Up Front About the Upfronts: The State of the Networks 2013

Despite your TV telling you that the current season is nearly over, the next season has already started. Behind closed doors, the cloaked Illuminati of the television business have already made several decisions about what you'll be watching this fall, and those decisions will be revealed at next week's series of network presentations for advertisers. Called the Upfronts, that's where the nets reveal their fall schedules, which seal the fate of both returning and potentially new shows. 

In anticipation of the mayhem, I've decided to briefly prep you on where the networks stand and what to expect next week. But be warned, I will be wrong! Very wrong! Consider these suggestions fun and from the mind of a crazy person. 


Season to date 18-49 demo ratings: 1st place, 2.9 average (3.0 last year)
Season to date average viewership: 1st place, 11.95 million (11.7 million last year)
Hours to program: 18
2013-2014 shows renewed: 2 Broke Girls, Blue Bloods, CSI, Elementary, Hawaii Five-0, Mike & Molly, NCIS, NCIS: LA, Person of Interest, Survivor, The Amazing Race, The Big Bang Theory, The Good Wife, The Mentalist, Two and a Half Men

The debrief on this season: This is the easy one. With 13 hours of programming already filled with renewed shows (Criminal Minds should also be renewed any minute now), a sweep of ratings and overall viewership, and the steadiest performance of all networks, CBS is the most comfortable going into its Upfronts. But don't get too comfortable, Les Moonves! The 2012-2013 development season was a dud, producing only one success in Elementary. However, that could also be a statement on how strong CBS was going into the season.

What to expect: Things will look very similar to last year, when CBS ordered just six new shows. Chuck Lorre's sitcom Mom, starring Anna Faris as a recovering boozer in Napa Valley, is apparently a lock, and Shawn Ryan's Beverly Hills Cop makes a ton of sense to order. Scheduling-wise, CBS has a solid skeleton, it just has to hang some fresh meat on it. I wouldn't expect too much shakeup in its schedule. Heck, if I were CBS I would create CBS2 and start programming that with all the excess riches.


Season to date 18-49 demo ratings: 4th place, 2.2 average (2.4 last year)
Season to date average viewership: 2nd place, 7.80 million (8.4 million last year)
Hours to program: 18
2013-2014 shows renewed: Nothing! Absolutely nothing!

The debrief on this season: From all the headlines, you'd expect NBC to be in last place, but it's actually ABC on the bottom. Everyone not named CBS is noticeably down, but not having any new hits especially sucked for ABC, which went into the season with blocks to build on. What was ABC's biggest new show of the year? The Neighbors? Nashville? Yikes. ABC experimented a lot last year, making Sunday ight ladies' night (UOaT, Revenge, 666 Park Ave.) and fiddling with a one-hour comedy block on Tuesdays that ended up being a disaster, so the network's 2012-2013 was a cross-your-fingers kind of year, and luck was not on its side. It was a wasted season.

What to expect: Why are you so secretive, ABC? Though the network hasn't officially renewed anything, we can assume it'll bring back Castle, Dancing With the Stars, Grey's Anatomy, Modern Family, Once Upon a Time, Scandal, Revenge, The Middle, and The Bachelor, plus some combination of Suburgatory, Nashville, The Neighbors, Body of Proof, Malibu Country, and Last Man Standing. That leaves a lot of flexibility, and ABC isn't afraid to take the wrecking ball to its schedule, as evidenced by last year's pile of rubble. The network's failed experiments leave ABC in a position to shake things up again. Do not expect a repeat of the trial of comedies on Tuesdays. If I were ABC, I'd think about moving Castle to Tuesdays at 10pm and sandwiching a new promising drama between the DWTS results show and Castle. That would leave another new drama to place behind Monday's DWTS at 10pm. I don't know, maybe Joss Whedon's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? Just please don't place that in the 8pm Thursday death slot like you're thinking, even if it looks strong on paper. On Wednesdays, ABC desperately needs a comedy to pair with Modern Family, because that hit is on an island. I'd like to see new comedies Back in the Game, Trophy Wife, or Super Fun Night on Wednesdays to help out MoFam. ABC can continue to ignore Fridays with its combination of news magazine shows, reality, and hick humor.


Season to date 18-49 demo ratings: 3rd place, 2.4 average (2.5 last year)
Season to date average viewership: 4th place, 7.00 million viewers (7.4 million last year)
Hours to program: 18
2013-2014 shows renewed: Chicago Fire, Grimm, Law & Order: SVU, Parenthood, Revolution, The Voice, The Michael J. Fox Show (new series)

The debrief on this season: Third place! Woohoo! Pop the champagne and let's do lines of caviar! Unfortunately, September, October, and November of 2012 are a thing of the past, and 2013 has been downright evil to NBC. And should Sunday Night Football even count in the ratings? That doesn't seem fair. NBC had no choice but to renew Revolution, but the consensus is that the show is fading faster than Aaron's chances of getting back with his wife. Chicago Fire was NBC's big success story, which gives you an idea of how the network's development season—which was massive—went. 

What to expect: There's a suggestion, co-authored by our own Cory Barker, going around that NBC should move The Voice to Thursdays and kill the Must-See-TV tradition of a two-hour comedy block on that night. And you know what? I sort of LOVE it! In theory. As long as CBS has The Big Bang Theory on Thursday nights, NBC's chances of keeping comedy alive in that hour are doody. Why not fight fire with fire (or nerds with CeeLo) and put the one-hour results show on Thursdays? Then jump into a one-hour comedy block built around familiar faces with Michael J. Fox's new show and Matthew Perry in Go On (or another new comedy)? Get those shows going and revisit Thursday as a comedy destination in 2014-2015. The problem with moving The Voice is that doing so would turn the rest of the schedule into a wasteland. Does NBC triple up Revolution, Grimm, and Chicago Fire on Mondays, move Parks & Recreation to Tuesdays with new comedy support followed by Law & Order: SVU, and do whatever with Fridays? NBC might be better off leaving The Voice where it is. I say shove Revolution to Fridays and pair it with Grimm (and maybe HannibaI?), and use the plush post-Voice spots to launch new shows again. Slot James Spader's high-testing The Blacklist on Mondays at 10pm, put whatever other new drama on Tuesdays at 9pm and keep Parenthood at 10pm, then stage a new comedy Thunderdome competition in both the 8pm hour on Wednesday (followed by Chicago Fire and its in-the-works spinoff) and the holes around Parks and Recreation and The Michael J. Fox Show on Thursdays. I'm talking 13-episode seasons; if you're a success, you stay, if you fail, get the F out. I seriously want to see NBC pump out a dozen new comedies over the course of the entire season. NBC should focus on trying as many new things as it can.  


Season to date 18-49 demo ratings: 2nd place, 2.5 average (3.2 last year)
Season to date average viewership: 3rd place, 7.08 million (8.9 million last year)
Hours to program: 12
2013-2014 shows renewed: American Dad, Bob's Burgers, Bones, Family Guy, Glee, New Girl, Raising Hope, The Following, The Simpsons, The Mindy Project, The X Factor

The debrief on this season: Second place would be a lot easier to swallow if Fox hadn't fallen so far. Last season, Fox finished first in ratings with a 3.2. Everyone was down, but sinking all the way to a 2.5 means there's more to blame than The Walking Dead and Duck Dynasty. American Idol is sinking fast, and people are talking about New Girl a lot more than they're watching it. The Following was a success, but its 15-episode second season means it won't be back 'til January 2014. Even though The Mindy Project was renewed, Fox had much higher hopes for it as a comedy to secure the network's Tuesday-night block. Fox used to live on a reputation for having fresh, exciting programming, but all of a sudden its shelves are looking awfully dusty. Hey at least you get the Super Bowl this year, Fox!

What to expect: Despite its need to fix things, I don't see a whole lot of room for Fox to switch things up. Tuesdays are locked in with comedy, Wednesdays and Thursdays are X Factor'd (though Fox should recognize a dead horse when it sees it, maybe next year), and Sundays are 'tooned out. Once again, Mondays are Fox's achilles, and once again, the night will feature something like Bones and a random new show (how about J.J. Abrams' Human?). But with Friday such a graveyard, why not put Bones on Fridays and try two new shows on Monday? Bones' fans are so good, they'll follow their series anywhere, and it's entered that point of its life where it won't do much to help launch new shows. Yeah, it's risky to air two new shows on a Monday night, but Human has the muscle behind it to become its own destination (of course I'm a huge dork and the thought of robot cops in the future sounds amazing). Greg Kinnear's Rake or Terry O'Quinn's Gang Related could pair with Human, too. Before Glee comes back in the midseason, Fox should run Andy Samberg's untitled cop comedy and the military comedy Enlisted after The X Factor on Thursdays, as those won't fit into Tuesday's quirky family/quirky lady comedy block, plus both seem to have that different flavor viewers have been looking for. Yes, I'm aware that sets up Mike Schur and Dan Goor potentially having shows that go against each other in Samberg's cop comedy and Parks and Recreation, but Parks will probably stay put at 8:30pm.

The CW

Season to date 18-49 demo ratings: 0.7 average (0.7 last year)
Season to date average viewership: 1.78 million (1.7 million last year)
Hours to program: 10
2013-2014 shows renewed/ordered: America's Next Top Model, Arrow, Beauty and the Beast, Hart of Dixie, The Originals (new series), Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries

The debrief of this season: Steady isn't just good, it's grrrrrrreat! Arrow looks like a solid franchise for The CW, even though it's down to hovering around a 1.0 rating. Supernatural enjoyed a solid bounce-back season, and The Vampire Diaries keeps chuggin'. For a while it looked like every CW show would feature hunky dudes either being monsters or killing monsters, but then the network renewed Hart of Dixie, crushing some folks' hopes of a network genre channel. Still, I actually like what The CW is doing to stay afloat. With Gossip Girl and 90210 finally over, it's a great time for the network to continue rebranding itself as the network of shows based on Young Adult supernatural books. Hey if it works, why not? If you want high-school drama, go to high school.

What to expect: The Beauty and the Beast renewal was bizarre, considering that The Vampire Diaries spinoff The Originals will take its spot on the schedule. How will Beauty and the Beast do without TVD as its lead-in? Beasties, you're about to find out the hard truth. A Hart of Dixie renewal wouldn't have happened if the network didn't have another non-genre show in mind to pair with it, but I don't know what that other non-genre show will be. Deadline Hollywood says the period-piece teen drama Reign, about Mary Queen of Scots, is looking good. Could that be it? The CW also has the option to split up Arrow and Supernatural to launch one of its many sci-fi shows, with the less soapy The Tomorrow People and The Hundred as the most likely candidates. And if The CW wants a hottie-and-a-weirdo romance night, Beauty and the Beast could team up with Oxygen, the new drama about a teen girl and an alien boy hookin' up, or The Selection. Where these shows end up on the schedule is mostly moot; The CW operates independently of what its big brother networks do.

Ratings data is current as of May 5 and taken from TV By the Numbers, but with only a few weeks left in the season, things aren't expected to change that much.

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