With broadcast ratings sagging, networks revealed a series of calculated programming and scheduling risks for the fall season in their upfront presentations to advertisers in New York City last week.
Networks picked shows that pushed the creative envelope (but not too much) and tweaked schedules and episode orders to maintain series momentum (but not too much). The idea was to find ways to surprise ad buyers, to shake up expectations for television without straying too far from familiar templates.
On the programming side, this meant ordering unconventional series like CBS’s “Swingtown,” about spouse swapping, and ABC’s “Pushing Daisies,” which brings Tim Burton-esque surrealism to prime time.
“Creatively there was a bold approach to this development season,” said Zack Van Amburg, co-president of programming and production at Sony Pictures Television, which co-produces “Viva Laughlin,” a musical with a gambling backdrop, for CBS. “Networks historically say `bring us crazy things’ that ultimately don’t get on the schedule. There was a spirit of experimentation and boldness that was validated by some of the breakout shows this year like `Heroes’ and `Ugly Betty.”‘
No network embraced its wild side like CBS, which in addition to “Swingtown” and “Laughlin” ordered a procedural about vampires (“Moonlight”) and a reality show that flirts with comparisons to “Lord of the Flies” (“Kid Nation”).
At the same time, because so many networks were burned by failed attempts at serialized programming last year, executives stocked up on series with self-contained episodes (despite the fact that last season’s biggest breakout hit, “Heroes,” is so heavily serialized that each episode concludes with a cliffhanger and title card reading “To Be Continued.”)
For example, NBC’s “Heroes”-inspired “Bionic Woman” will fight evil one episode at a time, and the baker who can resurrect the dead in “Daisies” will set his crime-solving timer to ding at the end of every hour.
CBS already offers several self-contained procedurals. The network took advantage of the increased respect for episodic television by boasting that its shows draw viewers for originals-and for repeats. Reruns have become more difficult to sell and program at a time when technology such as online viewing and DVRs affords viewers little excuse for missing their favorite show.
“Reruns on our procedurals repeat very well,” CBS CEO Leslie Moonves said after a press briefing. He noted ABC’s serialized “Grey’s Anatomy” beats “CSI” in originals, but “CSI” performs better in repeats.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Networks also took chances with their scheduling, after several shows that took hiatuses this season dropped alarmingly upon their return to originals.
Several broadcasters embraced the established “24” model and plan to run series straight through next year without repeats. ABC’s “Lost,” CBS’ serialized midseason replacement “Swingtown,” Fox’s action drama “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” and The CW’s “One Tree Hill” all will run without breaks.
“It’s always better to take our precious creative gems and run them straight through,” said Peter Liguori, president of entertainment, Fox Broadcasting Co., during a conference call with reporters Thursday.
NBC took a new tactic: ordering “super-sized” seasons of “Heroes,” “The Office” and “My Name Is Earl” to run nearly uninterrupted seasons. Saying he asked producers to take “the bulk-up challenge,” NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly said the orders will help fill out the year “without a lot of repeats or long hiatus.”
In the case of “Heroes,” already a mammoth production, adding episodes meant hiring a second unit to write and produce a spinoff series called “Heroes: Origins.” The spinoff episodes are “considerably cheaper” to produce than the regular series, a source close to the deal said, and will be fairly self-contained compared with the original series.
While NBC and CBS made relatively modest changes to their schedules, ABC opted for a more drastic approach, adding nine new shows to its fall lineup and pushing keystone drama “Lost” to January.
With new programs on every weekday and an entirely new Wednesday lineup, ABC showed it’s determined to aim for a larger share of the television audience despite coming in first in adults 18-49 last fall.
In the drama genre, ABC is rolling out “Big Shots,” “Cashmere Mafia,” “Dirty Sexy Money,” “Eli Stone,” “Private Practice,” “Pushing Daisies” and “Women’s Murder Club.” The new comedies are “Carpoolers,” “Cavemen,” “Miss/Guided” and “Sam I Am.” The network also is introducing alternative series “Oprah’s Big Give.”
Sitcoms “Knights of Prosperity” and “George Lopez” have been canceled. ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson, who renewed nearly a dozen shows a few weeks ago, confirmed that talks continue with producers of “According to Jim.”
At the ABC upfront presentation at Lincoln Center, Mr. McPherson said the network had successfully boosted Thursday and Sunday nights last season and now will shift its focus to Tuesdays and Wednesdays. ABC struggled to program those two nights after “American Idol” returned in January.
For Tuesday, ABC is scheduling its much-talked-about sitcom “Cavemen” along with “Carpoolers,” the “Dancing With the Stars” results show (then “Cashmere Mafia” midseason) and “Boston Legal.” Mr. McPherson said the Geico ads that inspired “Cavemen” will stop airing once the show premieres, but Geico placement might be integrated into the show at a future date.
On Wednesdays, ABC is lacking former tentpole “Lost” for fall. Therefore it’s scheduling keystone new dramas “Pushing Daisies” and “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff “Private Practice,” along with “Dirty Sexy Money.” “Practice” will go head-to-head with NBC’s “Bionic Woman.”
Mr. McPherson had effusive praise for “Daisies,” calling it “like nothing you’ve ever seen on television,” while acknowledging the back-door pilot for “Practice” was lacking.
“[The episode spent] a lot of time introducing the characters, but not enough time with the stories,” Mr. McPherson said. He assured the audience that problem would be remedied for the fall premiere.
In a surprising move, ABC gave the coveted post-“Grey’s Anatomy” time period to a male ensemble drama, “Big Shots,” about a quartet of CEOs.
Since the start of this season, ABC slid from first to third place among viewers 18-49, but also managed to produce two breakout hits, “Ugly Betty” and “Brothers and Sisters.”
Mr. McPherson defended ABC’s development process this season, which included about 30 pilots. “It’s comical when I hear other people saying we’re spending too much on television,” Mr. McPherson said. “We’re not spending $600 million on football. We’ll continue to spend on R&D.”
CBS added fewer new shows to its fall schedule than any other major network, but its picks signal a much bigger shift in programming vision than its competitors’.
Mindful of its conservative reputation (and having the oldest median age among broadcasters), CBS took a calculated risk for fall, adding edgy shows partnered with proven performers.
“We had the stability and strength and wanted to stir things up,” said CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler.
There’s the vampire procedural “Moonlight,” musical “Viva Laughlin,” Cuban crime-family drama “Cane” and the youthful sitcom “Big Bang Theory.” CBS made one surprise announcement: new reality series “Kid Nation,” a sort of “Lord of the Flies.” “Our strong, solid schedule allows us to push the envelope next year,” said CBS Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves at the upfront presentation at Carnegie Hall. “You’re about to see some daring, bold shows. We’re the most watched network and, maybe, we will be the most talked-about.”
Despite having the most popular comedy block on television (or perhaps, because of it), CBS only added one comedy, “Big Bang Theory.”
For midseason, CBS has the spouse-swapping drama “Swingtown,” which it plans to run without repeats, as well as the return of “The Amazing Race” and “The N
ew Adventures of Old Christine.” Game show “The Power of 10,” hosted by Drew Carey, has been picked up for summer.
Off stage, Mr. Moonves said the network’s edgier content this season caused considerable debate among CBS executives. “There was more discussion and passion than we’ve ever had,” he said.
Regarding “Laughlin,” Mr. Moonves confessed he was afraid “people were going to say we’re doing `Cop Rock,”‘ the infamous 1990 Steven Bochco series that melded a police procedural with a musical.
After receiving a good reception to the pilot from CBS Sports President Sean McManus, Mr. Moonves said he was convinced the musical could have broad appeal.
CBS also renewed 17 shows, including critically acclaimed bubble comedy “How I Met Your Mother.” The network axed “The Class,” “Jericho” and “Close to Home.”
CBS’s fall schedule takes advantage of its oft-touted “most stable” status, partnering each new show with a successful veteran and launching no more than one new series on any given night.
“Big Bang Theory” has been sandwiched into Monday’s comedy block; “Cane” benefits from the procedural power of Tuesday’s “NCIS” and “The Unit”; Wednesday will kick off with the wild-card addition of “Kid Nation”; and “Moonlight” is packed between fellow procedurals “Ghost Whisperer” and “Numb3rs.”
“Viva Laughlin” seems an odd fit between “60 Minutes” and “Cold Case” on Sundays, but perhaps there’s no perfect lead-in for a musical about gamblers.
At The CW’s energetic upfront presentation to advertisers at Madison Square Garden in New York, Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff touted her network’s modestly improved ratings over forebears The WB and UPN among target demographics.
“The CW is the only broadcaster talking directly to 18-34 viewers,” Ms. Ostroff said. “Last season was about establishing the network; this season is about creating new hits that will better define The CW.”
Kicking off with a performance by the Pussycat Dolls, whose reality show has been renewed for a second season, Ms. Ostroff unveiled three new dramas, a comedy and two unscripted shows for fall.
The new dramas are “Gossip Girl” from “The OC” creator Josh Schwartz, South Africa family program “Life Is Wild” and supernatural comic series “Reaper” from “Clerks” director Kevin Smith.
Unlike most networks that fill holes vacated by underperforming shows, The CW needs dramas that outperform solid departing veterans “Gilmore Girls” and “7th Heaven.” Fans also are mourning the departure of “Veronica Mars,” which was canceled due to low ratings.
For its Monday comedy block, The CW has tapped “Aliens in America,” about a 16-year-old Wisconsin boy whose mother decides to improve his social status at school by importing an exchange student to be his friend.
The CW also is launching a new unscripted block on Sunday night, including user-generated-video roundup “Online Nation” and a gossip-and-trends magazine show, “CW Now.” The latter was inspired by The CW’s “Content Wraps,” two-minute commercial pods that the network continued to plug to advertisers as a potentially TiVo-proof alternative to the 30-second spot.
Previously unannounced returning shows include “Smallville,” “Supernatural” and WWE’s “Friday Night Smackdown!” for fall. “One Tree Hill” and two new reality series-“Crowned: The Mother of All Pageants” and “Farmer Wants a Wife”-are lined up for midseason.
When “One Tree Hill” returns next year, The CW will run the series straight through without repeats, echoing a tactic adopted by several networks at the upfront this year.
Aside from the addition of the Sunday unscripted hour, The CW’s schedule is probably the most unchanged of the networks. “Aliens” slips neatly into the Monday block; all-ages drama “Wild” fills in for like-minded “Heaven”; and soap “Gossip” takes the place of soap “One Tree Hill.”
Fox has fewer baseball games disrupting its lineup next season; it has the Super Bowl; and the network is closing in on a three-year ratings winning streak among adults 18 to 49.
So it should be no surprise that next fall, Fox isn’t fixing what ain’t broken.
Fox will continue to fire several of its biggest guns at midseason, including its most anticipated new action drama, “The Sarah Connor Chronicles.”
For the fall, new dramas include post-hurricane New Orleans cop series “K-Ville” and “New Amsterdam,” about an immortal detective.
New buzzed-about comedy “Back to You,” starring Kelsey Grammer as a TV news anchor, also joins the lineup this fall.
Unscripted fall efforts include “The Search for the Next Great American Band,” from the producers of “American Idol”; “Nashville,” a docu-soap in the vein of “Laguna Beach”; and “Hell’s Kitchen Nightmares,” with chef Gordon Ramsay trying to turn around failing restaurants.
“We’re not scheduling shows we just think are just OK. We’re only doing shows we’re excited about,” said Peter Liguori, president of entertainment for Fox Broadcasting Co. “We’re not satisfied with just winning, we want to invest in our schedule … invest in the broadcast business.”
As promised, Fox kept its upfront presentation at New York City Center to about an hour, bracketing the show with clips of Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer advising “the president”-in this case, Mr. Liguori-on how to keep the proceedings brief.
With Fox landing the Super Bowl next year, most of the advertising pitch from Jon Nesvig, head of sales, emphasized the network’s sports franchises. Those include college football’s Bowl Championship Series, Major League Baseball and NASCAR.
Mr. Liguori noted Fox will air fewer MLB postseason games, which traditionally get in the way of the fall season launch. “We’re going to be able to build a schedule with strength and stability across the board,” he said. “We’re going to decrease [baseball] from 26 nights to 14 and with fewer pre-emptions.”
Mr. Liguori surprised buyers by announcing which series gets the coveted post-Super Bowl slot: Medical drama “House,” which lately has surpassed ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” as the top-rated scripted drama.
Fox’s most unusual move for fall is slating reality series for Thursday and Friday. Mr. Liguori described the reality nights as counterprogramming against largely scripted competitors.
Splitting its top pickups between fall and spring, Fox’s schedule otherwise took few risks with the network’s current formula.
Some expected Fox to move “24,” after it was regularly beaten this season by NBC’s “Heroes,” but the drama will stay on Mondays at 9 p.m. “Sarah Connor” will launch at 9 p.m. Sundays, which Mr. Liguori called the time slot that helped make “The X-Files” a hit, and will run straight through without repeats.
NBC touted “mass and class” at its upfront at Radio City Music Hall last week, picking up a healthy portion of dramas and a single comedy along with “super-sized” renewals of its most popular shows.
The network announced the pickup of five dramas (“Bionic Woman,” “Chuck,” “Journeyman,” “Life” and “Lipstick Jungle”), a comedy (“The IT Crowd”) and two alternative projects (“The Singing Bee” and “World Moves”). Three of the dramas could be classified as escapist fantasy, the same genre as NBC’s breakout hit “Heroes.”
NBC’s series renewals resulted in more press coverage than the pickups.
First, NBC announced it will bring back all three “Law & Order” series, but “Criminal Intent” will shift its first-run episodes to NBC Universal-owned USA Network, with a second window on NBC. NBC also will utilize its cable properties for two of the new shows, airing repeats of “Bionic” on the Sci Fi Channel and “Life” on USA Network.
Then NBC announced it was increasing series orders for “The Office,” “My Name Is Earl” and “Heroes” to 30 episodes each in an effort to reduce hiatus gaps during the season. For “Heroes,” that meant creating six-episode spinoff series “Heroes: Origins” to air in April.
To prevent the additional “Heroes” hours from overwhelming the production, “Origins” will have a separate producing team to craft episodes profiling
a new hero each week. Fans can vote for their favorite new character online and the winner will be added to the “Heroes” cast next fall.
NBC also picked up critical favorite “Friday Night Lights,” which will return to an actual Friday night slot, albeit at 10 p.m.
Insiders pegged “Bionic Woman” as a lock for the post-“Heroes” slot, but the time-travel drama “Journeyman” got the period thanks to, among other reasons, testing higher than any NBC drama in five years.
At a press briefing, however, NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly said the schedule could change in coming weeks.
“ER” is staying put on Thursdays at 10 p.m., despite speculation the fading drama would be moved to a less coveted time period. But NBC is considering making the upcoming season the expensive series’ last.
“[Showrunner] John Wells has always been in lock-step that this should go out strong,” Mr. Reilly said. “We’ve agreed to sit down with John sometime in October and figure out where we stand.”
The fate of “The Apprentice” is still unclear, though Mr. Reilly said he will make a decision about the show in the coming weeks.
NBC also announced the return of Jerry Seinfeld to the network. Mr. Seinfeld will star in 20 live-action comedy “minisodes” inspired by his experience creating the upcoming animated feature film “Bee Movie.”
Mr. Reilly said the number of new shows coming on this fall reflects a conservative strategy despite the network’s fourth-place ranking.
“Networks on down cycles loading up on product isn’t necessarily a recipe for success,” he said.
Having met one-on-one with dozens of advertisers earlier this month, MyNetworkTV declined to put on a large-scale upfront presentation in New York last week.
The network did nail down most of its fall schedule, however, which finally gives MyNet a telenovela-free lineup.
On Mondays, the network will continue its ultimate fighting series “IFL Battleground.”
On Tuesdays it will air Fox Reality series “The Academy,” tracking a group of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department recruits, followed by a second series to be announced.
Wednesdays will feature MyNet’s two tentpole original series, “Divorce Wars” (working title) and the resurrection of former NBC reality series “Meet My Folks.”
“Wars” locks unhappy couples in a house with marriage counselors for five days to resolve their differences. The show is produced by Dr. Phil McGraw’s son Jay McGraw and his Stage 29 Productions. Dr. Phil may make occasional appearances, but will not host the show.
“Folks” premiered in 2002 and ran for two seasons on NBC; it’s from Bruce Nash Productions.
On Thursdays and Fridays MyNet will air movies, while Saturdays will feature an “IFL” encore.
Since launching last fall as a counterpoint to The CW, MyNetworkTV has had a difficult time gaining traction in the marketplace. The network’s original pure-telenovela format was rejected by viewers and, around the start of this year, by the network as well. The subsequent programming shakeup mixes movies, ultimate fighting, celebrity profile specials produced by “Access Hollywood” and reality programming.
Telemundo President Don Browne thinks his 2007-08 lineup is an appetizing one.
“Telemundo has always had a lot of sizzle but not much steak,” he said, heading into last week’s upfront presentation to Madison Avenue. “Now there’s more steak with the sizzle.”
Telemundo is dropping “Vas o No Vas,” its version of NBC’s “Deal or No Deal,” but it is taking parent company NBC Universal’s 360-degree marketing plan out for a spin for next season.
At its upfront presentation at Radio City Music Hall, the Spanish-language network announced “multiscreen marketing opportunities” that it said will cast it as a “marketing partner” of advertisers.
The 360 campaigns will offer combinations of components on Telemundo, Yahoo!Telemundo, mun2 and holamun2.com in varying combinations. There also will be broader sponsorship options that include mobile, retail/in-store, polling, sweepstakes/contests and events. Campaigns are on tap for programs including “Back 2 School,” “Chivas de Guadalajara,” “12 Corazones: Rumbo al Altar” and “Idolos de Juventud.”
As for programming, Mr. Browne said the network will keep up the production pace of more than 1,000 hours of original content next season, including a venture into late-night with a variety show, four new prime-time novelas and the “12 Corazones” prime-time spinoff of its daytime dating show.
If “Mas Vale Tarde,” a mix of interviews, music and sketches hosted by Alex Cambert, works on Thursday late-night, it could expand.
Meanwhile, youth-oriented network mun2 has ordered up half-hour magazine “holamun2.com: El Show”; a reality show set in a beauty school, “Beauty Es Cool”; and mentoring show “The mun2 Hookup.”
Telemundo also announced an extension of its bicoastal program designed to train the next generation of telenovela talent. After having trained writers, the next iteration, “Taller Telemundo: Actores,” offers aspiring actors training by “Babel” co-star Adriana Barraza.
Univision is playing up its connection with viewers to persuade advertisers to boost spending on commercials targeting its Spanish-speaking audience.
At its upfront presentation to ad buyers at Time Warner Center, the top-rated U.S. Spanish-language television network invited 14 loyal fans onstage to rave about a new lineup of shows that includes a Spanish-language version of “Desperate Housewives” and a project produced by singer-actress Jennifer Lopez.
Univision spiced up its show last week with an appearance by Ms. Lopez, wearing a shimmering mid-thigh shift, as well as a three-song salsa set by her husband, Marc Anthony.
Putting its fans front and center at the upfront presentation in New York pushed two themes the network wants to drive home with advertisers. Univision says its audience is more engaged with its programming than with shows on rival Spanish networks or English-language channels. The fans, who were selected from viewers who had submitted user-generated material to Univision.com, also embodied the network’s push to develop digital advertising opportunities.
Univision CEO Joe Uva, who joined the network last month after a group of investors purchased it for $13.7 billion, said he is depending on his new shows to draw audiences and advertisers. An improvement in ratings, which currently are down 6 percent year-over-year, also would help him in negotiations to wrest as much as $1 per subscriber from cable operators that transmit Univision’s signals.
Mr. Uva said part of his job is changing ad agency perceptions about Univision.
One goal is “educating agencies about the size of our audience and the power of our audience’s connection with the network,” he said after the upfront presentation.
In 2007-08, the network will roll out four new telenovelas, seven fresh series, two comedies and a special on the Virgin of Guadalupe.
In the telenovela genre, Univision is fielding “Pasion,” set in the pirate era; “Muchachitas Como Tu,” centering on issues that girls face; “Amar sin Limites,” about the power of love; and “Yo Amo a Juan Querendon,” the story of an unlikely Don Juan.
New series include “Como Ama una Mujer,” from Ms. Lopez, and “Amas de Casa Desesperadas,” the Spanish-language version of ABC’s “Desperate Housewives.”