Nets’ Best Face Forward

May 19, 2003  •  Post A Comment

The six broadcast networks made good on their promises that their fall schedules would be full of scripted programming and not overloaded with reality shows when they presented their schedules to advertisers at upfront presentations in New York last week.
Only six hours of reality television a week are on the networks’ collective fall schedules and all are proven commodities. CBS has Survivor, NBC has Fear Factor, ABC has The Bachelor and Extreme Makeover and Fox has Joe Millionaire and American Juniors.
However, promises are made to be broken. Advertisers are still leery that networks will pull the old “bait and switch,” rapidly replacing planned scripted programming with more reality if ratings tank for the scripted shows.
The fall schedules include a lot more diversity than has been seen in the recent past, perhaps because of the success of shows such as ABC’s My Wife and Kids and Fox’s Bernie Mac. Nine new series on the fall schedules feature predominantly minority casts.
NBC has Whoopi (and picked up Tracy Morgan Show for midseason); Fox added two shows with Hispanic casts, Luis and The Ortegas; The WB is counting on variety show Steve Harvey’s Big Time and sitcoms Like Family and All About the Andersons; and UPN will air sitcoms The Opposite Sex, All of Us and Rock Me Baby (in which one of the three leads is African American).
Unlike years past when a network would clump minority-led shows together in one programming block, the networks have sprinkled these shows throughout their schedules.
A network-by-network look at the upfronts follows:
The facts: Four new sitcoms, three new dramas, one new hour of a newsmagazine. Changes on every night of the week. The Practice and Dragnet, redubbed L.A. Dragnet, will both return.
The themes: ABC has stopped its ratings free fall and has a foundation of sophomore shows to rebuild on. Sitcoms are the key tool to rebuild with. “ABC has found its comedic voice,” ABC Entertainment Chairman Lloyd Braun declared. ABC is embracing the idea of being America’s Broadcasting Co. by scheduling shows with the broadest appeal.
The fixes: ABC is bringing back the TGIF sitcom block from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays. The network is challenging NBC’s and CBS’s Thursday lineups with new drama Threat Matrix (Touchstone/Industry) and a reality wheel at 9 p.m., which kicks off with Extreme Makeover. Midseason, Stephen King’s Kingdom Hospital (Sony Pictures TV) gets the unenviable task of taking on CSI and Will & Grace. “This is where we make good on our promise not to cede Thursday night,” Ms. Lyne said.
Let’s go to the Videotape: In a cleverly manipulated bit of video, the network responded to complaints that sophomore series Alias is too confusing and hard for new viewers to follow. The tape introduced into an Alias scene a new CIA agent–none other than a more-bumbling-than-ever Lt. Columbo, who told cast members Michael Eisner sent him to figure out what was going on in the show.
“Reality” is taboo: “From now on they’ll simply be referred to as `shit,”’ said Jimmy Kimmel, host of late-night’s Jimmy Kimmel Live.
… And the truth hurts: “Let’s be honest,” Mr. Kimmel said. “We probably aren’t ever going to be No. 1.”
That wasn’t a joke: Ms. Lyne’s announcement that ABC would air four hours of Bachelorette Trista Rehn’s wedding to Ryan Sutter got more laughs than clips of the new Friday night sitcom Back to Kansas.
Say what? Thursday night’s 9 p.m. reality wheel will enable ABC to have its reality cake and eat it too. The time slot will include shows that “fit our brand and have demonstrated appeal in the past,” Ms. Lyne said. Which means Extreme Makeover and Celebrity Mole are in, while Are You Hot? and All American Girl are out, leading observers to conclude that ABC’s brand is “shows that do well in the Nielsen ratings” vs. “shows that tank.”
Mickey is that you?: The screams heard from the back of Radio City Music Hall weren’t in response to clips of new ABC programming–a mouse ran across the feet of several audience members.
Etc.: The Rod Lurie drama Lines of Fire (formerly “Lines of Duty”) has a 13-episode commitment but didn’t make the fall schedule because there wasn’t room left for it in 10 p.m. time slots when The Practice renewal came through, Ms. Lyne said. It is slated for midseason. … The next “Bachelor” will be Bob Guiney, one of the suitors Ms. Rehn rejected. … Touchstone drama Partners did not make the fall schedule, but Mr. Braun said it is still under consideration for midseason, along with one other drama. Two sitcoms that didn’t make it to fall are also under consideration for midseason. Midseason announcements won’t be made for at least another month, Mr. Braun said. … Drew Carey also is expected to be back next season, but not in the fall, Mr. Braun said.
The show must go on and on: Two hours
The facts: More changes than usual. Two new sitcoms, five new dramas. Hack and Still Standing will return. The Agency will not. Thursday nights return intact.
Themes: We’re America’s most-watched network–and our demo numbers are closer to NBC than you think. Stability of schedule and quality shows. On other networks, advertisers bought scripted shows last year and ended up with “cheap reality shows.” At “CBS, this is where you get what you paid for,” said CBS Chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves over and over and over again.
The fixes: Strengthened Wednesday and Friday nights by moving proven series to anchor both nights. King of Queens moves from Mondays to launch a new comedy block on Wednesday night at 9 p.m., leading into new sitcom The Stones. JAG gives up its Tuesday time slot to its spinoff Navy CIS and returns to Fridays, where it will fill the 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. slot between two new dramas, Joan of Arcadia and The Handler.
Taunts: The cast of the Tony-winning Broadway musical sang the CBS version of All That Jazz called All Those Ads, with such gems as “Every year the Peacock does the same old dance / The Zucker Rag / while NBC eats horse’s ass.”
Let’s Go to the Videotape: At the presentation, Mr. Moonves starred in his own series, CSI: CEO, where he played a corpse. The CSI team was able to successfully identify him as a network executive only after noticing that the corpse had “money coming out of his ass,” Ray Romano’s phone number in his pocket, a “human heart the size of a grain of sand” and “a huge set of brass balls.”
I’m sorry, isn’t this The WB’s upfront? Amber Tamblyn, the teenage star of new drama Joan of Arcadia got more laughs than Kevin James’ stand-up routine when she said she was glad her show was on CBS because it’s her favorite network, the one she always has her TV set turned to. “That’s the first time I’ve ever heard a teenager say that,” said Mr. Moonves. “Even my own daughter wouldn’t [say that].”
Etc.: The eighth edition of Survivor will be an all-star version including former champions and popular Survivors such as Jerri Manthey and Susan Hawk. Prize money has been upped to $2 million for this edition … “that is, if Mel lets me,” Mr. Moonves quipped. … Becker did not make the fall schedule but CBS is in talks with producer Paramount about bringing it back, possibly at midseason.
The show must go on and on: Forty-five minutes passed before CBS Entertainment President Nancy Tellem even walked onto the stage to present the fall schedule with Mr. Moonves. Lucky for CBS the average age of the audience was much less than that of a CBS viewer–at 2 hours and 35 minutes, they would have needed to schedule a bathroom break.
The facts: After a failed fall and smash-hit reality programming, the network presents three new dramas, four new sitcoms. Saturday nights return intact.
Themes: We are No. 1 in adults 18 to 34 and teens by far. And we’re giving NBC a run for its money for No. 1 in adults 18 to 49. We have a balanced schedule of comedies, dramas and reality, and our reality shows have upscale audiences.
The fixes: Aggressively counterprogrammed Thursday night with two dramas targeting 12- to 34-year-olds that are meant
to appeal to female audiences: Tru Calling and The O.C. “This is not throwaway Thursday,” said Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman. Made over Friday night by adding a comedy block leading into Boston Public.
Coolest technological trick: Current American Idol finalists Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken and the final two from the first edition, Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini, kicked off the show with a rendition of Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. The catch? Ruben and Clay were live via satellite from the House of Blues in Los Angeles while Kelly and Justin were live on the stage at City Center in New York. They didn’t miss a beat.
Reality check: Will only have two hours of reality programming on the fall schedule and will continue to use it to boost scripted programming. The second Joe Millionaire will air on Monday nights at 8 p.m. leading into new drama Skin while American Juniors which got a second-edition pickup before the first one has even aired–will lead into 24 on Tuesdays and keep the time slot warm for American Idol in January.
Share and share alike: Fox gave some time slots more than one show. In January, Joe Millionaire’s time slot will be turned over to Wonderfalls. Midseason drama Still Life is targeted toward a Thursday time slot, Ms. Berman said. One Thursday show, The O.C., will start its run in July or August, leaving fewer episodes for the regular season. Fox could also order up to 30 episodes of The O.C. for next season, reminiscent of when the network gave 35-episode orders to Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place.
Applause-o-meter: The O.C. and Still Life tied for loudest response after showing their clips.
That’s all folks: Sales chief Jon Nesvig summed up Fox’s presentation best when he said, “For the first time we don’t have a show on the schedule where you’ll say, `What the hell are they thinking?”’
Etc.: Other midseason pickups include sitcom Cracking Up and the reality series Banzai. … Fox expects to have American Idol around for years to come, but is still negotiating with acerbic judge Simon Cowell to come back for the third edition in January.
The show must go on and on and on: After two hours, the antsy audience started streaming out before Kelly Clarkson returned to sing her hit A Moment Like This.
The facts: Three new comedies, three new dramas. Wednesday and Saturday return intact. Bubble shows Boomtown, Ed and Good Morning, Miami all return.
The themes: We’re No. 1 in every daypart, and you’re not. And our viewers are rich too! NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker hammered home the fact that NBC has shows that attract more upscale audiences than any other network. “Quality shows that reach a quality audience.”
The fixes: NBC called on star power to fix its once-dominant Tuesday night. Whoopi Goldberg, John Larroquette and Christine Baranski kick off the first hour of the night with sitcoms Whoopi and Happy Family. NBC also moved Law & Order: SVU from Fridays to shore up the 10 p.m. hour. “We believe that SVU heading into its fifth season against dramas about to end their runs was the right call,” Mr. Zucker said. “It’s the strongest drama we could move.”
In its never-ending quest to find a successor to Friends, NBC will add the new sitcom Coupling to its Thursday lineup at 9:30 p.m.
Let’s go to the videotape: In case you were wondering, Mr. Zucker answered the age-old question–boxers or briefs? In a video showing how he made “the most difficult deal of my career” to bring Friends back, Mr. Zucker wanders through the halls of NBC in his tighty-whities while reminiscing about all the good times he had with the Friends.
Best guest appearance by a former network entertainment president: In the same video, Mr. Zucker checks out a meeting for “Network Presidents Who Lost Their No. 1 Show Anonymous.” Running the meeting was none other than Warren Littlefield, ranting about Jerry Seinfeld’s refusal to do another year of Seinfeld despite the network’s offering a truckload of money for him to stay.
The taunts: Jay Leno took center stage to take his best shots at the competition, describing ABC as “now behind Al Jazeera in the ratings,” and warned advertisers to be wary of any claims CBS makes about its improving in the 18 to 49 demographic–CBS’s demo is persons born between 1918 and 1949.
If you say so: NBC picked up its highest-rated yet critically maligned freshman sitcom Good Morning, Miami and gave it a Tuesday berth. “This is a funny show,” Mr. Zucker insisted.
Etc.: ER was picked up for two more seasons, keeping it on the network through the 2005-06 season. …
Crossing Jordan was renewed, but won’t appear until January because star Jill Hennessy is pregnant. … Sitcom The Tracy Morgan Show (Carsey-Werner-Mandabach/NBC Studios/SNL Studios) was also given a pickup for a late fall or winter launch. … NBC didn’t pick up Heather Locklear’s pilot Once Around the Park (NBC Studios/Touchstone), but don’t count her out just yet. Ms. Locklear still has a development deal with the network, and NBC execs were mulling the idea of creating a show starring Ms. Locklear as a single mom that could be ready in time for midseason. … Network execs were also high on two sitcom pilots that didn’t get picked up–Come to Papa (Warner Bros./NBC Studios) and Stuck in the Middle With You (NBC Studios), which tested high among focus groups. Both still have a shot at a midseason pickup.
The show must go on and on: Two hours and five minutes
The facts: The network’s first year under the CBS wing was a disappointment. It returns with four new sitcoms, one new drama. Thursdays and Fridays return intact.
Themes: We finally have a brand. We have A-list talent. We have better program flow across the nights. The network is targeting 18- to 34-year-olds with unconventional, adventurous, fun programming.
The fixes: Moved the network’s highest-rated sitcom, One on One, to Tuesdays at 8 p.m. to launch a new two-hour comedy block in an attempt to carry over audience from Monday night to Tuesday night. Added drama Jake 2.0 to Wednesday nights as a compatible companion to Enterprise, which is getting a slight makeover with the addition of some new young recruits and the promise to be more action-packed.
Words you never thought you would hear come out of Leslie Moonves’ mouth: “Her new show is going to be off the hizzle,” Mr. Moonves said after he was introduced by hip-hop artist Eve, who stars in a new UPN sitcom called The Opposite Sex.
Let’s Go to the Videotape: When UPN struck a deal with World Wrestling Entertainment to sell ad time in Smackdown! UPN sales guru Mike Mandelker used it as an opportunity to visit WWE wrestlers before a show and get tips on head locks and body slams. Much high jinks ensued.
Yes, you heard me: All Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff had to do to get a laugh was say the title of the network’s new Tuesday 9:30 p.m. sitcom The Mullets. But that’s to be expected for a show described as “Think Dumb and Dumber but even dumber” and “The Mullets is the smartest stupid show on TV.”
Etc.: Midseason drama Platinum will not return. UPN executives were happy with the show creatively but, “The ratings just didn’t hold up,” Mr. Moonves said. Ms. Ostroff said not bringing back Platinum was the hardest decision the network had to make. … UPN has plans to air a second reality show this summer in addition to America’s Top Model.
The show must go on and on: Clocking in at 1 hour and 5 minutes, UPN had the most time-efficient upfront.
The WB
The facts: Two new dramas, three new sitcoms, one new variety show. Monday returns intact. Bubble shows Angel, What I Like About You and JKX: Jamie Kennedy Experiment are back.
The themes: “We know who we are. We know what you expect from us,” WB President and Chief Operating Officer Jed Petrick told the audience of advertisers and WB affiliates. The WB is the place to go to reach younger viewers. And one more time: Stability and quality, scripted programming are the hallmarks of The WB.
The fixes: The WB will replace retiring Dawson’s Creek
with Tuesday’s rock-solid Smallville, followed by Angel. which gets a new cast member in James Marsters, who will reprise his role as the vampire Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The network is counterprogramming Thursday night with a combo of variety and reality (Steve Harvey’s Big Time and JKX) and sitcoms (What I Like About You and Run of the House).
Best stall tactic: WB Entertainment President Jordan Levin who was left out in the cold when Smallville actor Michael Rosenbaum was late for his cue. Mr. Levin showed a picture of his family and did a fine impersonation of Michael Rosenbaum. “This is not my fault,” Mr. Rosenbaum said upon his way-late arrival. “I was doing an E! interview, which will probably never air.”
Let’s go to the videotape: Instead of boring the audience with slide after slide of ratings statistics, WB stars, including Mr. Rosenbaum, Amanda Bynes, Reba McEntire, Rose McGowan, Lauren Graham and Stephen Collins, touted their own shows’ ratings as they each introduced a different night of the schedule.
Did someone say synergy? This year all six new shows are produced by studios in the Warner Bros. family–a fact WB execs knew wouldn’t go unnoticed, Mr. Levin said. He said they considered putting a show from another studio on the schedule “so we wouldn’t spook the town.” However, “I think this was the best schedule,” he said.
Helping hand: While The WB moved Reba to 8 p.m. Friday to indicate a shift to broader-appeal sitcoms that night, it is also hoping the post-access time slot will prove the show is compatible with hits such as Friends, Will & Grace and Everybody Loves Raymond in syndication, in turn driving up the price of the off-network run for producer 20th Century Fox Television. “We want to prove there’s a backend value to comedies on The WB,” Mr. Levin said.
Etc.: Easy View Sunday repeats are back with new series Fearless at 5 p.m. and Everwood at 6 p.m. The Beginnings franchise also continues with Smallville repeats from season one and two at 7 p.m. … Midseason pickups include sitcoms The Mayor (Happy Madison/Sony) and The Help (Original Productions/Warner Bros.), reality show Make My Day (Monkey Television UK/Brad Grey Television) and dramas Gilmore Girls spinoff (Warner Bros.) and One Tree Hill (Tollin/Robbins/Warner Bros.). … Second editions of High School Reunion and Surreal Life are also on deck for midseason. … Drama pilot Other People’s Business (Sony) is being redeveloped for next year and sitcom Sixteen to Life (20th/ACME) is under consideration for midseason.
The show must go on and on: One hour and 50 minutes