCENT CHANGE (includes established shows moving to new time periods): 43

If there’s a lesson to be learned this season, it’s that there can be too much of a good thing. Lots of Regis–four hours of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire per week–and not a single new success from last fall mean that the alphabet network has not planned well for the future. While recent midseason sitcoms My Wife & Kids, What About Joan and The Job offer a glimmer of hope, more diversity and less Philbin remain the keys to ABC’s long-term health.

On that note, look for only two hours of Millionaire (Monday and Thursday), two new comedies, three new dramas, no Friday edition of 20/20 (for the first time in 14 years) and no changes on two nights, Thursday and Saturday.

Although Monday’s Millionaire faces NBC’s Weakest Link, count on more viewers leading into Monday Night Football, which suffered considerable losses last fall. And while you have to admire ABC for looking past Millionaire, its replacements–Dharma & Greg/What About Joan on Tuesday and the new Sunday drama, Alias–will not come close to the game show’s current time-period deliveries. “If you think ABC will only have just two hours of Millionaire on their schedule come November, you’re crazy,” notes one competitor. “Millionaire is like a crack addiction that ABC will not be able to overcome.”

The net’s revamped Friday–The Mole II, Thieves and Once and Again–is fueling the biggest concern. “Dropping 20/20 from the Friday rotation is probably the most unexpected move of any network,” says Bill Carroll, vp, director of programming, KTVG Programming. “And CBS wisely took advantage of that by moving 48 Hours into the time period.”

Wednesday is also considered iffy, given the collapse of The Drew Carey Show and the expected arrival of NYPD Blue in November. “Although ABC appeased Steven Bochco by scheduling his new drama [Philly] on Tuesday, NYPD Blue will not be able to touch NBC’s Law & Order,” says Carroll. “Nothing can.”

As for the Saturday movie, consider any flicks on ABC (as well as on NBC) nothing more than time-period filler. “Based on this lackluster schedule, it’s hard to believe some of the classics of the small screen–All in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Burnett, to name a few–once aired on Saturday,” says Dave Walsh, president of the Walsh Entertainment Group. “Those were the days!”

CBS 2000-01 to date:

HOUSEHOLDS: 8.6/14 (No. 1, no change)

TOTAL VIEWERS: 12.57 million (No. 1 tie, up 1%)

ADULTS 18-49: 4.0/11 (No. 4, up 8%)



It’s easy to point to Survivor as the catalyst for CBS’ momentum, but don’t forget about the network’s other ratings magnet, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Factor in three other returning freshmen series–The District, Yes, Dear and the critically acclaimed That’s Life–and the Tiffany network is well poised for future growth. Not resting on its laurels, CBS will make changes on all but Monday night, with complete overhauls of Wednesday and Friday.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is the uprooting of the vulnerable Touched by an Angel (which moves to Saturday) in place of the Richard Dreyfuss drama, The Education of Max Bickford, on Sunday. “It’s what you call wisely planning for the future,” says Tim Spengler, executive vp, director at Initiative Media.

Buyers also were bullish about CBS’ new Tuesday law show, The Guardian. Nestled between JAG and Judging Amy, it could offer NBC’s aging Frasier a run for its ratings money. “I really like the look of this one,” says Brad Adgate, senior vp of corporate research at Horizon Media. Adgate also likes the chances of The Amazing Race, even though the reality show will run opposite NBC’s The West Wing on Wednesday.

Less promising, perhaps, is the odd-looking, X-Files–like Wolf Lake on Wednesday, as well as sitcoms The Ellen Show and American Wreck on Friday and the drama Citizen Baines on Saturday. “Scheduling a CBS comedy on Friday with the word wreck in the title is probably an indication of things to come,” says one buyer.

As for The Agency on Thursday, the consensus is that NBC’s ER will still dominate at 10, despite The Agency’s CSI lead-in. “If CBS was really bold, they would have pitted CSI opposite ER–now that would have been interesting,” says Carroll.

NBC 2000-01 to date:

HOUSEHOLDS: 7.9/13 (No. 3, down 8%)

TOTAL VIEWERS: 11.51 million

(No. 3, down 6%)

ADULTS 18-49:4.7/13 (No. 1, down 6%)



At first glance, NBC’s fall lineup could be labeled the most stable. With no changes on three nights–Wednesday, Friday and Saturday–and only one new addition on Thursday (the new sitcom Inside Schwartz in place of The Weber Show at 8:30), NBC’s recently appointed entertainment head Jeff Zucker might be considered a calming influence. And while a schedule that’s familiar to a network’s core audience is often a reflection of success, starting virtually from scratch on Tuesday and Sunday is risky.

We already knew NBC was canceling its Sunday movie franchise. That was a given. And it was easy to figure the peacock would air the third Law & Order franchise, Criminal Intent, at 9, followed by a new drama hour, U.C.: Undercover. But by running The Weakest Link at 8 on Sunday (leading out of Dateline), and thus extending it to a second night, NBC could be expecting too much too soon from the game show.

Tuesday is an even bigger gamble. Like last season, the network is surrounding veteran Frasier with a potpourri of new companions, including comedies Emeril and Scrubs at 8 and 9:30, respectively (while the so-so Three Sisters moves from 9:30 to 8:30). But if Seinfeld graduate Michael Richards couldn’t break ratings bread with his eponymous sitcom last fall, what makes energetic chef Emeril Lagasse any different? “How many times can we listen to manic Emeril shout ‘Bam’?” asks one competitor.

As for Inside Schwartz, the umpteenth new 8:30 Thursday sitcom: If former time-period occupants The Single Guy, Boston Common, Union Square, Jesse and The Weber Show couldn’t make it before the debut of CBS’ Survivor, consider this show a major long shot. “No one in their right mind thinks Schwartz has a shot of survival,” says one buyer.

Crossing Jordan, the Monday drama at 10, has somewhat better prospects. It faces ABC’s Monday Night Football and CBS also-ran Family Law. “There are a number of promising new dramas on the horizon, and Crossing Jordan looks like one of them,” says Spengler.

FOX 2000-01 to date:

HOUSEHOLDS: 6.1/10 (No. 4, up 3%)

TOTAL VIEWERS: 9.61 million (No. 4, up 7%)

ADULTS 18-49: 4.5/12 (No. 2 tie, up 7%)



Fox was back on track this season with young hits Malcolm in the Middle, Boston Public, Titus and Temptation Island. Next season could be another story. We’ll see five new series (three comedies and two dramas), no programming changes Saturday through Monday and more sitcoms in total (12) than any other network. In a particularly aggressive maneuver, the next Temptation Island will air in what has to be considered the most competitive hour on TV: Thursday at 9, opposite CSI, Millionaire, Will & Grace/Just Shoot Me, Charmed and Smackdown! “That’s what you would call a gutsy move,” says Spengler.

Despite the hype and a promise to keep the momentum going, Fox’s lineup has some inherent problems. Anchoring Thursday with the animated Family Guy (which has already failed twice) is suspect–though the network has admitted that the night remains a wasteland. Ditto for Batman-esqe lead-out The Tick, which has been waiting in the wings for a year. “This seems more like temporary time-period filler than anything permanent,” notes Carroll.

As for what the network calls the Fox Family Comedy Wheel on Wednesday, don’t be fooled–leading off the night once again with repeat sitcoms points to a lack of development. And although The X-Files is back, David Duchovny officially isn’t, and the sci-fi drama is surely headed for further audience erosion. The same goes for The Simpsons, which after 12 years is not what it used to be.

On the flip side, Monday is solid; Tuesday (particularly the new drama 24) looks promising; new nights for Temptation Island and Dark Angel are aggressive; and Cops and America’s Most Wanted remain the unsung heroes of primetime. For the fifth consecutive year, Fox is wisely leaving its Saturday reality superstars intact.

“Although I can’t say Fox this fall looks like an all-win situation, they did do what they promised this year by bringing more viewers to the set,” says Carroll. “If anything, they head to the fall in a growing direction.”

THE WB 2000-01 to date:

HOUSEHOLDS: 2.5/4 (No. 5, down 4%)

TOTAL VIEWERS: 3.72 million (No. 6, up 3%)

ADULTS 18-34: 1.9/5 (No. 5, up 19%)




Last May, a humbler WB addressed the buying community with the promise to stop its then-unprecedented audience erosion. Flash to the present: Two years after losing its affiliation with super-station WGN, the frog net has kept its promise, with growth of 5 percent to 20 percent in key demos. Now the emphasis is on ending its historical sitcom drought while nurturing sophomore returnee The Gilmore Girls.

In what could turn out to be a risky move, The WB has slated five new comedies, along with The Gilmore Girls on Tuesdays, and shuffled its lineup on five of its six nights.

As expected, 7th Heaven’s feel-good Camden clan (sans Jessica Biel) will remain on Mondays at 8, followed by the returning Angel, which moves from its former Buffy lead-out on Tuesday at 9. “That little maneuver could be considered more like spite than strategy, given that UPN already offered to pick up [Angel] for two more seasons,” notes one buyer. “Does anyone really think 7th Heaven and Angel are compatible?”

The biggest, and potentially shakiest, move is The Gilmore Girls, which shifts from Thursday to Tuesday at 8 in place of Buffy (which remains in the same hour on UPN). The show, which has yet to build an established following, is followed by the young–Clark Kent saga, Smailville.

Wednesday is unchanged–Dawson’s Creek at 8, Felicity at 9–but new drama Glory Days, like last season’s failed Jack & Jill, will air in place of Felicity in first quarter 2002. On Thursday, reality series Popstars opens its second season on a new night and time, and leads into new game show Elimidate Deluxe, which (sans the Deluxe) will air simultaneously in syndication. Charmed, the little show that could, and always does, will be back Thursdays at 9 (but without Shannen Doherty).

With Sabrina, the Teenage Witch leading off The WB’s version of ABC’s once-prosperous TGIF, look for new kids comedies Maybe I’m Adopted, Deep in the Heart (with country great Reba McEntire) and Raising Dad (headlined by Bob Saget) in the 8:30-10 Friday lead-out rotation. “I’m impressed with what The WB is doing on Friday,” says Spengler. “With ABC shifting its focus, there’s a young audience not being programmed to.”

Speaking of comedies, Men, Women & Dogs and Off Centre will air in the Sunday 8:30 and 9:30 half-hours, leading out of modest returnees The Steve Harvey Show at 8 and Nikki at 9. Kicking off the night (at least in fourth quarter) is reality game show Lost in the U.S.A. “Every network has its sore spots, and Sunday remains The WB’s,” notes Walsh.

UPN 2000-01 to date:

HOUSEHOLDS: 2.4/4 (No. 6, down 11%)

TOTAL VIEWERS: 3.73 million (No. 5, down 5%)

ADULTS 18-34: 1.6/5 (No.6, down 6%)

FALL 2001 NEW SHOWS: 2 (plus former WB occupants Buffy and Roswell)


Let’s face it: UPN is having a bad year. Star Trek: Voyager and Moesha are gone, WWF Smackdown! has peaked, and the network’s Tuesday and Friday schedules are sinking like the Titanic. But as luck (and plenty of cash) would have it, former WB sensation Buffy, the Vampire Slayer will move to UPN, Roswell will conveniently follow, and a new Star Trek franchise, Enterprise, will open up Wednesdays.

It’s easy to criticize a network with 25 percent of its lineup originating elsewhere (UPN picked up sitcom The Hughleys from ABC last season as well). But acquiring Buffy is proof that the network won’t go down without a fight.

“Even though Buffy has peaked, I think it’s fair to say there is more life left in the series,” says Carroll. “And for anyone who thinks shows flipping networks never work, just think JAG on CBS [which originated on NBC in 1995].”

With former WB programming on Tuesday and a movie on Friday, UPN has only two series debuting: the sitcom One on One on Monday and Enterprise on Wednesday. “Each series in the Star Trek franchise tends to lose steam, and I wonder if there will really be much interest in this next chapter,” one skeptical competitor contends.

PAX 2000-01 to date:

HOUSEHOLDS: 0.9/2 (No. 7, up 12%)

TOTAL VIEWERS: 1.37 million (No. 7, up 27%)

ADULTS 18-49: 0.4/1 (No. 7, up 33%)



For anyone who doubted there was room for a network devoted to family-friendly programming, guess again: The still-growing PAX TV is gearing up for its fourth season. While the network is years away from establishing a primetime schedule complete with its own brand of original programming, PAX is making inroads.

On Sundays this fall, the netlet will offer Candid Camera (original episodes), Doc, Ponderosa (a Bonanza prequel) and Mysterious Ways. Although repeats of Touched by an Angel and Diagnosis Murder are still running rampant, new series Forbidden Secrets, the aforementioned Ponderosa and midseason reality entry Left Behind show that PAX is serious about creating a seventh network presence. Of course, given the partnership with NBC, don’t be surprised to see the occasional peacock player on PAX in primetime.

COPYRIGHT 2001 BPI Communications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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