Fox, ABC pump family into upfront

Mar 25, 2002  •  Post A Comment

It was a tale of two worlds during Fox’s and ABC’s informal pre-upfront meetings with advertising executives in New York last week. The one common thread was the family theme, with Fox building on its “edgy” brand, while ABC is desperately seeking hits and a return to “Roseanne”-type shows that have a decided “point of view.”
Gail Berman, president of Fox Entertainment, told advertisers that Fox is still looking for edgy and smart dramas-but something a bit more inclusive of young female viewers.
Some ad agency executives said they were impressed with Fox’s lineup of drama pilots, particularly “Buffy” creator Joss Whedon’s sci-fi project “Firefly,” the TV spinoff of “Witches of Eastwick,” David E. Kelley’s “Girls Club” and “Septuplets.”
“What struck me is that Fox said they know who they are as a brand, which is young, hip and edgy, but they also said they wanted some lighter dramedies that reach young woman,” said Stacey Lynn Koerner, senior VP of broadcast research at Initiative Media North America.
Fox Television Sales President Jon Nesvig said ad buyers expressed keen interest in “Eastwick,” which picks up the story with the three sons-now 15 years old-born to the witches from the original movie, and Mr. Kelley’s “Girls Club,” featuring three 20-ish women who work as attorneys and live together in a San Francisco loft.
Because “Ally McBeal” and “Dark Angel” are experiencing young-demo slippage and “The X-Files” ends its series run in May, Ms. Berman is faced with filling up to three hours in Fox’s 15-hour prime-time schedule.
Fox brought to buyers a laundry list of 13 pilots in consideration for next fall, including such family-oriented fare as “The Pitts,” “The Grubbs” and “Jerry’s Kids.”
Meanwhile, ABC’s recently installed Entertainment President Susan Lyne told buyers that the struggling network would be returning to its roots with “smart” family sitcoms-those in the vein of “Roseanne,” “Home Improvement” and “Grace Under Fire.”
Above all, though, in ABC’s picking up 29 scripted pilots (16 dramas, 13 sitcoms), agency sources said Ms. Lyne emphasized ABC would be focusing on the creative process behind scripted series.
“I’d have to say I was impressed with Susan’s ease of presence and grasp of the creative process, which came as a pleasant departure from the bean counters and business affairs types who’ve been running the place in recent years,” said a New York-based network buyer who requested anonymity. The buyer also found it notable that Lloyd Braun, chairman of the ABC Television Entertainment Group, was not in attendance as he had been at previous pre-upfront meetings.
Although it is estimated that up to 90 percent of ABC’s series pickups come from Disney-owned sister studio Touchstone Television, buyers were high on the 20th Century Fox Television drama “Astronauts,” the Brad Grey Television comedy “Dexter Prep” and MGM’s TV adaptation of “Legally Blonde.” ABC also made the last-minute pickup of the Carsey-Werner-Mandabach comedy “The Mayor of Oyster Bay” from executive producers David Israel and Jim O’Doherty.
Touchstone comedies also getting notice are “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Daughter,” “Sun Gods,” “The Funkhausers” and the untitled Bonnie Hunt project. Among the Touchstone dramas generating interest are the Larry Gelbart (co-creator of the “M*A*S*H” series) project, now titled “Rosebud, My Ass,” which revolves around a global media baron and his family intrigues; and Rod Lurie’s “D.C.” (with DreamWorks), which centers on a first-year congressional staffer on Capitol Hill.