May 16 Viewers may be laughing a lot less when
they turn on their televisions this fall, as the major U.S.
broadcasters are loading up their schedules with dramas in an
effort to lure some defecting viewers back from cable.
For the first time since 1985, CBS replaced the 9
p.m. Monday night slot that once aired the sitcom "Murphy Brown"
with an hour-long drama, "Scorpion," a show about brainiac
misfits who come to the aid of the Department of Homeland
NBC, a unit of Comcast Corp, is also chopping up
its storied two-hour comedy block on Thursday nights that was
once occupied by "The Cosby Show" and "Friends." Instead, it
will air the reality weight loss show "The Biggest Loser" at 8
Networks ordered 34 dramas to start the new TV season this
fall, compared with 30 a year ago, while they cut their comedy
orders down to 20 from 23 last year, according to a tally by the
Part of the reason why networks are loading up on dramas is
to resell them overseas, where American fare has become a hot
commodity. Overseas sales for a one-hour drama can fetch up to
$2 million an episode, said CBS' Chief Operating Officer Joe
Ianniello on Thursday.
"Dramas definitely sell well internationally. American
comedy is a little tougher," Ianniello said.
Networks are trying to replicate last year's best-rated new
show, NBC's "Blacklist," a one-hour drama starring James Spader
with spies and intrigue, that helped propel NBC to No. 1 in the
18-49 age group.
Plus, last season, high-profile comedies starring big names
were canceled, including NBC's "The Michael J. Fox show" plus
CBS' "The Crazy Ones" with Robin Williams.
NBC unveiled several new dramas, including "Allegiance", a
series about Russian spies, "Odyssey," which centers on a global
military conspiracy, and "State of Affairs" starring movie
actress Katherine Heigl as a CIA analyst.
Broadcast for years has been trying to emulate the drama
strategy with darker themes that has succeeded on cable with
AMC's "The Walking Dead." Both Fox's "Gracepoint" and ABC's
"Secrets and Lies" each open with the murder of a child.
"The general program concepts may not be new, solving
murders, stopping the bad guys, but the execution of those
concepts has gotten noticeably darker and more gruesome," said
Bernstein analyst Todd Juenger.
Dramas that have the potential to be hits this year are
Fox's "Gotham" about Batman's origins and Shonda Rhimes
"How to Get Away with Murder," on ABC starring Viola
Davis, according to Jason Maltby, director of national broadcast
TV at media buying firm MindShare.
Relying on dramas is not "any riskier than it has always
been. They are simply following current audience tastes," said
Jeff Gaspin, a former NBC Entertainment television chairman.
(Reporting by Liana B. Baker in New York; Editing by Ronald
Grover and Lisa Shumaker)