BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- If there's steam rising out of your DVR, it must be Tuesday night.
While there are always competitive time slots on TV -- 9 p.m. Sunday offers plenty of like-minded series when accounting for broadcast and cable quality dramas -- no time period is more fraught for broadcasters this fall than the 9 p.m. hour Tuesday.
A pileup of youth-skewing comedies vies for viewer attention on ABC, NBC and Fox. (CBS stays its course with the one-hour drama "NCIS: Los Angeles.")
NBC got off to an early start two weeks ago with the time period premieres of Matthew Perry's "Go On" at 9 p.m. and the gay dads comedy "The New Normal" at 9:30 p.m. So far, both "Go On" and "The New Normal" are holding their own in the ratings, although competition has been minimal. That changes tonight as Fox joins the fray with the return of "New Girl" (two episodes air at 8 and 9 p.m.) and the premiere of "The Mindy Project" at 9:30 p.m.
ABC, risking viewer habits getting established early, won't bring its youth-appeal comedies "Happy Endings" and "Don't Trust the B--- -- in Apartment 23" to the 9 p.m. hour until Oct. 23.
Programming chiefs for Fox and NBC called out 9 p.m. Tuesday as the most competitive time period this fall.
"Everyone has comedy there and really good comedy, including us," said NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt at an NBC party during July's Television Critics Association summer press tour.
After network schedules were announced in May, why didn't one network blink and pull out their comedies to avoid a possible ratings bloodbath?
"The schedule is such that it's a series of domino effects," Mr. Greenblatt said. "When you move a show here, it has ramifications where you can't move another show there. The Tuesday comedies at 9 and 9:30 are there for a reason. There's not really the same opportunity for them elsewhere. Just because there's competition I can't just move them. There's competition in every time period."
NBC's strategy is to use one of its higher-rated programs, "The Voice," as a lead-in to deliver viewers to the 9 p.m. comedies. ABC executives hope to do the same with the all-star edition of the "Dancing With the Stars" results show that leads into its comedies.
For Fox, building a four-comedy block from 8-10 p.m. Tuesday has been a longtime goal.
"It's a headache," acknowledged Fox Entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly of the comedy Bermuda triangle. "We have the incumbent hit in 'New Girl,' and I've seen the other pilots and I like our chances. The ABC shows were fairly modestly rated last year, so I don't think they're exactly a powerhouse and before they were on a protected night [airing after 'Modern Family'], so we'll see what they do on their own. They'll have 'Dancing With the Stars' as a lead-in, which is pretty good, but I actually don't think that's that compatible."
Mr. Reilly has been attempting to get Fox back into the live-action comedy game and build a successful comedy block since arriving at the network in 2007. His first step in that direction came with the 2009 debut of "Raising Hope," which will lead off Fox's Tuesday schedule beginning next week.
"It's hard," Mr. Reilly acknowledged. "First of all, I had a particular quality in mind. It started with 'Raising Hope,' and some of it is signaling to your audience and to your own executives to get the confidence that this is the kind of thing that can work. 'Raising Hope' started it, then 'New Girl' really hit the gas. So all of a sudden this year we have talent coming into Fox saying they wanted to be part of this night. We didn't have to convince anybody, and I think that's what will happen with the audience as well."
TV writer Rob Owen: 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. Attend a TV 101 PGU panel discussion of the TV business next week; details at http://old.post-gazette.com/PGU.