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NBC’s Reilly Comes Courting Ads Early

Mar 20, 2006  •  Post A Comment

NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly, courting advertisers disappointed by the network’s fourth-place ratings, made sure he outdid his rivals in providing a first glimpse of next season’s slate.

Where Fox had a quiet meeting with advertisers that was closed to the press, Mr. Reilly took to a stage last week at the three-story casino set of NBC’s “Las Vegas.” Where ABC held a Q&A session, Mr. Reilly announced NBC was picking up abduction thriller “Kidnapped,” the type of announcement normally not made until May. Where The CW showed clips of established shows, Mr. Reilly handed out DVDs with pilots of “Kidnapped” and crime drama “The Black Donnellys,” which the network ordered in January for the fall.

Mr. Reilly explained that the network’s accelerated pitch to advertisers is a way to get a jump on marketing and production. It also signals how seriously Mr. Reilly is taking his predicament of trying to revive a network that is just beginning to show signs of life with programs including “My Name Is Earl” and “The Office.”

Mr. Reilly took the right approach in giving ad sales executives so much so early, said Peter Tortorici, president of media buying agency Group M Entertainment and a former CBS top executive. “Having been up in front of the room, and now sitting in the back of the room, you have to play your position,” Mr. Tortorici said. “They needed to make a statement, and they did a terrific job in accomplishing that.”

Standing on the “Las Vegas” stage, the largest TV set in use, Mr. Reilly turned to gambling metaphors to explain his plan to build on the ratings success of “Medium” and “Deal or No Deal.”

“The network is making the right bets,” Mr. Reilly said.

Mr. Reilly’s wager on “Earl” and “The Office” has paid off so far. Both shows have improved NBC’s Thursday night, with “Earl” taking the title of highest-rated comedy on broadcast among 18- to 49-year-olds, according to Nielsen Media Research. The programs haven’t attracted enough viewers to lift the network’s season ranking, however, as ABC leads season to date through March 12 in the demo with a 4.2, with CBS and Fox tied for second place at 3.9. NBC remains in fourth with a 3.4.

The network also showed clips of two midseason offerings: drama “Heist” and the six-episode comedy “Teachers,” which Mr. Reilly said he would “love to bring back and incubate like ‘The Office.'”

One ad buyer’s initial review of NBC’s features was positive.

“They have planted some good ideas for development,” said Shari Ann Brill, VP and director of programming for Carat USA.

NBC also promoted its reality-heavy summer, which includes debuts of “Treasure Hunters” and “America’s Got Talent,” the return of “Last Comic Standing” and the premiere of a week-long telenovela, “Body of Desire.”

NBC’s presentation included appearances by “Donnellys” pilot director Paul Haggis and his co-creator, Bobby Moresco, as well as “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” drama pilot creators Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme and a cast that features former “Friends” star Matthew Perry.

Ad sellers are glad to have an early look at Mr. Reilly’s picks, said Lisa Quan, VP and associate director of broadcast research for Magna Global.

“It’s nice to get a taste of programs before May,” she said. “They give you a little bit more of their direction.”

The CW Network Wednesday made its first presentation to advertisers at Warner Bros.’ Burbank, Calif., lot, where it emphasized its focus on adults 18 to 34.

“The CW has the advantage of launching from a position of strength,” said Dawn Ostroff, president of entertainment for The CW, after being introduced by Warner Bros. Chairman and CEO Barry Meyer and CBS Corp. President and CEO Leslie Moonves. “We are not starting from scratch,” she said.

The CW didn’t announce any official renewals for fall.

“They didn’t give you a real target they were going for besides a young audience,” Ms. Quan said, noting that no specifics were offered about targeting male or female viewers. “We’ll have to wait for that. Hopefully they will be more sure of themselves in May.”

Fox Entertainment President Peter Liguori last week said he will debut new shows in August next season, continuing the network’s strategy of getting in six or seven original episodes of a series before postseason baseball pre-empts entertainment programming in October.

Fox will continue to roll out new shows in two waves, with a second set of debuts timed for January with help from the most-watched show on television, “American Idol,” and drama “24.”

ABC’s pre-upfront event last week at the network’s Prospect lot in Los Feliz, Calif., featured a Q&A with ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson and Geri Wang, senior VP of prime-time sales, who agreed that the network needs to build on its successes.

CBS will hold a pre-upfront event Thursday in New York.