Tough Season Takes Its Toll on Upfront

May 11, 2008  •  Post A Comment

As one of the ugliest TV seasons in recent memory lurches to a close, broadcasters are looking to this week’s upfront presentations as a chance to hit the restart button.
But instead of anticipation at a new beginning, industry executives find themselves pitching advertisers a slate of new programming miniaturized by the Writers Guild of America strike.
With fewer shows in the hopper—some pilots have yet to film—there’s a lot less excitement about this year’s slate of potential newcomers.
What’s more, the weakening economy and the business havoc wreaked by the strike have resulted in a massive downsizing of the annual upfront circus. There will be shorter presentations, fewer parties and fewer people flying in from Hollywood.
Even in their weakened state, the upfronts will again serve as the kickoff of a multibillion-dollar ad market. That means there will be plenty of preening and posturing all over Manhattan this week as networks do their best to convince Madison Avenue that broadcast TV programming remains a smart ad buy.
Here’s a look at how each of the Big Five will make its respective case.
Where they stand: Strike? What strike? While other networks have spent the months following the end of the WGA work stoppage coping with lackluster ratings for returning shows, Fox heads to New York a solid first in the ratings in key age groups and total viewers. “American Idol”—still a Nielsen hulk, despite some very real audience erosion—is largely responsible for Fox’s ratings supremacy. “House,” “Bones,” “Prison Break,” “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?,” “Hell’s Kitchen” and shock game show “Moment of Truth” also have contributed, while “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” was a consistent performer and has been renewed for a second season.
Not all is well at the Murdoch network, however. Fox has struggled with scripted development the past few seasons, failing to launch a zeitgeist hit since 2004’s “House.”
What they’ll say: We’re stable—we’re really, really stable. Under scheduling chief Preston Beckman, Fox has fashioned itself as an island of consistency, and that seems unlikely to change. Fox will stress the large number of returning shows on its fall lineup, arguing that it has finally solved its fourth-quarter problem of trying to launch too many new shows in between coverage of baseball playoffs.
How they’ll say it: While other networks will be touting their multiple platforms—from cable to billboards—look for Fox to kick it old-school with a near-exclusive focus on the broadcast mothership. This year also marks Kevin Reilly’s first upfront since joining Fox as entertainment president, which means Entertainment Chairman Peter Liguori will have an onstage partner in crime during the upfront presentation.
Buzz projects: “Fringe,” a spooky “X-Files”-esque drama from J.J. Abrams, was given a series commitment back in October, and as of late last week, it seemed a good bet to be one of Fox’s new fall tentpoles.
Fox also might be ready to bring back Bernie Mac in the comedy “Starting Under,” while half-hour shows “Outnumbered” and “Spaced” have been reported to be in the mix. Beyond the fall, Fox will tease advertisers with upcoming projects from Joss Whedon (the sci-fi action series “Dollhouse”) and Seth MacFarlane (a “Family Guy” spinoff called “Cleveland”). It may tout several other animated shows as well.
Bottom line: Advertisers will no doubt welcome the message of stability, but they’ll also be looking for signs that Fox has some sizzle to go along with the steak.
Where they stand: Down more than 15% versus last season in the ratings, CBS clearly needs to do better. Entertainment President Nina Tassler was right to diversify the network’s lineup with non-crime dramas; unfortunately, “Viva Laughlin” and “Cane” were the wrong shows. CBS also desperately needs a new unscripted hit. On the plus side, CBS remains a solid second in total viewers with very few craters in its lineup and its new comedy “The Big Bang Theory” has proven a good fit with the network’s Monday sitcom block.
What they’ll say: We’re not panicking. Rivals are doing all they can to push the “CBS in freefall” storyline, but the Leslie Moonves-run network can rightly claim that it remains relatively stable. Its crime dramas aren’t sexy, but they still deliver a consistent audience. One or two solid hits will go a long way toward putting CBS back on track.
How they’ll say it: Not wanting to cede the multiplatform brand entirely to NBC, CBS Corp. will tout its own digital tentacles at its Carnegie Hall presentation. The broadcast network will still be front and center, but advertisers will be reminded of the company’s new-media, radio and billboard holdings as well.
Buzz projects: Jerry Bruckheimer’s “Eleventh Hour,” about a group of super-scientists, could prove to be a good fit behind “CSI” on Thursdays. Also in the mix is “The Mentalist,” if only because it’s from prolific director David Nutter, whose pilot-to-series track record is among the best in Hollywood. Mr. Moonves is also a major fan of the show’s star, Simon Baker. Likewise, Ms. Tassler has been trying to get Geena Davis on CBS for years, increasing the odds that Ms. Davis’ cop drama will get a greenlight.
Bottom line: CBS will continue to perform a balancing act, stressing the stability of its crime blotter lineup while trying to hook viewers on a new generation of procedurals.
Where they stand: Slowly rebounding after taking a major hit from the WGA strike, ABC’s slate of serialized shows is great when it comes to generating buzz. That strength became a handicap when prime-time production was halted for three months.
Audiences are trying to get back into viewing grooves; when they do, ABC will benefit from its roster of relatively young, female-friendly series. Ratings-wise, the network is battling CBS for second place in adults 18-49.
What they’ll say: Remember all those new shows that did pretty well last fall? We’re bringing ’em back! It seems like ages ago, but autumn drama newcomers “Pushing Daisies” and “Private Practice” did well out of the gate and will end up among the top 10 freshman shows of the season. ABC will make the case that they can all be successfully relaunched in September. ABC also will bolster its “we’ve got the hits” argument by pointing to the solid performance of new comedy “Samantha Who?”
How they’ll say it: ABC is promising a just-the-facts presentation, one that outlines the network’s strengths, while keeping the hype and spin to a minimum (at least relative to other networks). Expect few, if any, stars to grace the network’s Lincoln Center stage.
Buzz projects: Game show “Opportunity Knocks,” which takes the game show out of the studio and into contestants’ front yards, is gaining steam. An adaptation of British crime drama “Life on Mars” is virtually on the air, although producer David E. Kelley’s involvement is in doubt.
Bottom line: ABC still needs to add more comedies and procedural dramas to its lineup to supplement its strong schedule of soapy series.
Where they stand: While NBC has closed the gap with rivals in the ratings, the network still has plenty of holes in its lineup—and not enough big hits. Smart scheduling allowed it to weather the strike well, and a well-stocked lineup of summer originals may pique viewer interest during the warm-weather months. Unlike its rivals, NBC—having already announced its 2008-09 lineup—will use upfront week to hype the broad reach of the NBC Universal empire.
What they’ll say: Not much. Rather than a traditional presentation, the network is giving advertisers a theme-park like show designed to show off everything TV that reports to NBC Universal Chairman Jeff Zucker. Word leaked weeks ago that NBC would use the spotlight to officially reveal details of Conan O’Brien’s move to “The Tonight Show” and Jimmy Fallon’s hiring as his replacement. It would be a coup if the network also revealed a plan to keep Jay Leno at NBC after he departs “Tonight” next year.
How they’ll say it: Who knows? Even though NBC already has announced its schedule, it’s staying mum about the details of what it’s calling the “NBC Universal Experience.” People at the network compare the event to a theme park attraction. Hopefully advertisers don’t get dizzy or puke during the ride.
Buzz projects: All eyes will be on NBC’s untitled spinoff of “The Office,” which could give the network another Emmy magnet—or cripple its most important comedy franchise. NBC executives have long been high on “Kath and Kim,” an adaptation of an Australian sitcom. The network also will test “My Own Worst Enemy,” starring Christian Slater as a suburban dad who also fights crime.
Bottom line: If you can’t be first, at least be different. And NBC’s upfront experience will certainly be different.
Where they stand: As The CW’s marketing team might put it, WTF? Despite developing a well-reviewed slate of newcomers last year—think “Gossip Girl,” “Aliens in America” and “Reaper”—The CW just couldn’t find traction among its target audience of young adults. Viewership is down more than 20%, and the network has all but abandoned the idea of developing new comedies.
What they’ll say: The strike knocked us down, but don’t count us out. CW executives will point to the network’s ability to turn “Gossip Girl” into a cultural icon, if not a raw ratings hit, as evidence that they’re on the right path, programming-wise. If they’re smart, they’ll also announce plans to air more original programming in the summer and unveil a better marketing strategy.
Buzz projects: The blogosphere has been going bananas over the CW’s “Beverly Hills, 90210” spinoff, which is all but guaranteed a series order. The network only has two other scripted pilots in the works. If titles mean anything, “How to Teach Filthy Rich Girls” would seem to have better odds than “Austin Golden Hour.”
Bottom line: It’s do-or-die time for CW chief Dawn Ostroff—and maybe the network itself.


  1. Sen. Graham calling Glen Beck a “positive force”. Really isn’t that a touch like labelling Rick Sanchez being an specialist on Judaism?

  2. Lindsay Lohan “If I were the alcoholic every body says I am, then leaving a [scram[]|] bracelet on will have ended me up in detoxification, with the er, because I would also have to come down from all the things that individuals say I sure am taking plus my father alleges I am taking – so that says something, for the reason that I had been fine.”

  3. Neat blog layout! Very easy on the eyes.. i like the colors you picked out

  4. Nice!! Great Ifo. Great People. Great Blog. Thank you for all the great sharing that is being done here.

  5. Love the blog here. Nice colors. I am definitely staying tuned to this one. Hope to see more.

  6. Neat blog layout! Very easy on the eyes.. i like the colors you picked out

  7. This is the best blog I’ve ever seen in my life! I really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy day to share your this with everyone.

  8. Wow, amazing blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you make blogging look easy.

  9. Took me moment in time toward examine every one of the comments, except I truly enjoyed the commentary. It proved being in reality cooperative to me plus I am constructive to each and every one the commenters here! It’s in the main polite when you be able to not just be informed, but in adding entertained! I am positive you had pleasing writing this write-up.

  10. Took me moment to study every of the commentary, however I in truth enjoyed the piece of writing. It proved being in reality cooperative to me plus I am positive to each and every one the commenters here! It’s commonly nice whenever you be able to not just be informed, but in addition entertained! I am positive you had pleasurable writing this write-up.

  11. I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you create this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you? Plz reply back as I’m looking to create my own blog and would like to know wheere u got this from. thanks

  12. I agree with your thoughts here and I really love your blog! I’ve bookmarked it so that I can come back & read more in the future.

Your Comment

Email (will not be published)