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Networks not writing off Friday

– You wouldn’t know to look at last Friday night’s prime-time schedule – ABC premiered new seasons of the reality show “Shark Tank” (8 p.m.) and newsmagazines “What Would You Do?” (9 p.m.) and “20/20” (10 p.m.) – but the broadcast networks continue to work to reclaim Friday night for scripted programs.

Of the 13 Friday-night time slots across five networks this fall, nine will be given over to scripted shows, up from eight last year (in 2008 just six Friday-night shows were scripted).

Most of the scripted shows airing on Friday are returning series that already have a following.

CBS never gave up on Friday as a destination for scripted shows. “CSI: NY” (8 p.m.) and “Blue Bloods” (10 p.m.) return with new episodes Sept. 28, and they’ll be joined by a new light legal drama, “Made in Jersey.”

NBC had success with “Grimm” on Fridays last season, and it returns to Fridays at 9 with new episodes Sept. 28. Also that night, Fox premieres the final season of “Fringe” (9 p.m. Sept. 28), and it’s joined next month by the returning Kiefer Sutherland drama “Touch” (8 p.m. Oct. 26). The CW has used scripted dramas on Friday for a number of seasons and will again program “Nikita” at 9 p.m. beginning Oct. 19.

Even ABC will add scripted comedies “Last Man Standing” (8 p.m.) and newcomer “Malibu Country” (8:30 p.m.) on Nov. 2.

Why are networks no longer treating Friday like a dumping ground? Simple: They learned from what happened to Saturday.

“When you write off Saturday, and Sunday for us is football for two-thirds of the season, if you write off Friday, you’re looking at four days (to program in prime time), which is not much to play with,” NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt said at an NBC party during July’s Television Critics Association summer media tour.

“I grew up when Saturday was a great night for TV, the CBS lineup with ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show.’ I get why that’s not the case anymore, but Friday should not be written off.”

For Fox, giving up on Friday would be even more limiting because Fox programs just two hours in prime time weeknights.

“I don’t want to give away a night there are millions of people watching television,” Fox Entertainment Chairman Kevin Reilly said. “I think the DVR has been a real help because people can pick up shows they like whether they watch TV on Friday or not. That certainly has been the case with ‘Fringe.’

“We let Saturday nights slip away slowly over the years as an industry,” Reilly continued. “I think we created a self-fulfilling prophecy for what used to be the biggest night of television and still is in many parts of the world. In the U.K., (Saturday) is still the biggest night of television. So I know for Fox and other networks, we didn’t want that to happen to Friday nights. It’s very valuable real estate, and I’m glad to see people throw in.”

ABC Entertainment Group President Paul Lee sees the addition of comedy to Friday’s ABC schedule in November as an effort to hark back to ABC’s “TGIF” lineup that was popularized in the 1980s.

“I’ve always had a glint in my eye to bring family comedy back to Friday,” he said. “The audience is there for it – the older and younger audience is both there – and we have a storied history on Friday.”

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