Five Shuffles for the Networks’ New Season

We are mere days away from the fall launch of the networks’ new schedules. The window of opportunity for second-guessing is slowly closing. By November, the way people say the titles of the new shows will vary from excited to mocking. Here are five thoughts at how the new season could have been:

Flip “The Playboy Club” with “Prime Suspect” (NBC)

Likely the most provocative fall series, “The Playboy Club” has been strategically given a Monday slot following the return of last year’s successful “The Sing-Off.” Eyeballs are the target here as Monday is chock full of hit series already, and HUT (Homes Using Television) levels are high. “Playboy” is also edgy counterprogramming to the hit procedural dramas “Hawaii Five-O” (CBS) and “Castle” (ABC). My thought though, is lead with your best foot forward for this adult audience by using a similar sophisticated lead-in, namely the comedy block on Thursday nights (“Community,” “Parks & Recreation,” “The Office” and “Whitney”). It’s no secret that this 10:00 slot was the decades-long home of NBC’s most innovative dramas (“Hill Street Blues,” “L.A. Law” and “ER”). “Prime Suspect,” although possibly similar to the procedural audiences of “Five-O” and “Castle,” would be a better companion to the more mainstream “Sing-Off.” Also, mid-season is already around the corner and with it, NBC’s expected Monday line-up of “The Voice” and new musical “Smash.” With this revised strategy, “Prime Suspect” would be an easier puzzle piece to transplant to another night in January and, in success, “The Playboy Club” could also have a full 22-episode season. Honestly, if both were successful, they could share the Thursday slot after January to minimize repeats.

Let the “Rules of Engagement” Stay Up Later on Saturday Night (CBS)

For the first time in years, a sitcom has been scheduled on the networks on a Saturday night. Rather than burning off a cancelled show or amortizing reruns as previously done with sitcoms, CBS is trying to open up a new home for comedies with original episodes of veteran “Rules of Engagement” followed by reruns of other hit sitcoms from 8:00-9:00. I say push “Rules” ahead an hour to 9:00 where there is more of an available audience on the night (between those of us coming home from dinner and those preparing to go out). For years, CBS has successfully rerun dramas at 9:00 so if they flipped those encores to 8:00, their hits such as “NCIS” and “CSI” would be great lead-ins to new episodes of comedy.

Save Up for the Winter (FOX)

With the anticipated success (and often three or four hours a week) of “The X-Factor,” Fox may have its most air-tight schedule ever. Aging series such as “House,” “Bones” and even “Glee” are still solid performers. “New Girl” could very well be the best sitcom Fox has had in years and the durability of “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” allows Fox to grow Sunday night with more animated series such as “Allen Gregory” and “Napoleon Dynamite.” But this abundance of riches has come at the expense of struggling drama series. Last year, “Lie to Me,” “The Chicago Code” and “Human Target” were all axed despite loyal followings. Now, I understand that those shows aren’t coming back but it might be time to look at other formats to showcase drama series. Reality shows are often taking over two hour slots on a night so there is much real estate on Fox’s schedule left. But, perhaps around the holidays when the fall shows rest and before the midseason shows launch, there can be some two-hour dramas. Imagine if “Lie,” “Chicago” and “Target” had lived on as two-hour movies throughout the season. Financially, they would have to produce 4-6 “movies” to be viable. But there is always a secondary market on dvd/blu-ray and cable where some of these movies could be sold as individual discs. Instead of waiting seasons to syndicate, each season of movies could be sold into the secondary markets after one year on the network. Too late for those aforementioned shows but perhaps an opportunity for new dramas to find a following as special events.

Spread the Laughter (NBC, ABC)

One of the toughest nuts to crack for a network these days is building a second night for comedies. Traditionally, it’s been NBC on Thursdays, CBS on Mondays and ABC crafted a Wednesday block around “The Middle” and “Modern Family” two seasons back. This year, NBC targets Wednesdays at 8 (“Up All Night,” “Free Agents”), ABC at Tuesdays at 8 (“Last Man Standing,” “Man Up”) and CBS did well last season on Thursdays at 8 (“The Big Bang Theory” now followed by “How to Become a Gentleman”). It’s going to be awhile before there are anywhere near as many comedies as there used to in the 1990s. However, there are some vulnerable spots. Although NBC has “The Voice” planned for Mondays 8-10 this January, there could be chances to test comedies when during the later episodes when they only need one-hour episodes. “How I Met Your Mother” on CBS is aging so I would suggest trying “Community” (currently struggling on Thursdays) to lead off a Monday 8-9 block on NBC. It could warm up the slot for comedies in the fall of 2012. Tuesdays should work for ABC but Sundays at 8 could also work. Sitcoms have had a tough time there in the past (especially male-skewing shows up against “The Simpsons”) but sandwiched between “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and the final season of “Desperate Housewives” could work for laughs. Again, it would be a good test when that night needs to replace “Housewives” in 2012. I believe the last time ABC tried sitcoms there, they were replaced by the new hit “Home Videos” in 1990.

Open the “Shark Tank” Sooner (ABC)

One of the most pleasant renewals for the 2011-2012 season was the underrated reality series, “Shark Tank” on ABC. When the fall schedules were announced in May, “Shark” breathed a sigh of relief with its first full-season renewal for Season 3 and a Friday night time slot. But when the premiere dates were announced this summer, “Shark” was put back on the shelf until later this season. We are going to need a bigger boat. One of the best surprises of the renewal was that “Shark” was going to be paired with long-time hit “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” “Shark” deserves all the exposure it can get and should be scheduled at least after the World Series and fall premieres have passed. Matched with “Home Edition,” “Shark” could rise on Friday nights and ABC could take the night.

As always, hindsight will be 20/20. But even if it’s too late to tweak the new season now, it will be interesting to see what changes occur after the new shows premiere.

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