Buyers looking for sure things

May 20, 2002  •  Post A Comment

The upfront is over and the post-mortem has begun.
Ad buyers have expressed concern about the large, wholesale scheduling changes on ABC, CBS and Fox being able to establish early viewer sampling, but in general, most felt that the networks’ programming choices were more loyal to each of their brand histories.
Ad buyers and station reps were most positive about The WB’s aggressive scheduling moves-including its 5 p.m.-to-7 p.m. (ET) Sunday afternoon expansion with repeats of dramas “Smallville” and “Everwood”-that could add a big spark to re-ignite the network’s pull with young viewers in prime time.
With NBC securing “Friends” for another season and UPN benefiting from new tentpoles in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Enterprise,” buyers think their largely unchanged prime-time lineups leave those two networks in good position for next season.
“Walking out of the six [broadcast] network presentations, I was thinking to myself that each of these networks had the right kind of focus and direction to make [next] season very competitive,” said Tom DeCabia, executive VP of national broadcast, PhD, New York. “What everybody presented looked like safe programming across all of the nights, which should be pleasing to advertisers, but it’s hard to venture to predict what will be breakout hits at this point.”
Some ad buyers were skeptical of ABC’s “horizontal” strategy, branding its 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. shows “Happy Hour”-largely because “My Wife and Kids,” “According to Jim” and “The George Lopez Show” are relatively new building blocks.
“Why the hell would anyone start an evening with a largely untried show in an era [of proliferating entertainment networks] when we can’t even remember where our favorite shows are?” one ad buyer asked.
ABC may also find it hard to regain traction next season for “Alias,” a 9 p.m. Sunday drama that had been building on its ratings during the first half of this season but has since been suffering-along with “The Practice”-because of the lack of a promotional base on the rest of ABC’s prime-time schedule. While the jury also appears to be out on whether ABC’s “Push, Nevada” could be a mold-breaking mystery/interactive treasure hunt, station reps such as Garnett Losak of Blair Television are still wondering how sandwiching it between “Dinotopia” and “PrimeTime Thursday” will fare against NBC’s and CBS’s juggernaut lineups.
However, Ms. Losak found that ABC’s scheduling of 8 p.m.-to-10 p.m. Tuesday comedies-“8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter,” “According to Jim,” “Life With Bonnie” and “Less Than Perfect”-could put the network in position to challenge NBC’s modestly rated Tuesday night comedy lineup.
“I really loved what I saw of `8 Simple Rules,’ the Bonnie Hunt show and `Less Than Perfect,’ and it could put ABC back in competitive position to take NBC,” said Ms. Losak. “`In-Laws’ looked OK, but `Hidden Hills’ just did not seem funny, so I think NBC could still be vulnerable on that night.”
Buyers and station reps were impressed with CBS’s strong star-driven dramas, but they were also concerned about the network’s relying too much on the crime-and-punishment genre. Nevertheless, buyers felt the two Jerry Bruckheimer series-“CSI” and “Without a Trace”-look like an “ideal match” in 9 p.m.-to-11 p.m. Thursday time slots, and 10 p.m. Monday spinoff drama “CSI: Miami” will further solidify the network’s strong overall position in households and key demos. But the closing two hours of Friday, with “Hack” and “RHD/LA,” seem a more problematic combination to many advertisers.
Counting those four new drama entries, Ms. Losak said CBS will have a total of nine “crime-and-punishment” shows on its prime-time lineup-even more than NBC, which is heavy with three “Law & Order” dramas, “Crossing Jordan” and “Boomtown.”
“The running joke coming out of the presentations is that CBS stands for the Crime Broadcasting System,” Ms. Losak said.
The key for Fox may be the sophomore performance of “24” and how “Firefly” and “John Doe” are received on Friday evenings. Some buyers and station reps, such as Katz Television Group’s Bill Carroll, still think that moving “Bernie Mac” to an earlier 8 p.m. start as a platform for “Cedric the Entertainer” puts Fox in a somewhat more challenging position against ABC’s “My Wife and Kids” and “George Lopez.”
There have also been lingering questions about Fox’s scheduling of its sexed up, super-charged “Fastlane” drama at 9 p.m. Wednesday against five other hour-long shows in the time period. In fact, sources close to Warner Bros. Television, series producer of “Fastlane,” had hoped for either 9 p.m. Tuesday or 9 p.m. Sunday slottings for the drama.
Of note, five of the six dramas scheduled at 9 p.m. Wednesdays-ABC’s “The Bachelor II” (from Telepictures), NBC’s “The West Wing” (Warner Bros.), The WB’s “Birds of Prey” (Warner Bros., Tollin-Robbins) and UPN’s “Twilight Zone” (New Line, Trilogy Entertainment)-come from AOL Time Warner-affiliated studios.
Of all the networks, buyers said The WB and UPN were particularly effective in putting together scheduling strategies to reach their core 12 to 34 demographic sets.
Advertisers and station reps appeared most enamored with The WB’s presentation and overall message, though. On a tonal basis, Mr. Carroll found that the father-and-son drama “Everwood” was a “perfect fit” as a 9 p.m. Monday lead-out from The WB’s top-rated “7th Heaven.” Also citing The WB’s success in launching “Smallville” out of the “lore” of DC Comics’ “Superman,” Mr. Carroll thought that the creation of the Batgirl-oriented “Birds of Prey” for 9 p.m. Wednesday (out of “Dawson’s Creek”) was a “logical extension” of the Batman franchise.
Additionally, Mr. Carroll and Mr. DeCabia were also taken with The WB’s comedy development, suggesting the Amanda Bynes-led “What I Like About You” could put The WB in a strong 8 p.m. starting position with female teens and young adults, while the quirky casting of Tim Curry in “Family Affair” on 8 p.m. Thursday is intended to go after teen and family viewers possibly not tuning in to “Friends” or CBS’s “Survivor.”#