Prime-time battlegrounds

We called in the experts to weigh the odds on the upcoming Fall TV season.
PlayboyClub

While crowds may flock to see giant robots battle in over-the-top blockbuster Real Steel this summer, the real fight for Canadian eyeballs will begin this fall, when the networks debut their new slates of programming to audiences nationwide. It’s a high stakes fight, so we called in the experts to weigh the odds: which network has the most competitive slate? Who has the biggest night? Which shows will be winners and which will be unceremoniously dumped? Are you ready? Let the games begin!

Monday night
The ref: Carol Cummings, director of television services, Media Experts

Monday night was a hot battleground for the 2010 fall schedule and continues to be strong in 2011. All the new shows of the night are on Citytv, including Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi drama Terra Nova at 8 p.m., in which the human race migrates 85 million years back in time to escape Earth on the brink of extinction; comedy 2 Broke Girls at 9:30 p.m., about two struggling waitresses in the Big Apple; and the Mad Men-style The Playboy Club at 10 p.m., which follows the drama surrounding the staff of the first Playboy Club in 1963 Chicago.

The biggest fight for audience share of the night belongs to How I Met Your Mother on Citytv at 9 p.m. against the revamped Two and a Half Men, now starring Ashton Kutcher (That ’70s Show) in the same slot on CTV, Cummings says.
Cummings’ best bet for Monday night ratings glory is the two-hour reality show Dancing with the Stars at 8 p.m., which she says should have “no trouble keeping the crown” for the evening. The toughest slog for viewers may go to The Playboy Club, which “may have some difficulty gaining traction.”

With Global and CTV choosing to keep the status quo, but with Rogers spending big to get in the Monday night mix, who stands to come out on top?

“Monday has been a really big night for CTV and will continue to be huge with Dancing with the Stars seemingly showing no signs of slowing down,” says Cummings. “They have nicely contrasted the main network with the slate on CTV Two, with the sitcom strengths of Kutcher’s Two and a Half Men and Mike and Molly [at 9:30 p.m.], which has been steadily building audience. Rogers will attempt to give them some trouble with the 9 p.m. sitcom battle [How I Met Your Mother at 9 p.m. and 2 Broke Girls at 9:30 p.m.] and another hour for the males at 10 p.m. with The Playboy Club being scheduled against Hawaii 5-0 on Global and Castle on CTV.”

All in all, it looks like Monday night remains a strong 2011 bet for advertisers, Cummings affirms: “Monday night has something for everyone – reality, drama and comedy – and will continue to come in at a close second to Thursday night viewing. And it’s a really good night for staying in, so it all works.”

Tuesday night
The ref: Kim Dougherty, director of national broadcast investments, OMD

The main programming contenders on this night are returning hits The Biggest Loser and Glee, from Rogers and Global respectively, says Dougherty. In fact, she says, Rogers has a “pretty killer night” lined up overall, with The Biggest Loser in the 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. slot – now starring former tennis pro Anna Kournikova – and comedy double-header New Girl, starring Zooey Deschanel as a just-dumped singleton sharing an apartment with three men, and Fox’s comedy Raising Hope in the 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. slot, a second-season pickup about a single dad raising his daughter on his own.
She ranks Global TV equally strong with Glee, NCIS: LA and Parenthood, the drama-comedy Global picked up after a first-season run on Citytv, filling the prime-time grid in that order.

“I believe that both networks have both legs to stand on – I think it’s just going to be a split between the audiences. I don’t think [the scheduling] is going to be detrimental to The Biggest Loser or to Glee either because they have two different audiences. And with [female-targeted] New Girl and Raising Hope, those are two very different audiences against [male-targeted] NCIS: LA. With Parenthood against Body of Proof [on Citytv at 10 p.m.], you’re going to have women with families watching Parenthood, whereas [returning show] Body of Proof is more general.”

Not to leave CTV out in the cold, Dougherty says she likes new drama Unforgettable at 10 p.m., which stars Poppy Montgomery (Cold Case) as a new-recruit detective with a medical condition that causes her to remember everything, but is wary of its chances against returning show The Mentalist in the same timeslot on CTV Two, since the two shows are in the same genre (crime/police procedural) and are likely to share similar audiences.

“I really do like Poppy Montgomery,” she says. “Hopefully it will do okay – there are enough ratings in that timeslot of 10 p.m. to make it work.”

As for winners and losers of the night, she’s calling Glee the clear ratings winner, and The Protector on CTV Two at 9 p.m., yet another cop drama about a single mom played by Ally Walker (Profiler) balancing life as an LAPD homicide detective, the most likely to be sent home empty handed.

Wednesday night

The ref: Christina Laczka, group director, PHD

Wednesday night is unquestionably the most talked about night of the upfront season, with anticipation around Simon Cowell’s new reality singing competition, X Factor, generating tons of buzz, as well as a host of new sitcoms in the 8 p.m. slot.

Fresh comedies on Citytv include The Middle at 8 p.m., new to the net from ABC and starring Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond) as the harried mother of a Midwestern family of five, and Suburgatory at 8:30 p.m., about a New York City father who moves his daughter to the suburbs to give her a better life. Both shows go up against new CTV Two shows, Up All Night at 8 p.m., about a young couple struggling with having a baby, and Free Agents, a comedy about romantic antics in the workplace, at 8:30 p.m.

Over on Global TV, the only new show of the night is Harry’s Law at 9 p.m., starring Kathy Bates (Misery), which it brought over from Citytv for its second season. And CBC gets in the half-hour sitcom game with new shows Michael Tuesdays and Thursdays, about a man in therapy sessions, and factual current events program The Debaters at 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. respectively.

Good luck going up against CTV’s X Factor, though, says Laczka.

“It has been a long wait for X Factor,” she says. “We heard about the program a year ago, and it definitely has legs. I think everyone will be looking forward to seeing what the program has to offer and to see what Simon Cowell will bring to the table – a $5 million prize doesn’t hurt either!”

Although CTV looks dominant for the night overall, with X Factor leading into the Betty White-starrer Hot in Cleveland and then ratings pace horse CSI in the 10 p.m. slot, there could be a fierce reality battle for Canadian eyeballs at 8 p.m., she says, calling X Factor versus 23-season veteran Survivor the fight of the night.

Not standing much of a chance against the reality juggernauts are CTV Two’s Up All Night and Free Agents: “I don’t know how far the premise can go for either show,” she explains.

Overall, she says, Wednesday nights are looking to be a favourite for Heavyweight Ratings Champion of the Week.

“Looking at the winter and spring trends, Wednesdays should have the highest viewership. Both X Factor and Survivor are appointment television and should garner large audiences.”

Thursday night

The ref: Carol Cummings, director of television services, Media Experts

Thursday is a big ad night, which CTV has dominated with laughers, but a new push of drama could make things interesting, Cummings notes.

New programming includes the remade Charlie’s Angels on CTV at 7 p.m. and half-hour comedy Whitney at 8:30 p.m., which stars comedian Whitney Cummings in a fictionalized take on her own life in a common-law relationship, and X Factor results on CTV Two at 8 p.m.

Citytv’s sole new show is the J.J. Abrams-produced crime drama Person of Interest on Citytv at 9 p.m., which stars Michael Emerson (Lost) as a billionaire who develops a high-intelligence computer program that can predict crimes before they happen. Global has two new shows: sitcom How to be a Gentleman at 8:30 p.m., about an uptight magazine editor and his macho personal trainer, and crime drama Prime Suspect at 10 p.m., starring Maria Bello (ER) as a female cop.

But the night will remain CTV’s to lose, Cummings says. “The ability to air the X Factor results on CTV Two works so well for them, allowing them to keep their big hit, The Big Bang Theory, in simulcast. Whitney should do nicely in this Canadian-created scheduling window and hold through to Grey’s Anatomy.”

Nine o’clock will be the hottest timeslot of the night, she says, with Bones and Citytv’s Person of Interest looking to steal audience share away from the aging Grey’s Anatomy franchise. “But we really don’t think the competing networks have what it takes to affect the dominant performance of Grey’s just yet,” she adds.

The new show with the most potential is definitely Whitney – “sandwiched between two hits [Big Bang, Grey’s] combined with its superb writing means it’s assured success” – and the most likely to “get the axe” is either Charlie’s Angels or How to Be a Gentleman.

Prediction for the night’s success? Status quo, with both CTV and Rogers kicking in shows appealing to the sought-after younger demo.

Friday night

The ref: Bailey Wilson, manager, broadcast investments, J3/UM Canada

Friday is a tricky night for networks but they keep giving it the old college try with plenty of prime programming, Wilson says.

This year, Global TV invested heavily in rebuilding its Friday nights, filling the prime-time slate with all-new programming from 8 p.m. on. It kicks off the grid with new drama A Gifted Man directed by Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs), which follows a materialistic doctor who begins to receive advice from his dead ex-wife, changing his life for the better.

It’s followed on Global by new sitcoms I Hate My Teenage Daughter, starring Jaime Pressly (My Name is Earl) as a single mom who endures the trials of raising a teen with her best friend, and Happily Divorced at 8:30 p.m., starring Fran Drescher (The Nanny) who finds out her husband of 18 years is gay, but continues to live with him.

At 10 p.m., Global adds Ringer, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), who steals her dead sister’s identity after witnessing a crime.

CTV’s only new show of the night is the supernatural crime drama Grimm, at 8 p.m., in which a police officer believes he is destined to keep humanity safe from real-life fairy-tale creatures.

Despite Global’s shiny new slate, the night is likely to belong to CTV, Wilson says.

“CTV has dominated Friday nights with its dramas and I expect that trend to continue this fall,” she says. “CTV has the tried-and-tested pairing of viewer favourites CSI: NY and Blue Bloods – my personal favourite – both remaining in simulcast with CBS, and the introduction of Grimm at 8 p.m. in pre-release from NBC where it airs at 9 p.m.

Friday nights have proven a bit of a struggle for Global and airing two of its new shows [I Hate My Teenage Daughter and Ringer] in post-release won’t help.”

The only major battleground for the night will be the hot 8 p.m. slot, which sees CTV’s Grimm going up against Global’s A Gifted Man, she says. A Gifted Man stands a strong chance, she says, explaining that while Grimm looks interesting in premise, its supernatural premise may be too quirky for mainstream prime time.

“My guess is that viewers will try A Gifted Man at 8 p.m. and then move to CTV at 9 p.m. for their staples CSI: NY and Blue Bloods.”

The night’s weakest fighter? I Hate My Teenage Daughter: “The pilot had a few funny moments, but I can’t see viewers connecting with yet another comedy, and with a less-than-stellar spot coming out of a drama, combined with a two-day post release [against the U.S.], the odds are definitely against this one.”

Saturday night

The ref: Todd Paterson, investment director, Starcom

Saturday nights are a simple affair, says Paterson – put hockey on the air and Canadians are pretty much happy to watch it.

With that in mind, CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada remains in its ratings-dominant 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. slot, making the other networks scramble with alternative programming formats to try to gain the non-hockey-fan audience share, or the second set of eyeballs in a two-TV household, Paterson says.

Hockey Night in Canada will continue to dominate, so it makes logical sense for competing stations to schedule a movie or Canadian content as an alternative.”

That being said, the nets are giving Saturday a shot with a good selection of new shows, including new reality singing competition The Sing Off on CTV at 8 p.m., and new reality show Dessault Inc. on Citytv at 8:30 p.m., which follows Canadian fashion designer Jason Dussault and his parter Mashiah Vaughn as they struggle to run their business and maintain a family life.

Global’s new addition is Canadian reality series Recipes to Riches at 8 p.m., in which contestants battle to have their recipe chosen to be the next President’s Choice product.

Since the race is pretty much for second place for the night, Paterson is calling The Sing Off as the show with the best chance.
“CTV’s The Sing Off is a nice family alternative and reminds me more of a Glee-style program and should garner some viewing,” he says.

Sunday night

The ref: Michael Neale, VP, group account director, MediaCom

With Canadians tucked safe and sound in their living rooms, Sunday nights are competitive territory. Or rather, competitive for nets that aren’t CTV, Neale says.

“Sunday is CTV,” he says, adding that it historically has almost half of the overall audience share for the night. “The schedule CTV has on Sunday is designed to build momentum and improve as the evening wears on and the audiences grow.”

New shows on CTV for Sunday night include family-friendly fantasy Once Upon a Time at 7 p.m., a “fairy tale set in modern times” about a regular girl who discovers she’s a lost princess, and Pan Am, a glossy new drama about flight attendants in the 1960s, at 10 p.m.

New to CBC is reality show Cover Me Canada, a singing competition, while Citytv topped up its Sunday night sked with Last Man Standing at 7 p.m., starring Tim Allen (Home Improvement) as the marketing director of a male-oriented sports store who lives in a female-dominated household. The net also added a Canadian reality show about a Chinese food restaurant, called The Quon Dynasty at 7:30, which will switch to another Canadian reality show, Extraordinary Canadians, mid-season in November.

Finally, Global polished off its Sunday night animation schedule with Allen Gregory at 8:30 p.m., an animated comedy (in line, demo-wise, with The Simpsons at 8 p.m. and Family Guy at 9 p.m.) about a home-schooled seven-year-old who suddenly has to make the grade in public school.

Neale is not holding out much hope for Once Upon a Time, but notes that it may be okay in its early time slot – going up against CBC’s Heartland as its main competition, demo-wise – which only accounts for 8% of the night’s audience. The real competition begins at 8 p.m., he says, with The Amazing Race on CTV followed by Desperate Housewives, both of which are ratings powerhouses.

“The real stroke of genius – although it wasn’t totally in CTV’s hands – is that this lead-in gives Pan Am its best chance to ‘take off,’” he says (pun intended). “The audience from Desperate is an ideal one and tune-in will not drop off as much with this strategy.”

Key battles for the nights will be (appropriately) Battle of the Blades on CBC at 8 p.m. vs. CTV’s The Amazing Race at the same time, and CBC’s Cover Me Canada vs. Desperate Housewives on CTV at 9 p.m.

“CBC has a real winner with Blades and I think this fall it will grow further – this is a country built on ice rinks after all. It is ideal family viewing and The Amazing Race has its work cut out to win this one.”

Looking not-so-hot for the night is Citytv’s schedule, which may be affected by an NFL lockout, Neale says. “Obviously Citytv’s NFL coverage [will have problems] if there is a lockout and that, in turn, makes me suspicious of the strength of Last Man Standing. And sorry, but Citytv again with a reality show about a Chinese restaurant, The Quon Dynasty? Sunday night is very weak on City and they know that and schedule accordingly.”

For more analysis on Fall TV, check out Media in Canada‘s research section.

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