Nets Prepare for Upfronts
By Paige Albiniak -- Broadcasting & Cable, 4/20/2003 8:00:00 PM
The results will be seen next fall, when the broadcast networks premiere their new schedules. Right now, the networks are evaluating pilots, plotting strategies—and guessing what their competitors will do. Below is a brief rundown of each network's strategy. Also on these pages are capsules of their shows in development. Broadcast upfront presentations begin May 12. Compiled by Paige Albiniak.
ABC had some success last fall rebuilding Tuesday and Wednesday nights, notably with four new sitcoms on Tuesday anchored by John Ritter- starrer 8 Simple Rules. The strategy worked until after November sweeps, when Fox came on with powerhouses Joe Millionaire and American Idol and stole the coveted 18- to 49-year-olds in massive numbers. ABC fought back with The Bachelor, but its other reality attempts have been lukewarm or worse.
Next year, ABC promises to focus on scripted shows. In its hopper are 11 comedies (including one developed by and featuring Tim Allen) and 11 dramas, with Rod Lurie's Lines of Duty already given a 13-episode order. Although ABC is heavy on comedy development, it's also working on Threat Matrix, a drama about the Department of Homeland Security. There's a first.
Must-fixes: Thursday and Monday nights.
Upfront presentation: Radio City Music Hall, New York, May 13, 4 p.m.
CBS is in arguably the best shape of the Big Four, with very few holes to fill in its schedule and few shows in decline. The network can boast that it's the "most-watched" net, an honor the others counter by saying advertisers don't care about viewers, and is No. 2 in its key demo, adults 25-54, behind NBC.
Still, CBS is working on nine comedy pilots and 10 dramas. It also has a JAG spinoff, with Mark Harmon, in the works.
Eight of its 10 dramas in development are crime- and justice-related, two—David E. Kelly's The Brotherhood of Poland, N.H., and Joan of Arcadia, starring Joe Mantegna and Mary Steenburgen—also focusing on families.
Weak spots: Wednesday, but Sunday also could be stronger.
Upfront presentation: Carnegie Hall, New York, May 14, 3 p.m.
Season-to-date, NBC remains the network leader in the key adults 18-49 demographic, but, this year, it has proved a tougher to retain that lead. With Fox coming on strong, NBC has moved its schedule around a good deal and repeated episodes of Friends in any time period that needs a fix.
NBC is obviously aware of the impact of the impending departure of powerhouse Friends and the decline of aging (and expensive, at $5 million an episode) Frasier . The net has 15 comedies in development for fall and has already announced a 13-episode deal for a Shrek-like animated comedy called Father of the Pride for fall 2004. NBC doesn't appear too worried about dramas, with only seven, including Las Vegas, in the works.
Star power seems to be the gimmick. In development are shows featuring John Larroquette, Adam Arkin, Tom Selleck, Heather Locklear, Howie Mandel, Cheech Martin, Whoopi Goldberg, Rupert Everett and Tracy Morgan, among others.
Weak spot: Tuesday night.
Upfront presentation: Metropolitan Opera House, New York, May 12, 1 p.m.
Fox is the comeback kid this year, after seeing most of its fall development flop out of the gate. Come January, however, the network suddenly became unstoppable with the finale of Joe Millionaire bringing in the biggest entertainment audience the network had ever seen and American Idol continuing to power the network to wins in the key 18-34 and 18-49 demos. That strength has helped Fox's scripted shows, especially 24, Wanda at Large and Bernie Mac.
Fox's development, with 11 comedies and nine dramas for the network to choose from, is diverse. The sitcoms stick with Fox's edgy, youthful tone (not counting a remake of Mr. Ed); the dramas range from adventure fare in NYPD 2069 to Skin, about two teens in love although their families are on the opposite sides of the law.
Trouble spots: Thursday and Friday nights, both of which need revamps.
Upfront presentation: City Center Theater, New York, May 15
Like CBS on the other end of the age scale, The WB enters next fall with a remarkably stable prime time lineup. The young-skewing WB also has perhaps the best story to tell with its scripted shows, with Tuesday-night Superman show Smallville breaking all sorts of network records and helping season three of Gilmore Girls to a strong showing.
Although The WB's season has been much applauded, the network still faces problems on Wednesday and Thursday nights next fall. Dawson's Creek, which helped The WB establish itself, ends after this season, and the network still hasn't found a strong lead-in for Angel, which occupies the Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET time period, leaving that show on the bubble.
Development-wise: The WB is operating almost like a Big Four network, with 11 comedies and eight dramas on the slate. Shows in development include remakes of Macgyver and The Gong Show. A reality show with a twist is Here Come the Johnsons, on which a fake company (actually a comedy troupe) takes up residence in an actual small town.
Upfront presentation: Sheraton Towers, New York, May 13, 10:30 a.m.
UPN faces a rebuilding year, with President of Entertainment Dawn Ostroff completing her first season of development. The network has already launched hip-hop drama Platinum for a six-episode run on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET.
Although UPN has struggled this year, with its ratings dropping an average of 20% in all demos, the network doesn't have too many holes to fill next season. Its Monday-night sitcom lineup will remain intact, The Parkers, One on One, Girlfriends and Half and Half having turned in solid ratings throughout the year.
UPN has six comedies and five dramas in development, and a good amount of big-name talent attached to several of the shows. Hip-hop star Eve and Six Feet Under executive producers Robert Greenblatt and David Janollari are working on sitcom The Opposite Sex; movie stars Will and Jada Pinkett Smith are working on a show based on their life together called All of Us.
Upfront presentation: Madison Square Garden Theater, New York, May 15, 11:30 a.m.
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