Thursday Night Drama: NBC Pilots 'Studio 60,' ABC Moves 'Grey's Anatomy'
So, the struggling network inserted its most promising drama pilot--"Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip"--in the Thursday at 9 slot.
No matter--the competition pounced anyway, and now NBC appears vulnerable. ABC's bold move to shift smash "Grey's Anatomy" to Thursday at 9, where CBS's "CSI:" is already a big hit, likely means that NBC will have to shake things up or risk "Studio 60's" rapid demise.
"If it's a show they really believe in, they've got to pull it out for now because the platform won't exist under that kind of competition to get the sampling they would need," said Jason Maltby, president and co-executive director of MindShare broadcast. "Maybe it's a show that they move to another night for a couple of weeks, get some traction, and then throw it in there. But to premiere it on that night--there's a little bit too much competition."
In order to counter-program against "Grey's" and "CSI:"--both top-5 shows in the coveted 18-to-49 demo--NBC may return to running comedies from 8 to 10. Its current schedule calls for first-year hit "My Name is Earl" and "The Office" in the 8 o'clock hour followed by "Studio 60" and then "E.R." But NBC could rebuild the two-hour block by shifting new comedies "20 Good Years" and "30 Rock" from Wednesdays and mixing them in, possibly using "Earl" and "The Office" to launch the new entrants. If the network goes the comedy route, it could also put "Scrubs," scheduled as a mid-season stopgap, on Thursday in the fall.
Regardless, NBC seems headed for more trouble on television's top-grossing night. After dominating on Thursday for 20 years until last season, NBC is now in second and fading--with 18-to-49 ratings down 29 percent this season in regularly scheduled programming. The network may have caught a break, however, with CBS's decision to move 10 o'clock leader "Without a Trace" to Sundays, meaning that "E.R." will now face new dramas from both CBS and ABC.
NBC--and the other networks--were not caught off-guard by ABC's shift of "Grey's" to Thursday in a bid to become a competitor on a night that's been a perennial graveyard for ABC. Reilly said before the move that NBC would consider altering its schedule if it needed to. An NBC representative said Friday that no decisions have been made, but "naturally, we discussed different scenarios during the scheduling process."
The much-hyped "Studio 60"--an Aaron Sorkin-produced drama about behind-the-scenes life at a late-night comedy show--may have its best shot in the Monday at 9 time slot. There, it could benefit from a lead-in from hit game show "Deal or No Deal," and serve as a drama alternative to comedy on CBS and reality on ABC.
"If they feel that strongly about the show, they need to find a place for it where people can find it," said Stacey Shepatin, director of national broadcast at Hill Holliday in Boston.
Despite NBC's bullishness on "Studio 60," the show has yet to catch fire among media buyers. In general, unlike upfront week last year where new shows "Prison Break" on Fox and "Everybody Hates Chris" on UPN created a buzz, none of the new shows presented last week seemed to draw overwhelming interest. That puts pressure on the pilots that networks will soon be distributing to agencies to evaluate.
"The jury's still out," Maltby said. "I think this year more than last year, the pilots are critical."
Shepatin said there was some curiosity--although muted--about ABC's new drama "The Nine"--about nine people who go through a hostage crisis and are never the same--and new Fox comedy "'Til Death," starring Brad Garrett and offering a commentary on the trials of a long marriage.