Analysis: U.S. Network Upfronts

World Screen recaps the network upfront announcements and looks at the big-picture trends in U.S. broadcast television.

Announcing record first-quarter financials this month, CBS Corporation touted an 18-percent hike in content licensing and distribution revenues as a significant contributing factor. Indeed, the media company’s chairman and CEO, Leslie Moonves, has been saying for years that “the back end is now more important than the front end.” With the potential for lucrative SVOD revenues and more and more slicing and dicing of rights amid challenges in the ad marketplace, content ownership is more important than ever, and that move towards vertical integration could be seen across the network announcements last week.

FOX, for example, revived Last Man Standing, the Tim Allen comedy produced by its sister studio and canned by ABC last year. Its other new pickups also all come from 20th Century Fox Television: the comedies The Cool Kids and Rel and the midseason dramas Proven Innocent and The Passage. FOX only has three pickups for the fall now that it is devoting Thursday nights to NFL football till early next year. “With our increased investment in football, we’re going to use the powerful platform of the NFL to launch our new comedies,” said Dana Walden and Gary Newman, chairmen and CEOs of Fox Television Group. “We’ll then take some big swings with dramas at midseason, which is a proven strategy for FOX.” In the fall, Mondays are devoted to the sophomore seasons of The Resident and 9-1-1. Tuesdays feature the all-new pairing of The Gifted, moved from Monday nights, and Lethal Weapon with new co-star Seann William Scott. The Wednesday lineup remains intact with the returning Empire and Star. Last Man Standing leads a Friday comedy block with The Cool Kids. Rel is being paired with the animated comedies The Simpsons, Bob’s Burgers and Family Guy on Sundays. Gotham and The Orville return for midseason.

NBC, meanwhile, picked up Universal Television’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which FOX had canned. In fact, almost all of the network’s pickups hail from Universal Television, save for Warner Bros. Television’s Manifest. (Universal Television did score an external pickup from CBS with the rebooted Magnum P.I.) The Voice will continue to lead off Monday nights, serving as a lead-in for Robert Zemeckis’s Manifest. Tuesdays, too lead with The Voice, followed by the returning This Is Us and then the freshman medical drama New Amsterdam. Wednesdays are devoted to Dick Wolf’s franchise with Chicago Med, Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D. Comedy is the focus on Thursday with Superstore, The Good Place, Will & Grace and newcomer I Feel Bad, leading into Law & Order: SVU on a new night, in a new timeslot. Fridays will feature Blindspot and Midnight, Texas. Midseason will see the rollout of The Enemy Within, The InBetween, The Village and Abby’s, plus Brooklyn Nine-Nine and the return of The Blacklist, A.P. Bio and Good Girls. Robert Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment, commented, “We have a very strong fall schedule, as always, but winter, spring and summer are every bit as important to us, and this year we’re putting our talent and our money where our mouth is. This schedule builds on the type of programming that makes NBC number one year after year: bold, humanistic, compelling dramas; an unmatched collection of the highest-quality unscripted shows for the entire family; and one of the strongest comedy lineups on television that is unique to the legacy of the NBC brand.”

CBS had a smattering of external pickups, among them the aforementioned Magnum P.I. and Warner Bros.’s Murphy Brown, God Friended Me and midseason replacement The Red Line. Its new comedies The Neighborhood, Happy Together and Fam (for midseason) and dramas FBI and The Code (for midseason), meanwhile, are from CBS Television Studios. The Neighborhood and Happy Together on Mondays serve as the lead-in to the new Magnum P.I., with Bull capping off the prime-time lineup in a new slot. Tuesdays are anchored by NCIS and NCIS: New Orleans, with the brand-new FBI from Dick Wolf in between. No changes for Wednesdays as Survivor leads into returning dramas SEAL Team and Criminal Minds. Like NBC, CBS has retained its Thursday comedy block, with The Big Bang Theory, Young Sheldon and Mom serving as lead-ins for the Murphy Brown reboot. S.W.A.T. holds the 10 p.m. slot. Fridays are intact with MacGyver, Hawaii Five-0 and Blue Bloods. God Friended Me opens Sundays and will be followed by the returning NCIS: Los Angeles and Madam Secretary. Instinct, Man with a Plan, Elementary and Life in Pieces will be back in midseason. “We’ve maintained stability across winning nights while adding some important new pieces to our Monday night lineup,” said Kelly Kahl, president of CBS Entertainment. “And, next year, we’re positioned to build on this success with the addition of these exciting new shows and prime-time events.”

ABC’s new lineup features a number of productions from its sister studio, among them the midseason replacements The Fix and Grand Hotel and the fall comedy The Kids Are Alright, as well as ABC Studios and Kapital Entertainment’s A Million Little Things, the distribution rights for which are with CBS Studios International. The network also opted for Entertainment One’s The Rookie, 20th Century Fox’s Single Parents, Warner Bros.’s Whiskey Cavalier and Sony Pictures Television’s Schooled. The Monday schedule is unchanged with the successful pairing of Dancing with the Stars and The Good Doctor. Roseanne will serve as the lead in for The Kids Are Alright, followed by black-ish, Splitting Up Together and The Rookie. Wednesdays also have a two-hour comedy block with The Goldbergs, American Housewife, Modern Family and Single Parents, leading into A Million Little Things. Shonda Rhimes—now housed at Netflix—has three returning shows in the fall on Thursdays with Grey’s Anatomy, Station 19 and How To Get Away with Murder. For the People is back for season two midseason. The new Friday schedule pairs Fresh Off the Boat and Speechless, leading into the alternative series Child Support and then 20/20. Sundays have been given up to unscripted fare with Dancing with the Stars: Juniors, Shark Tank and The Alec Baldwin Show. “We enter the new season bolstered by success and the stability that it affords us,” said Channing Dungey, president of ABC Entertainment. “These shows, with their compelling characters and aspirational storytelling, will keep our momentum going.”

At The CW, Warner Bros. owns a fair share of the grid, with the balance hailing from CBS Corporation, with which it shares ownership of the network. The service is expanding to a six-night schedule this fall with the addition of Sundays, which pair the returning Supergirl with CBS Studios’ brand-new Charmed reboot. Mondays see the return of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, followed by Arrow, while two other Warner Bros. DC Comics-based shows, The Flash and Black Lightning, air Tuesdays. Riverdale returns on Wednesdays leading into Warner Bros.’s new All American. Supernatural is back on Thursdays, to be followed by Warner Bros.’s Legacies, which is set in the world of The Vampire Diaries and The Originals. Dynasty and the final season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend air Fridays. New for midseason are CBS Studios’ In the Dark and Warner Bros.’s Roswell, New Mexico. Midseason will also feature the return of The 100, iZombie and Jane the Virgin. “We are thriving, innovating, and now we’re expanding,” said Mark Pedowitz, the president of The CW. “Starting in October, we will have 12 hours of original scripted series on our schedule—more than any other broadcast network besides CBS. The CW is bigger, and better than ever before, with more quality content and more ways for advertisers to connect with our valuable young audience, on every platform.”