TCA Notes

Jul 23, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Clad in a bulletproof vest for his first summer appearance at TCA, NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker was unapologetic for NBC’s ongoing summer success with reality-based programming, despite critics charges that the network was ruining its reputation for quality TV.
“For a long time, it was you guys [TV critics] who wondered why NBC took [so] long to get to the [reality] party,” Mr. Zucker said. “Now that we’re here bearing gifts, you don’t like what we have?”
Mr. Zucker said NBC’s new travel-adventure series, “Lost,” will fill the 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. Wednesday time slot, effective Sept. 5, in place of “Ed” for a six-week run. Immediately following NBC’s fall 2001 presentation, NBC West Coast President Scott Sassa said the delayed start of “Ed” will “benefit” from the newfound promotional clout of NBC’s reality programming as well as that from “Lost.” The delayed start will also allow the network to carry more original episodes of the dramedy past the February sweeps period.
Mr. Zucker also said that the biggest issue for network television over the summer has been the poor performance of drama and comedy reruns. He warned that the nonrepeatability of dramas and comedies could lead to NBC re-evaluating what it pays for license fees. Mr. Sassa agreed, saying that the problem is not with the studios but with the networks, who must control costs better. He said one problem is that networks get seduced by former TV stars, paying them a lot of money to be in new series that don’t necessarily perform.
The critical buzz over Fox’s “24” raised myriad questions from critics over how committed the network is to a 24-episode drama, which will unfold, chronologically over an entire season, if the ratings don’t pan out.
While Fox has initially ordered 13 episodes of “24,” Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman said that “in success,” Fox will air all 24 consecutive original episodes of the drama starting Oct. 30. That would mean there would be few repeats through the May 2002 sweeps period.
“The show has been ordered for 13 episodes at present, and it will be viewed like any other show will be viewed-on a ratings basis,” Ms. Berman told the TV critics. “But I will also let you know that while there is a significant serialized part of the drama, there are also closed-ended stories in each of the episodes that you can look forward to.”
After the presentation, Ms. Berman privately revealed that Kiefer Sutherland’s CIA counterterrorist agent Jack Bauer could have a past “romantic flame” show up to disrupt his marriage as another self-contained story line in the show.
But the big question is what will happen to “24” once (and if) the series consummates the assassination plot at the end of next season. Depending on how the show performs with a serialized story arc, Ms. Berman said a new terrorist threat could be introduced for its second season, or it can be “molded” into new “self-contained, closed-ended” story lines for each episode.
UPN President and CEO Dean Valentine claimed the network is going to equal or surpass last year’s reported upfront take of $160 million. That bold prediction comes in light of broad economic declines, a soft advertising market and word from ad buyers that UPN’s ad take was only
$60 million as of last week. Mr. Valentine predicted “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Roswell” would combine to elevate the network’s take from the fourth-quarter and upfront ad markets during the 2001-02 season. He also predicted that UPN will beat The WB on four of five nights in such key demographics as adults 18 to 34 and 18 to 49 as well as total viewers when next season winds up.
Outside of making any specific estimate to back his upfront claim, Mr. Valentine said the network should have a bulk of sales completed by this week and should have a final dollar tally by then. “We are going to be up in total dollars compared to last year,” Mr. Valentine said, adding, “But we do expect our CPMs [cost-per-thousand rates] to be flat or minus 3 percent compared to the last upfront.”
Adam Ware, chief operating officer of UPN, also claimed that 25 percent of UPN’s ad sales are from “new business,” citing The Gap and Maybelline as first-time clients.
The WB
Jamie Kellner, chairman and CEO of Turner Broadcasting, said ‘ The WB is better off financially without “Buffy” in its lineup.
“This was not a good year to overspend on programming. The WB is in a great situation because we’re at a lower total cost than if we had renewed that one expensive show,” he said. “The network is right nip and tuck with profitability right now.”
He said that if ratings and the scatter market are good next year, the network will be profitable. While The WB took in $475 million in the upfront this year, up $50 million from last year, Mr. Kellner said NBC did a disservice to the industry by lowering its prices in the upfront so quickly and turning it into a buyer’s market.
“They [NBC] probably got themselves an extra $50 million to $100 million, but at the end of the day they dropped the whole market down,” he said.