Nets Stick to Guns at TCA Press Tour

Jul 31, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Beyond the standard debuting show question-and-answer sessions and fall schedule announcements, the broadcast portion of the Television Critics Association Summer press tour in Pasadena, Calif., was a largely uneventful exercise.

Even with two new debuting networks, The CW and MyNetworkTV, broadcasters stuck to repeating much of what they said at the advertiser upfront presentations in New York in May.

NBC spent time explaining the details of its new Sunday night of NFL football telecasts in the fourth quarter, while ABC rolled out new evening news anchor Charlie Gibson. CBS introduced its newest high-profile employee, Katie Couric, who had to dodge questions about her wardrobe.

The biggest topic of conversation among the increasing number of critics blogging from TCA was the hundred-plus-degree California heat, which forced broadcasters to modify some of their outside events.

Network-by-network highlights of the presentations follow. Additional reporting from the press tour is available by clicking on Critical Eye: Broadcast Press Tour at TVWeek.com.

`Lost’ Will Be Found

Again in February

ABC will air “Lost” for six or seven episodes this fall, then give its Wednesday 9 p.m. (ET) time period over to debuting drama “Day Break” for 13 weeks before “Lost” returns in February.

If the network could run “Lost” for 22 consecutive weeks in the fall, “we probably would,” Entertainment President Steve McPherson said during the network’s executive session July 18. But he said the production schedule for the show makes that too difficult.

Waiting until midseason to debut “Lost,” as Fox does with “24,” “felt like it would be too long off the air.”

For the third season of “Desperate Housewives,” creator Marc Cherry will be more involved in the Sunday night series, which Mr. McPherson said “stumbled a bit” at the beginning of last year.

This season the scripts are “all going through Marc’s typewriter,” he said.

Mr. McPherson called this year’s Emmy nominations “remarkable” after “Lost,” last year’s best drama winner, was shut out in the category and Felicity Huffman, the 2005 winner for best comedy actress for “Housewives,” also failed to receive a nomination.

“There are some odd nominations,” he said.

CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler’s comments at her network’s TCA session, where she called her Thursday drama “CSI” an “underdog,” amused Mr. McPherson. ABC is moving powerhouse “Grey’s Anatomy” to Thursday against “CSI” this fall.

“I heard Nina was playing the rope-a-dope,” he said, calling her comments “kinda funny.”

CBS Likes Chances With `Underdog’ Drama `CSI’

CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler said she sees her Thursday drama “CSI” as an “underdog” this fall now that ABC is moving its medical series “Grey’s Anatomy” to that night from Sundays.

“We expect to be dinged a little bit by `Grey’s,”‘ Ms. Tassler said at her network executive session July 15. “It’s going to be very complicated,” but “two hit shows can be successful” in the same time period.

“CSI” will play up the relationship between lead characters Gil Grissom and Sara Sidle this season, but that character-based storyline has been building since the beginning of last season and is not a reaction to “Grey’s” moving to Thursdays, she said.

CBS is being “more aggressive” in development this summer, with actress Christine Taylor starring in a pilot directed and written by her husband Ben Stiller, and “Two and a Half Men” creator Chuck Lorre developing his comedy project “Big Bang Theory,” Ms. Tassler said.

After taking repeated questions about whether networks are alienating their audiences when they cancel serialized series and leave a small yet dedicated group of viewers hanging over the show’s resolution, Ms. Tassler noted people “watch a show because it’s good. You’re invested and you like it-that’s it.”

One critic asked Ms. Tassler about the failure of summer reality series “Tuesday Night Book Club.”

“It was an attempt to do something different,” Ms. Tassler said. “That’s what summer is about.”

Fox: Liguori Claims Dominance, Decries FCC

Fox “is pretty much the dominant network” and for 2006-07 “the whole goal is to improve fourth quarter,” Fox Broadcasting Entertainment President Peter Liguori said July 24 at the network’s press session.

As it did last season, the drama “Prison Break” will premiere in late August in order to get at least six episodes aired before the beginning of post-season baseball coverage.

Fox’s announcement in June that it was moving some of the playoff schedule to cable starting in fall 2007 was a “plan to present the best-rated games,” Mr. Liguori said.

While “Prison Break” clicked with viewers, some fellow serialized dramas don’t always start working right away.

It is a “legitimate question” to ask what networks have planned if a serialized show gets pulled from broadcast schedules early due to poor ratings, Mr. Liguori said.

It is “not an idea we think about going into the season,” Mr. Liguori said.

But it may be in the networks’ best interest to have contingencies in place, like offering some sort of conclusion online, or in future seasons “audiences will be gun shy about committing to these shows,” he said.

For Fox’s “Reunion,” a murder mystery that failed early last season, the network offered the drama’s creator the chance to end the series with some wrap-up, but “frankly, it was too daunting for him,” Mr. Liguori said.

While some network presidents at press tour downplayed the Federal Communications Commission’s recent moves to more aggressively fine inappropriate content, Mr. Liguori said, “The FCC rules create a chilling effect on creativity. None of our business plans are designed to take on such huge fines,” he said.

NBC: YouTube Helped to Revive `Watching’ on Net

NBC is developing the failed WB pilot “Nobody’s Watching” for a shot on its own schedule after “Watching” found an audience on the online video-sharing site YouTube.

“We’re continuing down the development path” with the project, NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly said at the network’s executive press tour session July 21.

The pilot’s creators, who initially developed the project for NBC’s sister production company NBC Universal Television Studio, are currently producing original online Web-only episodes starring the two “Watching” leads.

No one at the network had a role in getting the pilot put on YouTube, Mr. Reilly said. But now that NBC is in business with the site, it could be a model going forward for developing new on-air series, he said in his post-session reporter’s scrum.

“I could absolutely see a place where we are sending for a group of loyal viewers who have established themselves in the NBC online club, so to speak … where we are sending them our pilots and letting them weigh in before setting the network schedule, and I think that would be healthy.”

Mr. Reilly said the network “used a tremendous amount of restraint” in holding “Deal or No Deal” until the fall.

He added that Fox’s summer reality show “So You Think You Can Dance?” “would have been in far-distant second place” if it had competed against “Deal.”

Mr. Reilly gave no apologies for scheduling “Deal” several times as part of NBC’s Sept. 18 season premiere week, but said: “We would really like to avoid three times a week on a permanent basis.”

The CW: Boss Has Realistic Expectations

In The CW’s inaugural Television Critics Association press tour executive session July 17, the network’s Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff stuck close to the message she gave advertisers at the network upfront in May: A schedule of returning shows culled from The WB and UPN will play well in an environment where they are no longer competing against each other.

But the ratings for The CW won’t be a combination of the UPN and WB audiences.

“We will not suddenly reach new heights,” she said, stressin
g that The CW is “still realistic about expectations.”

With CW programming not premiering until Sept. 20, and the turnover for most stations not scheduled until Sept. 18, viewers are “going to see a combination of things” as the network unveils its lineup with staggered launch dates.

To fill the gaps, The CW is scheduling last season’s finales of selected shows that aired on UPN or The WB as a run-up for new season premieres.

The CW also plans to run a network premiere special during the week of Sept. 18.

At the TCA winter press tour in January, WB Chairman Garth Ancier said “7th Heaven” was forcing the network into a $16 million deficit to produce new episodes, but now with “Heaven” parent company CBS Corp. also one of the forces behind The CW, those financial differences were resolved.

Asked whether the comedy “Reba” made the transition from The WB to The CW because of episode commitments made years ago to “Reba” producer 20th Century Fox TV, Ms. Ostroff said the show “was the highest-rated comedy on The WB for five years.”

MyTV: Affiliates Support Telenovela-Only Lineup

Despite mention at its advertiser upfront presentation of programming outside the core genre, MyNetworkTV has developed only English-language telenovela-style programming for its first full season, Jack Abernethy, CEO of Fox Television Stations, said at MyTV’s inaugural press tour session July 21.

Affiliates signing up with MyTV are behind the telenovela concept, he said in the reporter’s scrum after the presentation.

“They know The WB and UPN did not succeed,” he said. “They had good people running them for 10 years, and each lost a ton of money for themselves. They have been very gracious.”

MyTV is doing a 30-city promotional tour leading up to the network’s launch that will feature MyTV talent to help affiliates sell the new programming slate, Mr. Abernethy said.

In terms of MyTV affiliates that carry local sports, “We’ll be working around those as best we can,” he said, noting that several Fox-owned MyTV stations have sports commitments.

While many national advertisers are taking a “wait and see” attitude with MyTV, Mr. Abernethy said, the network is “on target to meet our goal” to bring in $50 million in upfront sales.

“We believe our marketing offering is better than some of the others,” he added, noting that the name and the uniformity of the MyTV programming creates an economy of scale in selling the network.

There is no contingency if the telenovelas don’t work.

“When UPN cratered, we had a network plan in 30 days,” he said. “We could perhaps have a plan but we don’t anticipate not succeeding.”

PBS: Concern High Over Hike in Indecency Fines

The Federal Communications Commission’s increased scrutiny of broadcast content is “tremendously concerning,” PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger said at the public broadcaster’s press tour session July 26. She noted that the increased fines being levied are a big worry to public television stations.

“We as an industry are very concerned when you have stations whose operating budgets are just a few million dollars,” Ms. Kerger said in her first TCA appearance as the top executive of PBS. “The fines now can put stations out of business.”

PBS has filed an amicus brief in the appeal filed by public television station KCSM-TV in San Mateo, Calif., with the FCC, which fined the station $10,000 in March over the 2004 airing of the Martin Scorsese documentary “The Blues: Godfathers and Sons.”

A local viewer complained about the film’s use of profanity.

The FCC has created “a great deal of misunderstanding” about what is and is not acceptable, Ms. Kerger said. This makes life difficult for public TV station managers who create their own schedules of PBS-supplied content.

She called Corporation for Public Broadcasting Chair Pat Harrison a “tireless advocate” for public broadcasting. This is in marked contrast to the stormy relationship former PBS CEO Pat Mitchell had with Ms. Harrison’s predecessor, Kenneth Tomlinson, who was criticized for injecting partisan politics into the running of CPB.

Ms. Kerger also announced viewers can now buy selected PBS programming from the Web sites Google Video and Open Media Network. Series include “Antiques Roadshow” and “Nova,” plus the PBS Kids programming “Arthur” and “Cyberchase.”