Networks' new schedule: comic books, comedy, diversity and more

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NEW YORK — Television's next big hit may have been revealed during last week's annual orgy of schedule presentations to advertisers by the biggest networks.

Or not. One certainty is that many of the new programs won't be around long enough to make an impression. It's possible to make educated guesses on which ones, but viewers will decide. The announcements, made to convince advertisers to buy commercial time in advance, offer insight into where the medium is going.

As always, Jimmy Kimmel reigned as the ultimate Truth Detector.


WHO'S NUMBER ONE?

Nothing illustrates the spirit of salesmanship quite like the use of statistics to claim superiority. CBS, NBC and ABC all assured advertisers that they were the No. 1 network.

CBS has the most validity, ending the seventh season in a row, and 12 of the last 13, as the nation's most-watched network. NBC's claim has one asterisk: It is No. 1 among viewers aged 18-to-49, the key demographic for ad sales.

ABC has two asterisks, with its president, Ben Sherwood, saying it is No. 1 in entertainment programming. He also means viewers aged 18-to-49 and excludes sports — stripping NBC's high-rated Sunday night football and its Super Bowl coverage from the calculation.

"Yesterday NBC told you they're the No. 1 network, and now here we are telling you we're the No. 1 network," Kimmel said at the ABC presentation. "Which means one of us is lying to you. And I'm here to tell you it's us."


COMICS

Being a hard-working doctor, lawyer or cowboy on TV somehow isn't good enough anymore. Prime-time TV is now cluttered with vampires, time travelers or others with special powers or facing unfathomable circumstances. They're the television equivalent of comic books. The tiny CW network has nearly filled its schedule with such shows, to some success.

Now even CBS in introducing "Supergirl" as a heroine.

NBC is reviving its supernatural favorite, "Heroes." Other new shows involve a group of people preparing for a deadly comet, a mysterious woman with no memory and covered in tattoos landing in Times Square, a former sheriff brought back to life with superpowers, a cranky guardian angel, a drug that confers super intelligence, horror queen sorority girls and a bored devil who moves to Los Angeles.

Credit the success of "The Walking Dead" and comic book movie franchises along with network efforts to do something, anything to get young people away from their devices.

"They all have median ages under 50, which might be why CBS wants in," said veteran television analyst Steve Sternberg.


DOCTOR IS IN

Medical shows are hot. CBS is introducing a frenetic emergency room drama, "Code Black," NBC has "Heartbreaker," about an outspoken heart transplant surgeon and Ken Jeong plays a grumpy doctor in a new comedy. Based on previews, the best of the bunch isn't on the fall schedule: producer Dick Wolf's extension of his Chicago franchise, "Chicago Med."


LAST LAUGHS

Every year brings fresh evidence of the decline of comedy at the broadcast networks. When "Supergirl" joins the schedule in late fall, it will be the first time since 1949 that CBS has not had a comedy on Monday night.

CBS will confine all of its comedies to Thursdays. NBC, which has really struggled to develop new comedies, has only two sitcoms this fall — and is scheduling them on Friday, often a TV graveyard. Old ideas are being resurrected, like the Muppets, NBC's remake of "Coach" and ABC basing a series on the movie "Uncle Buck."

ABC, with eight sitcoms on the fall schedule, is having the most comedy success. Fox is trying two sitcoms with stars that have aged beyond the network's traditional target audience — Rob Lowe and John Stamos — but both looked promising in highlights.


NEW WORD

At some point during the week, a television executive will invent a new word for a sales presentation. "Eventize" has been big lately. This year's nominee, from an ESPN executive: "dimensionalize."


DIVERSITY

One truism of television is that something successful will be relentlessly imitated. But the biggest surprise recently, Fox's "Empire," happened late in the season when networks were already preparing a new crop of programs. That's why there are no new dramas about backstage in the music industry on the new schedules.

But one facet of the "Empire" success that networks did have time to reflect upon is that show's minority cast, and there were noticeable efforts at boosting diversity.

NBC's ordered six new comedies for next season, but the only one to make the fall schedule, "People Are Talking," is about two couples, one black and one white, who are best friends and neighbors. Racial observations play a big role in the pilot. In another new NBC comedy where a man's parents move in with him, the older couple is interracial.

ABC is continuing a notable effort at diversity with Jeong's new sitcom and casting Mike Epps as the lead in "Uncle Buck." Indian film actress Priyanka Chopra stars in the new drama "Quantico."

"We are committed to diversity at every level of our organization," Kimmel said. "Except 'The Bachelor.' We're going to keep that one white."


WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?

NBC's hire of Neil Patrick Harris to host a comic variety hour is a bold programming move. So why is a potentially family-friendly program scheduled for 10 p.m. on a Tuesday night?


Associated Press Television Writer Lynn Elber in New York contributed to this report.

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