Most of TV land right now is occupied with readying next season's batch of new shows, with producers and execs racing to finish work on over 100 pilots aiming to land prime-time slots for the 2012-13 season. But something almost as important is also going on at the nets: The scheduling gurus and research wonks charged with figuring out how to turn a mess of sitcoms, dramas, and reality shows into a coherent lineup are beginning to think deeply about how their respective schedules might look come fall. Bold moves can often make a big difference: CBS began its march to Nielsen dominance when it decided to take a promising young Friday drama called CSI and move it to Thursdays, and that worked out pretty well. So what big shifts might be in store for next season? First, a caveat: For the most part, networks can't really decide anything until they at least get a glance at all the new series they've developed for fall. You've got to know your building blocks, after all. And this season, there's also the added challenge of seeing how many late-season newcomers (Touch, Awake) perform. With that in mind, Vulture studied our scheduling grids, double-checked our Nielsen data, and talked to a number of knowledgeable industry insiders to come up with five scheduling suggestions and predictions that could end up having a big impact on the season to come.
Move Glee to January to make room for a two-hour comedy block.
Live action, half-hour comedy hits are a rarity for Fox: Before New Girl, you have to go all the way back to 2006 to find any traditional sitcoms on the network that ran more than 100 episodes (That 70s Show and Malcolm in the Middle). It's too soon to tell if Girl will have legs, but right now, it's the most promising half-hour Fox has had in years. So, you may ask, what in the Sue Sylvester does that have to do Glee?
Well, for the last two years, the hourlong Glee has been the closest thing Fox has had to a live-action comedy launching pad. It provided a great lead-in for New Girl, but the past two weeks, with Glee on hiatus, Zooey Deschanel's adorkability has done just fine without all that singing and dancing preceding it (though the switch to Daylight Savings Time did take a bit of a bite out of the show this week). It's possible Fox will play things safe and just keep Glee and New Girl right where they are. But with Raising Hope not collapsing upon its move to 8 p.m. last week, we suspect Fox might consider going with a traditional two-hour block of four comedies on Tuesdays next fall. And this would mean changes for Glee. If we had a vote, we'd simply announce that Glee should copy the strategy ABC used with NYPD Blue (and which Fox perfected with 24): Keep those Lima dreamers off the schedule until January.
The biggest advantage of this move is that it would allow Glee to basically air uninterrupted for five months, giving the show time to build story-line momentum and help slow this year's audience decline. (This assumes viewers would remain more engaged if the show were a consistent, weekly habit; it is possible they would grow bored more quickly by 22 consecutive weeks of Glee-ish storytelling.) What's more, should the producers decide to make radical changes to the show in light of several seniors graduating (we're noodling here, as Ryan Murphy has not shared his plans for season five yet), a mid-season debut would give Fox's marketing mavens time and space to create a reboot campaign for January, when things are slightly less crowded in terms of TV premieres.
With Glee off in the fall, Fox would be able to continue experimenting with a four-comedy schedule on Tuesdays, as it is doing this spring. It's too soon to say if the entertaining Hope will remain strong enough to serve as an 8 p.m. anchor, but it wouldn't be the most radical thing in the world if Fox put two new comedies on between 8 and 10 p.m., with Hope remaining at 9:30 p.m. or shifting to 8:30 p.m. As we noted in the intro, much will depend on how Fox's comedy development turns out. (We're hoping that Mindy Kaling's project at the network ends up as good as it is on the page and that Kaling becomes Deschanel's schedule-mate come fall.) Fox execs also have to worry that New Girl is too young to air without a strong, established show like Glee as its lead-in: "Do you really want to make it tougher for New Girl to build an audience in season two?" one industry wag asks. This is a good point, but the flip side is that if the comedies at 8:00 bomb, Fox could quickly bring back Glee as soon as November.
Shift Revenge to Sundays.
This season ABC positioned GCB as the successor to the departing Desperate Housewives. The show's actually done okay in the 10 p.m. Sunday time slot behind DH, but it's hardly caught fire, and buzz on the show is just so-so. It's hard to see much upside in shifting GCB to 9 p.m., where it's unlikely to get much of a boost from ABC's red-hot Once Upon a Time. We'd like to suggest a somewhat riskier move, but one with a much bigger upside: Relocate Revenge from Wednesdays to Sundays at 9 p.m. Yes, this would mess up what's currently a near-perfect Wednesday night on ABC. But here's the dirty little secret of Revenge: Its ratings don't match its massive buzz and good reviews. The show is doing fine, finishing either first or second in its 10 p.m. time slot, but in overnight ratings, it rarely does above a mid-2 rating among adults under 50. The 10 p.m. time slot has become a tough place for any network drama to thrive these days, so we think there's a good chance Revenge could soar Sundays at 9 p.m. It's a perfect fit with all the young females watching Once and it would be great counter-programming to the male-skewing football on NBC and cartoons on Fox. (Assuming The Good Wife stays put, we don't think it would pose much of a threat to the newer, buzzier Revenge.) Moving shows so soon in their lives is always risky — we're sure CBS execs popped a few Xanax before relocating CSI to Thursdays — but sometimes it's the best way to turn a promising newcomer into a massive hit.
Give The Good Wife a Stronger Lead-In.
Fans can relax: The show's been renewed for next season. What's still unclear is whether CBS will shift the show from its 9 p.m. Sunday perch just one year after putting it there. We think there's a good chance. While Good Wife wins its time slot each week with more than 10 million total viewers, among folks under 50 it loses a big chunk of its lead-in from The Amazing Race. And with Desperate Housewives vacating ABC's 9 p.m. slot, CBS might want to try something more proven, with a better chance of attracting audiences. "The Good Wife really is one of the few soft spots on CBS's schedule," one industry insider notes. "I don't think its ratings merit staying in that time slot." The most radical move would have Good Wife shift to Friday nights, where its loyal, older audience would almost certainly follow (although some younger viewers would likely make it a DVR show). But CBS is not a network that makes big changes unless it needs to, and putting any show on three different nights in three seasons just isn't the CBS Way. Plus, Good Wife actually fetches a premium for its huge base of upscale (read: rich) viewers, and there's a good chance that premium would evaporate if it seemed as if CBS were burying it on Friday.
More likely? Good Wife slides an hour to 10 p.m., while CBS moves the established Thursday hit The Mentalist into the slot. The latter series seems destined to shift off of Thursdays next fall if CBS expands to four comedies that night. The Eye tested Mentalist out on Friday night last week, and it did pretty well. But we're betting CBS considers Mentalist too young to bury on Friday.
Give Up on Making Thursday NBC's "Smart Comedy" Night.
NBC boss Bob Greenblatt has been vocal in his complaints that the Peacock's comedies draw critical raves but not a lot of viewers. This is why Whitney sullied Thursday night for several weeks this fall, and why Are You There, Chelsea? continues to stink up Wednesday. But Greenblatt does have a point: His current roster of comedies, as beloved as they may be to some of us, are almost certainly never going to grow into the big hits NBC needs. And with all of the networks expected to go crazy trying out new laughers next season, the Peacock can't simply sit back while its rivals experiment (and, in the case of CBS, potentially challenge NBC's decades-long claim to comedy supremacy on Thursdays). "There's just no chance for real growth with what NBC has there now," one industry pundit tells us.
One scenario has NBC doing a Soviet-style purge, dumping everything that's not The Office and possibly shrinking 30 Rock to thirteen episodes for use sometime next season. It would then start the fall with a virtually all-new Thursday, and hope that new shows boasting Roseanne Barr, Sarah Silverman, Matthew Perry, Dane Cook, Minnie Driver, and other big names will allow it to reinvent itself. Our beloveds from Greendale and Pawnee would simply fade away.
Because this thought is too horrendous to imagine, we'd like to suggest a compromise: Reboot Thursday, but shift the best of the night elsewhere in the week — most logically Wednesday, but maybe even Fridays. Our theory is that the 4 to 5 million folks who now watch Community, Parks and Recreation, and 30 Rock do so religiously and will likely follow (or DVR) the shows whenever they air. If The Office moved with these other shows, it could serve as an anchor on the new night, while also underlining NBC's explosive message to audiences: This is not your hipster neighbor's Thursday night anymore. (Or, as one rival snarked to us, "It'd be 'NBC Thursday: Now 90 percent less highfalutin'.") If The Office didn't shift, it would leave NBC with a security blanket on Thursday, but signal that NBC was giving up on its other veteran comedies. Still, we'd rather take 13 or 22 more episodes of Community and Parks than none at all. (What's more, the extra episodes would help both shows get the minimum 80-90 episodes needed for successful syndication to local TV stations.) Greenblatt's desire to broaden NBC's comedy brand is completely understandable, especially right now, when there's something of a sitcom land grab going on as networks seek to take full advantage of viewers once again embracing the genre. But with so many holes to fill on NBC's prime-time lineup, we hope NBC will find a way to keep both baby and bath water.
CBS Will Make Thursday Their Sitcom Bitch.
Almost certainly, yes, they will. We (and most anyone who studies network scheduling grids) have seen this move coming since last fall, when the success of 2 Broke Girls and the continued growth of The Big Bang Theory suggested CBS might have the firepower to finally make a two-hour comedy play on Thursday. The only thing preventing this move from happening is a weak comedy development season at CBS. But even that might not be enough to stop what seems inevitable: Big Bang paired with another existing CBS hit — either 2 Broke or, perhaps How I Met Your Mother — would leave two slots to fill on Thursday. One of those will probably go to Rob or Rules of Engagement. Neither is sexy, but both have a core audience and don't need to be promoted much. All the Eye needs is one really good comedy for Thursday and a solid show to add to Mondays, and its transformation to two full nights of comedy is complete.
As for which Monday show moves, some have noted that CBS will soon test out an episode of 2 Broke on Thursdays, making that show the favorite to shift. Perhaps, but as one industry expert notes, "CBS hates to move freshman shows to new nights after just one season." It might be safer to make 2 Broke the Eye's new Monday night anchor, while letting HIMYM carry some water on Thursdays. Yes, the show is aging, but it's proven extraordinarily resilient the past two seasons, with some speculation it might have two more seasons in it (rather than the one additional season for which CBS has contracted). Long shots for a shift to Thursday are Two and a Half Men or Mike and Molly. It may be far too late in the former show's run to risk a move, while the latter has only done so-so on Mondays, at least relative to its lead-in.