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Moneyphilia

Upfronts reveal rivals' strategies to cope with the reach of Reege 5/21/2000 08:00:00 PM Eastern

NBC was the first network to unveil its 2000-2001 lineup to advertisers in New York last week. But psychologically, it was ABC. Before rival networks could do much, they had to wait to see where ABC's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? would land next season. And how many times.

"No one wanted to go against it," CBS Television President Leslie Moonves said, a day after ABC put Regis Philbin on its prime time grid four times during the week. "It is obviously a force of nature, but hopefully they will put so many of them on that eventually they will blow themselves up. And we are praying that happens sooner than later."

Moonves said he'd been lying awake at night trying to figure something out. NBC Entertainment President Garth Ancier called it the most significant show in the history of television. Even Univision opted to create its own version of Millionaire last week-A Million.

With an estimated $8 billion in upfront advertising on the line-where Millionaire landed next season became the most important question as Hollywood descended on Madison Ave. for the annual upfront galas.

The network added only one night of Regis Philbin-Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET-to go with runs on Tuesdays (8 p.m.), Thursdays (9 p.m.) and Sundays (9 p.m.). But that was enough to shake up the yearly buying ritual.

"Millionaire makes this season very unusual," said TN Media's Steve Sternberg. "You've never had a situation where there is one show on four nights of the week. The plus for all of the other networks, though, is that it's demonstrating that you can put something on broadcast television that is going to draw people back from cable and maybe stop the erosion from happening every single year."

When the dust settled, a total of 37 new shows had been announced-19 comedies and 18 dramas. Last year, 36 new shows were added to fall lineups, 20 comedies and 16 dramas. That didn't count Millionaire, which was permanently added after its successful summer run.

The trend for networks to own their own shows continued, reaching an all-time high as the top six networks grabbed a piece of, or owned outright, 24 of the 37 new shows. CBS got a piece of six of its seven new series, with only the Warner Bros. remake of The Fugitive remaining free of the network's strings. More than a dozen midseason shows were also announced, with two-thirds of those series either owned by the networks or their co-owned studios.

The Millionaire effect was evident in the strategies its rivals are using to combat it. Noting that Millionaire demographics are rapidly aging, NBC switched young-skewing Will & Grace to Thursday nights to compete against Regis Philbin, coupling it with Just Shoot Me. In the process, NBC switched Frasier to Tuesdays, though nobody connected to that venerable NBC sitcom was happy about it.

The biggest comedy news of the week involved the six co-stars of Friends, who inked a two-year, $200 million-plus package only hours before NBC executives took to the stage at Lincoln Center. They may have had the upper hand in their negotiations, because NBC desperately needs the comedy to combat Millionaire. The network would have been in trouble on Thursdays without its 8 p.m. anchor.

CBS hopes it has a couple answers to Millionaire. It is putting its brightest new star, Bette Midler, in a sitcom, aimed directly against the game show on Wednesdays. The other is the returning drama City of Angels, which will play opposite Millionaire on Thursdays. Because of its predominantly African-American cast, City of Angels is attracting a large African-American audience, and black audiences are among the few demos that haven't been attracted by Millionaire. (But it is likely that competing against Millionaire will doom Angels to even lower ratings.)

CBS had tried developing a few game shows, including a remake of $64,000 Question. "It just wasn't that good," Moonves said. "Obviously, Millionaire has tapped into something that no one else has been able to do. So rather than put on a cheap imitation, we'd rather go in a different way."

FOX, which suffered the most this season from Millionaire, settled its syndication lawsuit with X-Files star David Duchovny and extended an olive branch to the show's producer to keep the sci-fi series on for an eighth season. Duchovny will get close to $400,000 an episode for a half-season's work, and producer Chris Carter's spin-off, The Lone Gunmen, was set as a midseason replacement. The X-Files has been Millionaire's strongest competition on Sundays.

UPN moved its movie night out of Friday to meet the Millionaire challenge on Tuesday, and it picked up The XFL to go head-to-head with the game show on Sundays. The new professional football league is set to debut in February.

Despite Millionaire's success, the other networks have seemingly given up trying to clone it. No new game shows or reality programs were unveiled at the top six networks.

Indeed, in some cases, networks did not even pick new shows at all. The former ABC series. Sabrina, the Teenage Witch is headed to The WB, while The Hughleys is coming on Mondays to UPN. Eddie Murphy's foam-mation series, The PJs, once on FOX, also has a new network: The WB.

But media buyers liked a lot of what they saw. "In general, the sense is that both The WB and CBS had the best development," said J. Walter Thompson Senior Partner and Media Director Ron Frederick. "But personally, I think everyone looks in pretty good shape."

Frederick and other advertisers expressed concern with Fox's new lineup, which adds nine new series to a schedule that had more than its share of holes to fill after a troubled 1999-2000 season. But they have lots of big hitters to fill in those gaps. The newcomers include some big names: David E. Kelley's Boston Public will undoubtedly shore up Fox's Monday night, if the series comes off like its pilot. James Cameron's Dark Angel and Darren Star's The $treet should also attract attention.

Strange bedfellows

Last week, at Pax TV's upfront presentation, NBC made it clear that Pax TV was part of the NBC family: It bought a piece of Pax last year. Upfronts included some new nametags: Keith Turner and Alan Wurtzel, the heads of NBC sales and research, respectively, were the first speakers at UPN's party. And NBC President Bob Wright took center stage during the post-presentation press conference.

If NBC is the first dual-network owner, pending FCC approval, Viacom will become the second.

NBC's ownership stake in Pax has already showed up on the screen. Its failed game show, Twenty One, may get a second life on Pax TV. (For now, the little network will show reruns.) NBC movies/miniseries will continue streaming over to Pax, and repurposed local newscasts are on their way to Pax.

Wright told reporters that mergers, such as the one between Viacom and CBS, "reinforce the idea that media companies need to have as many distribution outlets for their products as possible."

CBS' Mel Karmazin sat alongside top Viacom executives at UPN's upfront at Madison Square Garden. "Being in the Viacom family opens many doors for us, stretching across the company's many holdings in all forms of media," UPN President and CEO Dean Valentine told advertisers. "There will be program content alliances, access to the Paramount library for potential broadcast product and many, many other possibilities."

FOX is tops

In the studio race, 20th Century FOX Television managed to stay on top of the producer's scorecard for the second consecutive year, both in terms of the number of new and returning series it will produce.

Twentieth landed 19 shows in all, spreading them across four networks and adding six new ones. Twentieth set a record last season with 22 shows on the air. New series from Twentieth included David E. Kelley's latest, Boston Public at co-owned Fox, and Yes, Dear at CBS. Twentieth, which underwent an executive shuffle in the middle of development season, will have 10 shows on Fox this fall.

"When Gary and I took over in December, we reassessed our goals and tried to remain focused," said Twentieth Century Fox co-President Dana Walden, who shares the top spot with Gary Newman. "We wanted to return as many shows as we possibly could and also maintain a healthy development slate. Luckily, we accomplished both."

Warner Bros. made a serious run at Twentieth this spring, finishing in a second-place tie with Paramount Television, with 18 total series. Paramount added Spelling, Big Ticket and Viacom Productions to its stable this season and saw its numbers rise.

Warner Bros. added four more series from its total of 14 last season. CBS, ABC and NBC's in-house production studios finished third, fourth and fifth respectively in the studio race.

More diverse?

With headlines all season coming from the diversity front, the fall schedule was seen as the first litmus test of the Big Four networks' promise to add people of color in front of and behind the cameras. And the results? Mixed.

NAACP executives were upbeat about the early results provided by last week's upfront presentations, but Hispanic and Asian-American organizations were anything but joyous.

"We think, on the face of it, there is a marked improvement over last fall," said NAACP spokesman John White. "ABC may be a little bit out in front of the others with its Damon Wayans sitcom [midseason] and Gideon's Crossing [which stars African-American actor Andre Braugher]. Overall, we get a sense that things are improving, but there is a long way to go."

But Karen Narasaki, executive director of the National Asian Pacific Americans Legal Consortium said, "CBS has taken a giant leap backward: They took off Martial Law which was the only show that it had with Asian-Americans." (Moonves said Martial Law just quit building an audience.)

The CBS chief admitted that pressure from diversity organizations may have played into City of Angels getting another season. But, Moonves said, "We wouldn't be bringing it back if we didn't believe in the show." Another project at CBS, a drama from Hispanic director/producer Gregory Nava, failed to make the final cut.

None of the other networks added any new Hispanic-led dramas or comedies to fall schedules. And a number of series that were already on the air featuring Hispanic actors, Chicago Hope and Jesse, were canceled.

"We have actually lost characters and gained none," said Felix R. Sanchez, president of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts. "It's down to a maid on Will & Grace and a nurse on ER. There is no new product as a result of the diversity negotiations, and that's really disappointing."

-Susanne Ault contributed to this story.

Studio New Returning Total

Twentieth

6

13

19

Warner Bros.

7

11

18

Paramount

4

6

10

CBS Prods.

5

5

10

Disney

4

5

9

NBC Studios

5

2

7

ATG

5

0

5

Studios USA

3

2

5

Columbia

1

3

4

Regency

2

2

4

ABC News

0

3

3

Carsey-Werner

1

2

3

CBS News

0

3

3

NBC News

0

3

3

Spelling

1

2

3

Viacom

1

2

3

Worldwide Pants

2

1

3

Source: Warner Bros.
October
November