Tantalizing pilot previews or no tantalizing pilot previews, flashy presentations or no flashy presentations, the broadcast television networks last week laid out their programming strategies for fall.
The upfront advertising market in New York reflected an industry in transition and trying to shake off the effects of the 100-day writers strike that ended in February.
Here’s a network-by-network analysis of what to expect next season.
The No. 1 network isn’t adding much to its fall lineup—and that’s a good thing, according to entertainment division President Kevin Reilly.
“We looked at our schedule and said we don’t need a lot, and the good news is we got what we needed,” Mr. Reilly said.
The network’s fall game plan boils down to one show: “Fringe,” an “X-Files”-like drama from “Lost” co-creator J.J. Abrams. It’s also introducing a new comedy called “Do Not Disturb,” but it’s in a low-profile time slot and expectations are low.
Strategy-wise, Fox hopes to maximize its ratings—and minimize the disruption caused by baseball playoffs coverage—by rolling out a big chunk of its lineup before Labor Day.
“There is going to be a lot of noise in September, October and November,” Fox Entertainment Chairman Peter Liguori said, referring to the flood of premieres on other networks. “We felt the best way to manage that was to get out early.”
As it has in recent seasons, Fox will save the bulk of its new product for January and beyond, when “American Idol” gives the network a great promotional launching pad for the Joss Whedon drama “Dollhouse” and the animated “Family Guy” spinoff “The Cleveland Show.”
There are no singing detectives or hunky vampires on the CBS lineup this year. That doesn’t mean the network is playing it safe, however.
With three dramas and two comedies set to debut, CBS is offering more fresh fare than any network this fall. And while there are some new crime shows, CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler is promising “some new tones and styles.”
Ms. Tassler said that means her network’s new and existing procedural dramas would feature more character development, adding humor or fleshing out the lives of the characters saving lives and stopping bad guys. Cable’s USA Network has had success blending formats with shows such as “Monk” and “Psych.”
And Fridays at 9—where “CSI” was birthed nearly a decade ago—CBS will step outside its comfort zone with “The Ex List,” a show some already are calling “How I Met Your Father.” It’s a romantic drama about a woman who ends up dating past boyfriends in order to discover her true love.
CBS also is betting on comedy, adding a Wednesday hour of laughs. And the network’s good-luck charm, prolific producer Jerry Bruckheimer, is back with “Eleventh Hour.”
If you liked ABC’s fall 2007 schedule, you’ll be happy with the 2008 model.
The network’s new lineup contains few changes. Three nights—Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday—return intact, with the other four nights featuring just minor tweaks and a total of two new shows.
ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson said the network has very few holes to fill and thus can afford to play a relatively pat hand.
“We were winning, before the strike,” Mr. McPherson said, noting the success ABC had in launching new shows last fall.
ABC’s big bet for fall 2008 is “Life on Mars,” a remake of a well-received British cop show. It’s got the cool quotient ABC viewers have come to expect from the network of “Lost,” but it also offers the network a chance to finally launch the sort of procedural crime show it’s wanted for years.
The network also is relying heavily on reality shows during the fourth quarter, with 7 1/2 hours of unscripted fare planned.
Mr. McPherson is promising a surge of new programming next winter and spring, with 20 projects in the works.
The network skipped a big upfront presentation with new show clips this year, though its programming was represented at the NBC Universal “Experience” that kicked off the week.
NBC also used upfront week to officially announce its hiring of Jimmy Fallon as Conan O’Brien’s replacement on “Late Night” and to tout a new reality show from executive producer Ryan Seacrest called “Are You a Momma’s Boy?”
But even if NBC sat out the upfront game, it still will take part in the fall ratings derby.
According to the schedule it outlined in April, NBC, mired in fourth place in the ratings, will continue to lean on “Heroes,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “The Office” and “ER,” which remain in place in their respective Monday, Tuesday and Thursday time slots.
The network’s fall drama gamble is “My Own Worst Enemy,” which brings Christian Slater to TV as a family man leading a double life as a lawman. It gets the benefit of a “Heroes” lead-in.
On the comedy side, NBC will use 90-minute episodes of “The Biggest Loser” to bring female viewers to retooled Australian import “Kath & Kim.” If successful, it could open up a new night of comedy for NBC—or give it a possible Thursday player.
It’s all about the ZIP code.
After launching the zeitgeist hit of 2008 with “Gossip Girl,” the network is staying on the teen track with its spinoff of “Beverly Hills, 90210.” CW execs are so confident the show can work, they’ve scheduled it as their leadoff show on Tuesday night.
Advertisers said they were warm to the idea last week. Just the sight of the new cast dancing around to the familiar “90210” theme song was enough to elicit cheers from the crowd, which had to endure the heat and humidity of an outdoor tent in order to hear CW Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff’s pitch.
The CW also is doubling up on Tyra Banks, adding a reality show called “Stylista” that Ms. Banks will executive produce (and no doubt cross-promote).
The network’s lineup also is notable for what’s missing. “WWE Smackdown!” is moving to MyNetworkTV, while Sunday nights will be programmed by independent studio Media Rights Capital.