January 5, 2009 / 4:29 AM / 9 years ago

New Year brings TV time slot tussles

<p>Actress Olivia Williams, star of the TV series "Dollhouse," poses at the FOX television network's Eco Casino party in Los Angeles September 8, 2008.Fred Prouser</p>

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Soon new battles will wage in primetime: ABC's hit thriller "Lost" against Fox's new crime drama "Lie to Me" on Wednesday. NBC's comedy favorite "The Office" vs. Fox's reality hit "Hell's Kitchen" on Thursday.

And Fox's sci-fi drama "Dollhouse" competing with CBS' Canadian import "Flashpoint" on Friday, to name a few.

Below are some of the most intriguing new time-period face-offs on the midseason schedule, along with predictions on which show will emerge as more popular with viewers.

These are not the easy calls (you can probably figure out who will win the Wednesday duel between "American Idol" and "Knight Rider"), but the potential squeakers that could tilt the odds on a series' chance of survival and its networks' overall performance.

Some may wonder: In today's time-shifted, multi-channel universe, does it still matter if Drama A airs in the same time period as Reality Show B?

Yup -- arguably more than ever. Most viewers still watch TV shows live. But more importantly, with the ratings standard for what makes a hit broadcast series dropping, how well a show stacks up against competitors is often considered a fairer measurement of success than whether a show draws a huge audience.

BATTLEGROUND: MONDAYS: ABC'S "THE BACHELOR" AND "TRUE BEAUTY" VS. NBC'S "SUPERSTARS OF DANCE" AND "MOMMA'S BOYS"

Analysis: This battle begins Monday with a quartet of freshman reality premieres. CBS and Fox will slug it out for first and second place, while ABC and NBC will fight for third with these unscripted shows. "Bachelor" has ebbed in recent years, while "Superstars" brings the "American Idol" producers to NBC. At 10 p.m., "Beauty" -- about 10 attractive contestants tricked into believing they're being evaluated for their looks but who are actually being judged by their civility -- will go up against "Momma's Boys," which has had a modest December run.

Likely winner: ABC is favored in both slots.

BATTLEGROUND: TUESDAYS AT 8 P.M.: ABC'S "HOMELAND SECURITY USA" VS. NBC'S "BIGGEST LOSER"

Analysis: Curiosity online about "Homeland Security" is running high, but "Loser" is one of the few strong NBC primetime shows that's shown no signs of weakening.

Likely winner: "Loser." Remember, "Idol" will air in this time period, too. Being the third reality show in any slot is a tough draw (live viewing is more common for reality than scripted). One expects "Homeland" could eventually work better for the network in a less nerve-wracking slot, like Friday nights, the way the similarly formatted "Cops" has served Fox for years on Saturdays.

BATTLEGROUND: WEDNESDAYS AT 9 P.M.: ABC'S "LOST" VS. FOX'S "LIE TO ME" VS. CBS' "CRIMINAL MINDS"

Analysis: This is a three-way Mexican standoff. Fox's keystone new show against CBS' usual time-period winner -- both crime procedurals -- and then there's ABC's strongly rated "Lost" returning after airing on Thursdays during the writers strike last year. "Lie" has the "Idol" lead-in and boasts a fairly solid pilot, plus the dramas that best maintained an "Idol" lead-in have been the somewhat similar "Bones" and "House." ABC hasn't yet scheduled a lead-in for "Lost," but the show is considered a self-starter.

Likely winner: As a serialized show, "Lost" will drop at least 10%, yet will probably win among adults 18-49, a demographic coveted by advertisers. "Lie" could surprise thanks to "Idol." Either way, "Minds" remains a good bet to dominate total viewers. Also, Fox holds a trump card here: The network could swap "Lie" and 8 p.m.'s "American Idol" at any time to protect their new show.

BATTLEGROUND: THURSDAYS 8-10 P.M.: FOX'S "BONES" AND "HELL'S KITCHEN" VS. NBC COMEDIES

Analysis: With rivals airing their strongest shows Thursday night, Fox has been unable to get a consistent foothold on this advertiser-rich evening. Durable reality series "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" and "Don't Forget the Lyrics" serve as cannon fodder for hits like ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" and CBS' "Survivor."

Enter "Bones" and "Hell's Kitchen" -- two recent time-period winners Fox is shifting to TV's toughest night. The crime drama has been strong this season on Wednesdays, and the Gordon Ramsay cooking competition series has grown its numbers every year. Fox isn't expecting to win against the titans; it's attempting a coup to overthrow NBC's comedy block for third place.

Likely winner: Fox will establish a beachhead: "Bones" will move Fox out of fourth place at 8 p.m., besting NBC's early comedies (and, possibly, ABC's "Ugly Betty," too). "The Office" and "30 Rock" likely will maintain their edge at 9 p.m., though the race will be tight.

BATTLEGROUND: THURSDAYS AT 10 P.M.: CBS'S "HARPER'S ISLAND" VS. NBC'S "KINGS"

Analysis: Dueling question marks. CBS' new Agatha Christie-meets-"Scream" series against NBC's freshman neo-biblical courtesan drama? Normally the fresher idea has the edge, but what's great about these shows is there's nothing like either of them on TV. Still, there are concerns: CBS has struggled whenever it strays into experimental territory, and the "Kings" premise is difficult to describe.

Likely winner: Based purely on network momentum and its "CSI" lead-in: "Harper's."

BATTLEGROUND: FRIDAYS AT 9 P.M.: CBS' "FLASHPOINT" VS. FOX'S "DOLLHOUSE"

Analysis: Like comparing a Buick to a funnel cake. Here's CBS' modestly rated, yet seemingly nuclear-blast-proof Canadian import competing with Fox's fallen midseason angel. After trying "Moonlight" and "The Ex List" in this slot, Friday leader CBS hopes "Flashpoint" can finally fill this ratings pothole. With its other weekday slots occupied by more promising titles, Fox placed the softening sci-fi drama "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" and creatively overhauled freshman series "Dollhouse" onto the Friday wall in hopes they might stick.

Likely winner: In the short term, curiosity tune-in will probably push "Dollhouse" to top the adult demo, despite having a weaker lead-in. But "Flashpoint" is almost certain to win among total viewers and will probably dominate in the demo as the season progresses.

BATTLEGROUND: WEEKNIGHTS AT 10 P.M.: ABC'S NEW DRAMA LINEUP VS. EVERYBODY ELSE

Analysis: Monday through Thursday, every ABC 10 p.m. slot is going to change. There's "Castle" on Mondays, "Cupid" Tuesdays, "Life on Mars" (and, in April, "The Unusuals") moved to Wednesdays and "Private Practice" swapped to Thursdays. Many air against tough, battle-tested, colon-loving procedurals like "CSI: Miami," "CSI: NY" and "Law & Order: SVU." ABC would be pleased if just one of these titles stepped up and placed a strong second in the hour.

Likely winner: The buzz is mixed on new titles "Castle" and "Cupid," though the offbeat cop show "Unusuals" is gaining some industry fans. "Life on Mars" is considered a solid show and it could surprise after being paired with the oddly suitable "Lost." Everybody agrees moving "Practice" after "Grey's Anatomy" is smart, though few believe the show is creatively strong enough to turn around its ratings.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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