Fall schedules heavy on reality

May 21, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Veteran television writers, show runners and the major Hollywood studios thought they dodged bullets when the writers strike was averted earlier this month. Some of their greatest fears could still be justified, however, with the six major broadcast networks committing to launch almost double the number of non-scripted alternative/game show series in prime time next fall.
Starting in September, the broadcast networks have slated 16 non-scripted alternative/game shows series representing 17 hours of the prime-time schedule, or roughly 10 percent of the networks’ total prime schedule. That compares with 10 alternative/game show formats premiering last October (representing nine hours total), with ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and double runs of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” accounting for six weekly exposures of that total.
At last week’s upfront presentations in New York, the broadcast networks announced a surprising total of three new alternative reality series and 14 returning concepts to premiere in September. Perhaps most alarming is The WB’s decision to open Sunday evening with “Lost in the USA” and to have its “Popstars 2” and “Elimidate Deluxe” open Thursday evening.
CBS, which had been correctly predicted to again plant “Survivor III” in the 8 p.m. Thursday slot, surprised advertisers by slotting newcomer “The Amazing Race” for a 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. Wednesday berth. ABC’s well-received “The Mole” returns to lead off in the 8 p.m. Friday hour.
“Undoubtedly, the alternative/reality genre is now being looked at as something that kicks off an evening or simply helps to be a lead-in springboard for scripted series,” said Steve Wohl, head of alternative/reality series packaging at International Creative Management. “It is nice to think that `reality’ is not a dirty word anymore at the networks.”
Far from being taboo, alternative/game show series are now sprinkled through six of the seven nights of fall 2001 prime-time schedules (excluding Tuesday evenings). Seven new independent suppliers, including Stone Stanley Entertainment (“The Mole 2,” “Popstars 2”) Telepictures Productions (“Elimidate Deluxe”) and Bunim-Murray Productions (“Lost in the USA,” co-produced with Artists Television Group), are making appearances on the producers’ scorecards.
On Thursday night alone, five different reality/game series (representing four hours) will face off: CBS’s “Survivor III” and The WB’s “Popstars 2” and “Elimidate Deluxe” in the 8 p.m. hour; and Fox’s “Temptation Island II” and ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” at 9 p.m.
Not all the major Hollywood studios are being aced out by non-scripted series. Perhaps one of the biggest surprises among the alternative series to make the fall cut was CBS’s “The Amazing Race” (at 9 p.m. Wednesday), a competition series co-produced by a traditional studio, Disney’s Touchstone Television, along with Bruckheimer Films and CBS Productions.
Touchstone, ranked fifth among the top network series suppliers, is also entered in a midseason co-production with Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s Pearl Street Productions on “The Runner,” which is slated for ABC’s 9 p.m. Monday hour in January. 20th Century Fox Television again holds the crown for the most network series orders (see chart) for a third consecutive season, counting 24 shows set for prime time (eight new and 16 returning series). Coming in second for the third year was Warner Bros. Television, with 14 shows making the networks’ schedules (six new, eight returning series). Disney’s Touchstone moved up from fifth to third place with 13 total series (eight new and five returning), increasing by four shows over its count for the start of the 2000-01 season.
For the first time in its history, 20th Century Fox accomplished the feat of clearing series orders with all six of the broadcast networks. Among corporate parent companies, Viacom’s Paramount- and CBS-owned production units (including Big Ticket Television, Spelling Television and Viacom Productions) led all conglomerates with a total of 34 series (representing 29 hours) filling the network schedules. Fox Entertainment Group’s holdings in a half-dozen different production units had it scoring 31 series and 22.5 hours of programming for next season.
Individually, CBS Productions was the fourth-largest TV supplier, adding five new series to total 13 series. Paramount Network Television ranked fifth with 11 series (five new, six returning) representing eight hours of programming. NBC Studios ranked sixth with nine series (four new, five returning) to represent seven hours of the Peacock Network’s schedule.
CBS, through in-house production and its sister Viacom studios, led all networks in holding ownership stakes (see chart, page 22) in 17.5 hours of programming accounting for 80 percent of its schedule-a 32 percent jump from its 48 percent position last season. Fox had ownership stakes in 11 hours of programming (73 percent of its schedule) just above its production and co-production positions from this season.
Similarly, the financial stakes remained even from this season for NBC, The WB and UPN-with all three controlling about one-third of their prime-time lineups. However, at ABC, with the reduction of “Millionaire” from four to two nights and increased orders from outside suppliers, the Disney-owned network is estimated to have reduced its financial stake in series by 18 percent to 45 percent for next season.
Despite its merger earlier this year, AOL Time Warner’s studio holdings largely maintained the same production output as last season, ranking fourth among the conglomerates with 17 total shows and 13.5 hours placed on the networks’ schedules.
Most notable among the studios dropping down the list was Michael Ovitz’s Artists Television Group, which dropped from five series this season to two for next season.