January Promises Big Changes In Network Programming

Forget the fall: This TV season, January could be the new September.

The first month of the calendar year always brings a rush of new programs as webs replace failed frosh with fresh fare. But this season, January figures to be even more important than usual.

That’s because the network horse race is closer than it has been in years, at least in the all-important adults 18-49 demo.

CBS has shaken its old-fogey image to become the early leader in the demo derby, capitalizing on NBC’s stumble out of the gate and Fox’s perennial fall fumble. And ABC is an also-ran no more: The Alphabet’s early success means it’s unlikely the winner of the demo battle will be determined until the second half of the season.

“You have four networks in play now, and how they all position themselves in January is going to be very important,” says Fox scheduling guru Preston Beckman.

Indeed, one or two midseason moves in January could mean the difference between first or worst when the season ends in May.

That’s particularly true in the age of reality TV, when a show such as “The Apprentice” can come out of nowhere and change the dynamics of the game.

Here’s an early look at how each of the Big Four is faring, and how each net will likely approach midseason madness:

Expect a slew of changes to NBC’s sked come January — not to mention a ton of stunts — as the net looks to hold on to its crown.

“They’re going to do everything but sacrifice virgins on live TV in order to win,” one industry observer theorizes.

Peacock has already shaken up its Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday lineups, dumping drama “Hawaii” and putting new reality shows on Monday and Tuesday nights.

January will see the arrival of boxing reality skein “The Contender” and quite possibly the spooky mystery “Medium.”

The biggest wild card: “Law & Order: Trial by Jury,” the latest installment in the venerable franchise. But with two of the current three “L&O” skeins taking a ratings hit this fall, will viewers really want another hour?

The good news: Last week’s Red Sox-Yankees playoff games scored monster ratings, boosting Fox’s overall average and providing a great platform for the net to hype its new shows. Fox also has saved drama gun “24” for January, while a new toon from “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane could be key to luring young men back.

“We might be in fourth place going into January and still have the ability to get right up there by the end of the season,” Beckman says. “We haven’t even shot off any of our guns yet.”

It’s vital that “Idol” remains big, but some of the pressure will be taken off the reality hit if Fox has any sort of success with next week’s move of “The OC” to Thursday nights.

Net stepped into the big leagues more than a decade ago when it skedded “The Simpsons” on Thursday. If Fox can manage any sort of revival on Thursdays with “The OC,” it will go into the new year with a hefty dose of momentum.

Net has spent the past few Januarys trying to climb out of a Nielsen hole. This year, thanks to red-hot “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost,” Alphabet execs can actually use the new year to build on the success of the fall.

The entire article can be read here.

Credit: Josef Adalian/Variety/Yahoo