NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Early ratings for a larger-than-average new slate of fall TV shows show signs of life for what is arguably a crucial season for broadcast TV, now in a post-DVR, Hulu and cable environment.
The five broadcast networks are introducing 21 shows in the first half of the 2009-10 season, accounting for 20 hours or 22% of the primetime schedule's 91 hours, according to independent agency RPA. Dramas and dramedies will increase to 48% from 43%, while comedies rise slightly to 11% from 10% (excluding the new "Jay Leno Show") and reality programs fall to 31% from 37%. ABC is taking the biggest gamble with no less than eight new programs launching this fall, with some midseason replacements already in the works.
The programs that get the most promotion from their networks are often viewed as having some of the best chances to succeed, as they clearly have the backing of their media outlet. Clearly, Fox wants the musical drama "Glee" to be a winner, and has already picked it up for a full season. NBC has given a huge amount of promotional capital to "The Jay Leno Show," while ABC clearly believes in both sci-fi drama and potential "Lost" replacement "Flash Forward" as well as "Modern Family," a mockumentary sitcom. The latter rolled out to a strong 12.7 million viewers and helped ABC win its time slot and the rest of the night last week.
Not every new show can be a hit. With such a glut of program launches taking place in the fall, some shows will inevitably be lost. ABC, meanwhile over the next few weeks must launch four comedies on Wednesdays: the much-anticipated "Flash Forward"; twist-on-the-old-crime-procedural "The Forgotten,"; Updike-inspired "Eastwick"; and sci-fi revamp "V."
If any shows stick, it will often be due to the marquee talent, said Laura Caraccioli-Davis, exec VP-entertainment at Starcom. "It's all about having well-known personalities," she said, citing the promising debut of Courteney Cox's "Cougar Town" as an example. "It was risky having all new shows, but because they had cast so strongly they were able to use that to their advantage."
Buyers and critics are more impressed with NBC's lineup than they have been in recent seasons. "Community," a half-hour sitcom on Thursdays about a motley assortment of students at a community college has promising early buzz. But there's some question over whether viewers will want to see both special-effects-laden "Trauma," which NBC promised during its upfront to keep stockpiled with the same high-stakes explosions and chase sequences each week, and the similarly themed "Mercy."
At Fox, buyers want to see growth from returnees such as "Lie to Me," "House" and "Fringe." There's little optimism about Friday-night comedies "Brothers" and the not-so-well-regarded "Til Death." The return of Joss Whedon-produced drama "Dollhouse" is appreciated, but Fridays rarely bode well for anyone in these times,
As usual, CBS has the fewest holes to fill. "NCIS: Los Angeles," a spinoff of the popular "NCIS," seems like a lock. Buyers aren't that keen on "Accidentally on Purpose," a Monday-night comedy about a professional journalist who gets pregnant during a one-night stand with a much younger paramour. Still, the show is sandwiched between relative powerhouses "How I Met Your Mother" and "Two and A Half Men," so quality may not be much of an issue. Indeed, CBS said the show's season premiere retained 98% of its viewers and adult 25-54 lead-in and 91% of its adult 18-49 lead-in.
The CW has little hope of scoring big mega-ratings for its shows, and has already seen the first episodes of new shows like "The Beautiful Life" and "Melrose Place," which has already gotten a tweak with the just announced addition of Heather Locklear reprising her role as Amanda Woodward this November. Fellow freshman "The Vampire Diaries" effortlessly found a solid "Twilight"-crazed fanbase as CW's highest-rated series premiere ever. Since the CW's mission is to reel in women between the ages of 18 to 34, buyers hold general praise for its schedule, noting that the network has rid itself of programs such as "Everybody Loves Chris" and other UPN leftovers that didn't play directly to its defined audience.
Three to watch"Flash Forward," ABC, 8 p.m. Thursday
There's a lot riding on ABC with its sci-fi drama from "Batman Begins" writer David Goyer, but buyers like early results. "They don't have 'Lost' next season, so they need a really good show that has that mythology and really good storytelling, a show that people want to talk about the next day," said Shari Anne Brill, senior VP-director of strategic audience analysis for Aegis Group's Carat.
"Modern Family," ABC, 9 p.m. Wednesday
ABC's most-marketed new show is also its best-rated its first week out, a promising sign for the quirky comedy. "It's 'Arrested Development' but with the ABC brand," said Laura Caraccioli-Davis, exec VP-entertainment at Starcom. "They found a way to deliver that same kind of humor but package it in a way that still makes sense for the network."
"Glee," Fox, 9 p.m. Wednesday
The fall show with the biggest buzz is Fox's high school musical, which is off to a strong start among younger viewers and keeping the majority of its "So You Think You Can Dance" lead-in. Said Ms. Brill, "I think 'Glee' is a great show, and I think that show will have legs and Fox clearly believes that as well because they gave it a full season pick up."
Three to skip"Brothers," Fox, Friday 8 p.m.
Dumping a poorly received new sitcom on Fridays seems to be the beginning of the end for this freshman comedy, which will premiere in a newly competitive time slot that also includes CBS' "The Ghost Whisperer," NBC's "Law & Order" and the CW's "Smallville."
"Three Rivers", CBS, Sunday, 9 p.m.
NBC and CBS are launching dueling medical dramas within weeks of each other, the tepidly received "Mercy" and the troubled "Three Rivers," respectively, the latter of which retooled its pilot and opted to air its second episode first for its Oct. 4 premiere. But buyers are betting that the female-friendly "Mercy" will have a better shot at finding a fan base.
"The Beautiful Life," The CW, Wednesday, 9 p.m.
The modeling drama's ratings are as troubled as co-star Mischa Barton's personal life, which held on to less than half of its "America's Next Top Model" lead-in its first few weeks on the runway. Expect this to be among the first cancellations of the season.*
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UPDATE: And so it is. Just after this article went to press on Friday, the CW officially cancelled "The Beautiful Life."