Fall TV Breakdown: Thursdays

T-H! U-R-S! D-A-Y! Night!

The Thursday lineup (new shows in blue)

  7/8 8/9 9/10
ABC Ugly Betty Grey’s Anatomy Six Degrees
CBS Survivor CSI
CW Smallville Supernatural
FOX Til Death(7/8)Happy Hour (7.30/8.30) The OC
NBC My Name Is Earl(7/8) The Office (7.30/8.30) Deal Or No Deal

Remember when Thursday used to be no contest? When NBC strode the night like a laughing giant (think Kelsey Grammar), and the other networks merely cowered at its feet? When even the perennially disappointing 7:30/8:30 slot still creamed the competition? When “must-see TV” had become a commandment rather than an adjective?

Ah, good times.

Ever since CBS popped the balloon in 2001 with CSI and Survivor, Thursdays have been their playground. Sure, NBC was able to stem the bleeding a bit with a couple more years of Friends and the incredibly still reliable ER, but the damage was done. To add injury to injury, Thursday had been so sweet to the Peacock that they really didn’t have much left for the rest of the week, save the benevolent Dick Wolf to bail them out. The net result: tumbling all the way to fourth place in the 18-49 demo, after having a lockhold on it for over a decade. Ouch.

And lo, what’s this on the horizon? What rises from the ashes to face the mighty Eye? Why it’s ABC, who has been deader than a doornail on this night since the Carter Administration, when the likes of Mork and Mindy, Barney Miller, and Soap made for a pretty solid night of TV. They’ve jumped back into the fray on the strength of a bunch of horny, yet massively appealing, Seattle doctors, and the most buzzed-about (and longest gestating) series of the fall, Ugly Betty, which premieres tomorrow.

We’ve got ourselves a helluva contest, on TV’s second most watched night. Grab some popcorn, ’cause this is gonna be good.

Grey’s Anatomy trounced CSI in their first fresh head-to-head last week, the biggest beating the venerable Las Vegans have taken in a long, long time. If Ugly Betty hits (and until proven otherwise, it’s still an if), it’s ABC’s night to lose. Yes, Six Degrees is pretty lackluster, and yes, loads of Grey’s fans will simply switch over to ER instead at 9/10, but the damage will have been done. It says here ABC by a nose.

Meanwhile, CBS finds itself squirming a bit in the hot seat, much like NBC five years ago. Survivor and CSI are still massively popular properties, and each could conceivably run for years to come. But, entering their seventh years on TV, they’re not the fresh blood any longer. The trick is not to panic. Sure, tweak a few things here and there, but don’t mess with the formula too much. The CSI folks get this point more than the Survivor folks do (how many “new twists” get to be old hat after the first time around, e.g., exile island). A very risky decision to intro a new show at 9/10 (Without A Trace is now on Sundays); CBS could’ve been the only network to keep an even keel on this night. Instead, they’re gonna sweat a bit at 9/10, when they could likely have won the slot no problem.

Over at NBC, the props keep coming for their sitcom pair of My Name Is Earl and The Office, but I’m guessing enough of those shows’ hipster demo samples some Ugly Betty to make a dent in their numbers and their buzz. That said, these shows do have a big online/download following, so they’re in no danger. But NBC is no danger of actually winning this hour either. Later in the evening, the ghoulish spectacle of Howie Mandel has replaced the ghoulish spectacle of Donald Trump. It’s going to be close, but without a compatible lead-in and lead-out (man, is NBC plagued with this problem this season), Deal or No Deal likely comes in third. ER, on the other hand, takes a licking and keeps on ticking, into its 13th season. Now that CBS fumbled this slot, and ABC’s doing some hand-waving there, they could regain the lead at 9/10.

As for the also-rans, Fox’s sitcoms are mere filler to throw under the bus and bide time till The OC returns. A textbook example of how you can still have a buzzworthy show without having a hit, The OC should continue to deliver enough jaded teens (and thirtysomething wanna-be jaded teens) to keep it prominent on the hipster radar. The CW is hoping to get what’s left of the teen crowd with an aging Smallville (isn’t he Superman yet?) and the under-regarded Supernatural. They know they’ll get destroyed in the overall ratings, but it could be a genuine battle for the lower half of the 18-34 demo they covet.

Win: ABC, just
Place: CBS, just
Show: NBC, just


3 Responses to “Fall TV Breakdown: Thursdays”

  1. Travis Says:

    I really think that Ugly Betty will be a flop. Maybe it will grab a large female audience, and perhaps grab some people from the Grey’s crowd.

    But for me it will be CBS minus CSI. I am a sucker for Reality TV, and so far Shark has proven to be worth more than I thought.

    ABC doesn’t have anything going for it on Thursday. Maybe Grey’s Anatomy, if people are willing to make the transition from it’s Sunday line-up, and it sounds like it will. But for me, the middle hour will be spent either watching the mindless, but fun DOND, or with the tube off.

  2. dkompare Says:

    I haven’t checked the overnights for UB yet today, but Grey’s *killed* last week, with a crushing 32 million viewers. I’m still calling the night for ABC, but yes, it’ll be close.

  3. Bill Kirkpatrick Says:

    Re Survivor: I’m astonished at how quickly gender divisions/alliances came to dominate racial and ethnic ones. Perhaps a response by the writers to the hailstorm of criticism that followed the decision to divide by race? Clearly the footage was in the can already, but as we know, editing can work wonders, so I would love to know whether the sudden ascendancy of gender beginning in ep. 4 and the near silencing of race actually “happened” in the game or whether it happened in the editing room.

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