TV Article

Upfront and Center

The inside word on next season’s TV -- Calista Flockhart returns, ''Grey's Anatomy'' switches nights and more

As if that Grey's Anatomy finale wasn't enough of a shocker. A day later, ABC announced at its upfront—the annual ritual in New York where networks reveal their fall schedules — that it will move the series opposite CSI on Thursdays. It was a gutsy move, one calculated to generate enormous amounts of coin (since movie studios and others often pay a premium for pre-weekend ad slots)...and venomous hate mail from fans who now have to choose between Gary Dourdan and Dr. McDreamy.

The news landed like a bombshell, and the aftershocks were most severe for NBC. The Peacock had hoped to use that 9 p.m. Thursday time slot to debut Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, a highly anticipated dramedy about a fictitious late-night variety show. But now it's likely that NBC will move its most expensive new show instead of pitting it against TV's top- and third-ranked dramas. (As for NBC's other program set behind the scenes on an SNL — style show — 30 Rock, starring Tina Fey and Tracy Morgan—that's scheduled for Wednesdays at 9:30, after the new John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor sitcom, 20 Good Years.)

ABC made some other eye-catching decisions. The Alphabet picked up several serialized dramas — like the Calista Flockhart family saga Brothers & Sisters and the 24-inspired Day Break with Taye Diggs — that will require a large time investment for fans showing signs of exhaustion over the ongoing story lines on Lost and Desperate Housewives. (Ratings for both have slid since January.) And while ABC said that Commander in Chief will not return this fall, sources say the network will bring back show creator Rod Lurie to write a two-hour film that could help relaunch the political drama next season.

But ABC's plans aren't foolproof: Grey's will likely take a hit by moving; networks typically anticipate a 10-15 percent drop in ratings whenever they move a show to a more competitive slot. But that's a small price to pay considering the bigger hurdles facing ABC. It plans to launch 12 new scripted series next season — more than any other network — because virtually none of its freshman shows worked this year. ''I think they had to do something that prompts people to look forward and not backward,'' says a rival. ''By moving Grey's, it really gets people talking about next season.'' And if that doesn't work, ABC can always resuscitate poor, lumberjackian Denny.

Originally posted May 19, 2006 Published in issue #878 May 26, 2006 Order article reprints