Global did very little tinkering to its prime-time lineup for this fall, choosing instead to leave its Monday-to-Thursday schedule more or less intact, but opting to radically revamp Friday night with a 50/50 mix of new comedies and dramas.
At a glitzy presentation to ad buyers in Toronto on Tuesday, Barbara Williams, senior vice-president of content at Shaw Media-owned Global, said "one of the great delights of our schedule was that we had so few holes to fill.
"We went to L.A. to find the 'It' show, and I think we secured that," Williams said, referring to her acquisition of the buzzed-about drama Prime Suspect, from director Peter Berg ( Hancock, The Kingdom).
"Friday's an opportunity. It's a place to play a little, to try new things. To see if you can keep Friday night an important night of TV, because we want it to be."
Kicking off Friday at 8 p.m. is Jonathan Demme's one-hour drama A Gifted Man. It follows a surgeon ( Watchmen's Patrick Wilson) whose ex-wife counsels him from the afterlife. On its heels are two new sitcoms: I Hate My Teenage Daughter (Jaime Pressly and Katie Finneran are best friends struggling to raise teenage daughters), and Happily Divorced, starring Fran Drescher.
The comedies lead into Sarah Michelle Gellar's comeback drama, The Ringer, which Williams is banking will attract the Buffy the Vampire Slayer demo of females aged 26 to 54. (In Ringers, Gellar plays a woman who takes over her estranged twin's identity in order to avoid jail).
"Comedy was one of the big stories down in Los Angeles [at the network upfronts]" adds Williams. "We've always been in comedy at Global. And we've bought more for that lineup: Napoleon Dynamite, coming midseason, and Allan Gregory kicking off this fall. And a personal favourite is [another midseason add-on] Are You There Vodka, It's Me Chelsea." The latter is inspired by talk-show host Chelsea Handler's best-selling memoir, and starring Laura Prepon from That '70s Show.
Advertising buyer Sunni Boot agrees "there's a return to comedy" in the network's prime-time slates. "With comedy there's more opportunity to get a hit, and I think the viewing mood is lifting up. There also seems to be a trend afoot to go back to the tried and true, with much-talked-about remakes like the hit British crime drama, Prime Suspect."
The North American version of Prime Suspect, which landed the coveted 10 p.m. Thursday time slot, features Mario Bello ( A History of Violence) as a butt-kicking New York cop. "She's a wonderful character who we think will really resonate with our viewers."
The only addition to Tuesday nights is the third season of NBC's Parenthood, coming over from CITY-TV, in simulcast at 10 p.m. Global also picked up the second season of NBC's Harry's Law, with criminal-defence lawyer Kathy Bates, for Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. The other new sitcom is How to Be a Gentleman, starring David Hornsby as an etiquette columnist, on Thursday at 8:30 p.m.
In total, Global added 10 shows to its 2011-2012 fall schedule. And Dennis Dinga, vice-president of broadcast investments at Universal McCann Canada, said Global's strategy of mixing laughers with thriller procedurals will keep Global a solid number two in the ratings chase, behind industry leader CTV. "I think Thursday will be an improvement for them, with the other days of the week a wash, if you compare one year to the next. But Global has a pretty solid schedule, enough to likely steal one more top-10 or top-20 TV show spot."
Earlier this week, Rogers Media-owned CITY-TV unveiled a beefed-up programming slate that took direct aim at cross-town rival CTV. The two players also announced they will duke it out in all-news networks, with CITY-TV announcing it will launch a new specialty CityNews Channel to compete with CTV owner Bell Media's CP24. Not to be outdone, Bell Media retaliated Monday by saying it will rebrand its A Channel stations as CTV Two, to go after CITY-TV.
Given the fast-changing playing field, Boot noted yesterday that it's an "extremely exciting, interesting" time in TV land, with CBC also making steady gains on its private-sector rivals.
Still, Dinga doesn't see a "landslide of eyeballs suddenly going away from CTV" to Global or CITY-TV. CTV will retain the number one spot, he predicted, with Global number two, and the public broadcaster and CITY-TV jostling for positions three and four.
Yesterday, Global also unveiled a beefed-up Canadian production slate of 15 scripted dramas, currently in production, or about to air. The list includes this fall's reality show Recipe to Riches, which will run Saturday at 8 p.m. Canadian-made drama Rookie Blue is coming back this summer, along with the new Combat Hospital. Both are simulcast on Global and ABC.
It will also debut The Firm (with NBC) midseason 2012. Based on John Grisham's best-selling novel, the 22-episode series, to be shot in Toronto, will debut in tandem on Global and NBC.