In today’s TV, “following NBC’s lead” is not a compliment, but while I’m sure ABC had considered this before, they have become the second network to expand a comedy block into the 10 o’clock hour. Like NBC, the network’s new dramas have mostly died, leaving gaping holes in the schedule, but they don’t want to risk launching a new night of comedy in the middle of the season. (As I’ve said, networks have been caught flat-footed by the recent decline in drama, and the increased demand for comedy; they eliminated most of their comedy nights years ago, and they can’t just bring them back right away.) So they’ve decided to take their only comedy night and expand it. It’s likely a stop-gap solution until next season, when both NBC and ABC will probably have to at least consider finding another night to air half-hour comedies, but desperate solutions are common at this point in the season.
There are two moves that demonstrate why ABC is a smarter network than NBC. One is their use of the best time slot on the network, 9:30 after Modern Family. Instead of moving Cougar Town out of the slot, they’re benching it for a while so they can show another single-camera comeback for a Friends alumnus, Mr. Sunshine. (I thought the pilot was pretty boring, but so was Cougar Town‘s and that’s become a pretty good show.) Cougar Town fans will be annoyed that it’s being pulled, but it would be far worse if the network were to move it to another time slot — at this point it’s still essentially a time-slot hit, and another slot might kill it. At least this way ABC makes it much easier to put Cougar Town back at 9:30 if Mr. Sunshine either doesn’t work out, or if it works out well enough to be moved to another slot.
The other, more important smart move is not putting a new comedy at 10:30. NBC has Outsourced there, which will not only be a likely disaster for the show, but will open them up to the same complaints they got from affiliates over The Jay Leno Show: this thing is killing our 11 o’clock newscasts. ABC is putting Modern Family reruns at 10:30, which will appease the affiliates; it’s not as good as having a first-run hit show leading into 11 o’clock, but it’s much, much better than having a first-run flop. The reruns of the network’s biggest hit will stave off a Leno-style affiliate revolt. NBC might eventually have to do the same thing with Office reruns if Outsourced performs very poorly at 10:30.
As to what I’d like to see these networks do when they rejigger their schedule next season, to me the obvious thing would be to schedule separate nights of single-camera and multi-camera comedy, perhaps a two-hour block of single-camera and a one-hour multi-camera block somewhere else. This has its own risks, but networks have serious trouble making multi-camera and single-camera shows fit together in a block. A similar problem exists at Fox, which has constantly struggled when it came to putting live-action comedies in its animation block, and finally mostly gave up and declared Sundays to be animation night, blocking its live-action comedies somewhere else. I’m not at all sure that different types of comedy can’t work together — they used to — but I am sure that today’s networks are really bad at making them work together, so the answer may be to just give up and put different types of comedy on different nights.