BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- The final pieces of the Tuesday night comedy competition puzzle fall into place this week with the season premieres of ABC's "Happy Endings" (9 p.m. Tuesday, WTAE) and "Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23" (9:30 p.m.).
The battle will be joined as three networks -- ABC, Fox and NBC -- program comedies targeting young adult viewers in the same hour.
Last month, NBC's slightly broader appeal "Go On" and "The New Normal" debuted to pretty decent ratings while Fox's comedies -- "New Girl" and "The Mindy Project" -- struggled on their premiere night. But in the weeks since, have viewing patterns been set? Is there room for ABC's established shows, which, while not ratings hits, certainly generate online buzz?
ABC Entertainment president Paul Lee said the delayed launch for "Happy" and "Don't Trust the B" was purposeful.
"It gives us a chance to stand out from the pack and promote them and put some marketing resources behind them and really have a launch," he said in July during the Television Critics Association summer press tour.
"Don't Trust the B" creator/executive producer Nahnatchka Khan seemed unconcerned about any rivalries.
"I think it's great, I honestly do," she said of the show's new time slot. "So many people I know DVR shows anyway or watch them the next day on Hulu. I don't really think a lot of young people watch TV like that anyway."
And while that's becoming increasingly true, networks get more Nielsen ratings credit when their shows are watched live than on a delayed basis. But at least these two shows fit together well.
Last season, the shows shared a time slot. "Happy Endings" aired most of the 2011-12 TV season after "Modern Family" on Wednesdays until "Don't Trust the B" took over the time slot in April. Neither show paired well with the much broader appeal "Modern Family." But slotted next to one another the series make more programming sense for anyone who does still watch TV live.
"Happy Endings" executive producer Jonathan Groff acknowledged being "worried about everything" in regards to the competition because "nobody wants to be the DVR show -- you want to get the ratings for that night." But Mr. Groff expressed confidence in ABC's approach.
Story-wise, "Happy Endings" will begin its season with the show's original couple -- Dave (Zachary Knighton) and Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) -- dating again.
"We know we'll be back together but in what capacity or for how long it will go for, we don't really know," Ms. Cuthbert said during an ABC party in July before production on the new season began. "I heard if it doesn't work or make sense we'll go back to how we were because everyone was fine with us not being together but maybe something really magical comes out of us being together. ... We'll see. We don't even know."
Penny (Casey Wilson) will date somewhat successfully, and Max (Adam Pally) will have issues with that. And in a subtle way Dave will have to look at how he feels about Penny dating someone, Mr. Groff said.
Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.) begins the season unemployed and Jane (Eliza Coupe) may move into a work environment that better suits her alpha male personality.
Because it premiered so late last season, there are six leftover episodes from the first season of "Don't Trust the B" that have yet to air. Ms. Khan said they'll be peppered into the new season in a way that doesn't mess with the continuity involving the story of James Van Der Beek (played by the real Mr. Van Der Beek) competing on "Dancing With the Stars."
The episode that had been planned as the first-season finale -- Chloe (Krysten Ritter) and June (Dreama Walker) go on a bender in the Hamptons -- will likely air in January.
"If we were meeting the girls in season one, it's having brunch with them in season two," Ms. Khan said. "There are more layers to peel from the onion that is Chloe."
She sees "incremental growth" for the character as a key to keeping her as abrasive as the show's title suggests.
"When she decides, OK, I can care about somebody I sleep with, for her that's a revelation whereas with a normal person, that's a matter of course," Ms. Khan said. "That's the kind of growth I'd like to see for her: Something that would come easy to normal people is a breakthrough for her."
In addition, June gets back to work in the financial sector, which is the original reason she moved to New York.
Mr. Van Der Beek said the Chloe and June characters anchor the show, which allows him "a really long leash to throw out into bizarre land as far as I can go.
"Actors in pop culture in general are ripe for being made fun of," he said. "What I liked about this show is these are not cynical people. The humor is biting but it's not snarky. Even Chloe, who is arguably amoral, is incredibly optimistic about how things are going to turn out. ... I love that we can do this edgy humor but keep it unpessimistic."
Mr. Van Der Beek joins a growing roster of actors who play versions of themselves on TV that also includes Larry David on HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and Matt LeBlanc on Showtime's "Episodes."
"I don't think we need a support group just yet," he said, laughing. "Maybe when the shows end we'll need a What Do We Do Now? support group."tvradio
Rob Owen writes this Sunday TV column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. First Published October 21, 2012 4:00 AM