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What's due for fall?

Comedies and dramas abound, but reality is front and center 5/06/2001 08:00:00 PM Eastern

What the networks are cooking

What the networks are cooking

ABC

Quick take: At ABC's upfront presentation last year, Regis Philbin was carried on to the stage like royalty. This year, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? is still attracting millions of viewers, but as Stu Bloomberg, co-chairman of ABC Entertainment, says, "I don't think you'll be seeing four nights a week of it next year." Bloomberg says Millionaire's overall strategy "enabled us to put a lot of weight and finances behind our development, and it's really paying off."

Going … going: ABC will take My Wife and Kids, The Job, What About Joan?, Gideon's Crossing, Geena and Once and Again into the scheduling room this week. The first three mentioned might be back; the last three probably won't.

High hopes: ABC has only one series commitment this spring, for new Steven Bochco drama Philly starring NYPD Blue's Kim Delaney. Last minute renewal of Dharma & Greg keeps Tuesday night anchor alive, though ABC apparently paid dearly. Dramas Alias from J.J. Abrams and Thieves with John Stamos are liked. Comedies HMO and Seinfeld alumn Jason Alexander's project—he plays a motivational speaker—have good buzz.

Reality check: ABC thinks it has a blockbuster in The Runner. A second installment of The Mole is coming. We're still waiting for Millionaire producer Michael Davies' next big thing.

Biggest need: ABC still hasn't come up with a TGIF replacement. Also, "We need to introduce the next generation of signature comedies and dramas to our schedule," says Bloomberg.

Wild card: The Runner, which is from Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, may wind up with two weekly time slots and a number of live break-ins across different nights in fall.

Advertiser take: "Now we are wondering how many Millionaires they will leave on the schedule versus how many they were going to add last year. Millionaire has allowed them time to get their development efforts in order, and their midseason shows have been strong."

CBS

Quick take: The network is coming off a big second half of the season with Survivor and the Super Bowl. C.S.I. was a nice bonus. CBS' weekend programming could look very different in fall, especially Friday and Saturday nights. Survivor 3 is coming in the fall, but CBS executives are keeping silent on almost everything else. Median age has dipped to 50.8 years, the best drop of all the networks.

Going … going: Bubble shows include Family Law, The Fugitive, Nash Bridges, That's Life and Kate Brasher. Walker, Texas Ranger is calling it a day. And, of course, there's Diagnosis Murder, the show CBS seemingly can't kill.

High hopes: CBS has given the green light for only one series, Citizen Baines from ER producer John Wells. The other leading drama contender is Education of Max Bickford starring Oscar winners Richard Dreyfuss and Marcia Gay Harden. A few comedies have an early buzz, including Saturday Night Live's Cheri Oteri in Loomis.

Reality check: The third installment of Survivor is set to hit in fall, and Amazing Race may hold for fall rather than air this summer. The network has a number of other projects quietly in development.

Biggest need: Friday and Saturday nights need new blood, with loss of Walker and expected loss of other dramas, including Nash Bridges.

Wild card: CBS programmers are considering yanking their Wednesday-night movie and going with another reality project.

Advertiser take: "Their schedule is pretty strong from Sunday through Thursday now. It's really Friday and Saturday from 8-10 p.m. that needs attention."

NBC

Quick take: Nearly everything new failed—remember The Michael Richards Show? Garth Ancier was canned, and Today producer Jeff Zucker was hired. This will be Zucker's first network lineup; reportedly Ancier's star began to fade with NBC President Bob Wright the day of NBC's upfronts last May. "Our focus is comedy, and our focus is good comedy," says Zucker.

Going … going: 3rd Rock From The Sun, The Weber Show and Deadline are gone. Fighting Fitzgeralds and Three Sisters are both fighting to stick around after their midseason debuts. NBC is also expected to dump movies on Sunday and go with dramas.

High hopes: The fall lineup will have three Law & Order series on it, including newcomer Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Also, Seinfeld alum Julia Louis-Dreyfus is coming back in a limited-run midseason comedy. Insiders say single-camera comedies Scrubs and Leap of Faith have a good chance, as does Inside Schwartz. Drama U.C. (Undercover) with Jon Seda is also a leading contender.

Reality check: NBC is expected to announce a new deal for British game show format Dog Eat Dog, and the network is still working with Survivor producer Mark Burnett on Destination Mir—just without Mir. Two Endemol formats are in works—Fear Factor and Spy TV.

Biggest need: Keeping Must See TV on Tuesdays and Thursday is key. Sunday and Monday both need help, too.

Wild card: Producer Bruce Helford and Drew Carey may have a second improv show on their hands. Insiders say NBC may pick up its own version of Whose Line is it Anyway? for the summer.

Advertiser take: "They've had a lot of success with their returning shows, not their new ones. And at this point, because they have started to take a little bit of a hit on Thursdays from Survivor, new shows will be very important for them this fall."

Fox

Quick take: Fox was in trouble a year ago; now it's talking about winning the adult 18-49 category in the coming season. Veterans That '70s Show, Ally McBeal and sophomore Malcolm in the Middle pitched in with a couple of new series to change fortunes. "We are very content with our schedule this year. We think we have a lot of building blocks in place, and we look forward to adding some additional posts to those building blocks in fall," says Entertainment President Gail Berman.

Going … going: Will The X-Files return? A deal is far from done, insiders say. Spin-off Lone Gunmen is riding the fence, and fellow freshman Dark Angel has yet to be picked up, but likely will. Freakylinks is dead.

High hopes: Fox has commitments for four new series: Undeclared, Greg The Bunny, Fling (formerly When I Grow Up) and The Tick. Insiders say comedies with Andy Richter and Bernie Mac have a good shot, as well.

Reality check: Reality guru Mike Darnell is developing five projects and has a number of offbeat, improv and hybrids up his sleeve. Temptation Island 2, Love Cruise, Love and Rejection and End Game are all on tap.

Biggest need: Thursday and Friday night. This year they get special attention, Fox says.

Wild card: New unconventional comedy Greg The Bunny, a show about a puppet who is the star of a kids show, may take the Sunday slot now occupied by Malcolm in the Middle; Malcolm may lead off Wednesday night for Fox in fall.

Advertiser take: "If they were going to have a big setback, like everybody was saying, it should have been this year because they had something like 80% of their Monday through Friday schedule was new programming."

The WB

Quick take: How much will the loss of Buffy The Vampire Slayer hurt? Perhaps, not much. The WB has developed 17 sitcom pilots, its largest comedy development slate ever, nine more than any other previous season. (UPN, just two.) The WB developed six drama pilots, four less than last year. "We felt we needed a priority push in comedy," says The WB Entertainment President Susanne Daniels. "We sort of traded around this year and kept our development budget the same."

Going … going: A lot is on the bubble, including Popular, Jack & Jill, Angel, Roswell, Felicity, Hype, Grosse Pointe, The Oblongs and The PJs . (Felicity and Angel are probable, though UPN would be happy to get its hands on Buffy companion Angel.

High hopes: The WB has series commitments for hold-over series Dead Last and Smallville, the story of young Superman that will possibly be Buffy's replacement. Comedies Maybe I'm Adopted and Young Person's Guide to Being a Rock Star are said to have the inside track. Jamie Foxx's variety show and Cedric The Coach are also front-runners.

Reality check: The network went from zero to 10 quickly on reality development. Into The Cube, No Boundaries, Elimidate Deluxe, Lost in U.S.A., Classmates and a remake of That's Incredible are on the short list. Sunday night could become a reality outlet.

Biggest need: Life without Buffy could leave The WB toothless on Tuesdays. Also, The WB is banking plenty on as many as six sitcoms this fall.

Wild card: Saturday night's all right for programming. The WB may go to a seventh night. It won't be in the fall, but possibly midseason, insiders say.

Advertiser take: "Although it clearly has a core audience, Buffy had been declining, and you are only talking about a 4 share with the show. The real problem is how many hours are they going to have to replace now. If they lose Angel, there might be some real problems."

UPN

Quick take: The addition of the next Star Trek series, Enterprise, gives the network a much-needed shot in the arm. "We really have our best opportunity in almost four years to take off at the upfronts," says Entertainment President Tom Nunan. "If we have the next Star Trek and Buffy going in, the wind is really going to be at our back." Wind? It could be a tornado if News Corp. ends up owning a chunk of UPN along with Viacom.

Going … going: Veteran comedy Moesha may be out after five seasons. Voyager is flying off after seven seasons, and another Wednesday series 7 Days may follow, though Paramount wants 7 Days to get a fourth season. Claymation series Gary & Mike and repeats of MTV's Celebrity Deathmatch are gone.

High hopes: Dead Zone, based on Stephen King's bestseller, is said to have an inside track, airing after Enterprise on Wednesdays. Holdover comedy One on One has the best shot at knocking Moesha off Monday nights.

Reality check: UPN has five reality projects in development, including a battle-of-the-sexes talk show with radio personality Tom Leykis. Other projects include Ambush TV, Rebuild Your Life and Manhunt. Chains of Love is clinging to another shot in fall.

Biggest need: Fix Fridays. Nothing has worked there. Expect movies to return there in fall.

Wild card: Sources say WWF Smackdown is going to 90 minutes and UPN will use the following 9:30 p.m. slot to launch sitcoms. UPN may have some leverage with XFL negotiations ongoing.

Advertiser take: "They certainly have some calling cards now. Buffy is a nice addition. We'll have to see how the new Star Trek works. Just saying Star Trek to the show's fans doesn't work anymore. It has to be of a certain caliber to keep a loyal following."

Pax

Quick take: Pax received a breath of fresh air midseason with the addition of Doc. The new series with Billy Ray Cyrus has popped strong ratings. Pax currently airs all original programming at 8 p.m. and is looking to add more. Pax's Jeff Sagansky says the three-year-old network will rely less on repeats of Diagnosis Murder and Touched by an Angel. Pax, which is co-owned by NBC, will continue to reap benefits from its bigger relative. The networks will share Mysterious Ways again in fall and are working together on quiz show Weakest Link.

Going … going: Twice in a Lifetime is probably not coming back.

High hopes: Next Big Star, with Ed McMahon in his former Star Search role, is coming and development includes Bonanza spin-off The Ponderosa.

Reality check: Former sitcom star Jeff Foxworthy is developing reality/comedy series coined You've Got to be Kidding. Also, Forbidden Secrets is on order.

Biggest need: Find 9 p.m. programs to follow 8 o'clock originals.

Wild card: Look for Pax to create one night of all-original programs—probably on weekend night.

Advertiser take: "Nobody talks about Pax, but there is a little network that has been growing. It's not growing by leaps and bounds, but its showing steady growth. How far they can grow is certainly a question, but they seem to be doing nicely. An it doesn't hurt to have NBC as a partner."

BROADCASTING & CABLE will take a look at Spanish-language Univision and Telemundo in the May 14 edition.

Network programmers gathered in darkened screening rooms last week to get their first look at the crop of new shows for the fall. When they make their decisions this week, they'll just have one thing to worry about: Whether strikes will ultimately prevent viewers from seeing what they chose.

Like every year, the network chiefs are picking sitcoms and dramas, but, this year, reality has sunk in. Has it ever. The genre has taken off with viewers, and, what's more, it's the sort of programming networks don't need lots of union writers or actors to produce.

The broadcast networks take over Manhattan starting May 14 to unveil their fall lineups to advertisers with presentations at such hotspots as Radio City Music Hall, Lincoln Center and the U.S.S. Intrepid moored in the Hudson River.

With the threat of strikes, nearly every network went overboard on the reality front. Each one of the networks has at least five projects in the works, including The WB, which stayed out of the genre until hitting success with Pop Stars. The WB now has nine reality projects in active development. Even little Pax has a pair of reality series, including a comedy/reality series with comedian Jeff Foxworthy.

The combination of a down economy and threat of strikes, by both the Writers Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild, is making advertisers and media buyers nervous.

"I think the biggest thing is whether or not we are going to see six schedules or 12," says Stacey Lynn Koerner, of media buyer TN Media, referring to the fact that each network is apparently preparing the schedule it wants—and the schedule it may be forced into if there's a work stoppage.

"I think we will see complete schedules for the best-case scenarios for the fall, and I think, depending on the network, we will either see real schedule plans for a strike schedule or we will get the broad ideas of what a strike plan would be."

The WGA contract expired on May 1, but, at deadline, it was said to be close to a new pact with studios. Programmers were optimistic late last week that the fall lineups will be unaffected by labor disputes. SAG has until June 30 to reach a new pact with studios to avert the possibility of a strike.

"We don't think there is going to be a strike," says Jeff Zucker, NBC's new entertainment president. "We will be prepared just in case, but we are very hopeful all of this is going to be settled."

Added Fox's Entertainment President Gail Berman, "I think we'll have an 'A' schedule. We'll be prepared to tell advertisers what we will have in case of a strike, but we think it's going to be A all the way."

The surprise move late last month by UPN to steal Buffy the Vampire Slayer from The WB brought some of the attention back to the programming side of the upfronts. UPN's move was followed by ABC's renewal of Dharma & Greg and a handful of other deals made at the last minute.

The focus across the major broadcast networks this spring is undoubtedly on comedy. The Big Six have 68 comedy pilots in development, with a couple more at Pax. The WB has 17 pilots. NBC is developing 16, ABC and Fox have 11 each, CBS has 10 and UPN two.

"I think this is about twice as much as we have ever done here in terms of comedy. The most we ever did in the past was something like eight," says Susanne Daniels, The WB's co-president of Entertainment.

In drama, there were 46 pilots ordered. CBS led the way with 11, and ABC had ten. NBC, which already has ordered a third Law & Order series for the fall, piloted seven dramas, and The WB has six. ABC, which has enjoyed success with three midseason comedies, can now put more attention to dramatic development for the fall. "Our 8 p.m. drama development is very strong, and it's rare for ABC to have strong early-evening drama development," says Stu Bloomberg, ABC Entertaiment's co-chairman.

What the networks are cooking

What the networks are cooking

ABC

Quick take: At ABC's upfront presentation last year, Regis Philbin was carried on to the stage like royalty. This year, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? is still attracting millions of viewers, but as Stu Bloomberg, co-chairman of ABC Entertainment, says, "I don't think you'll be seeing four nights a week of it next year." Bloomberg says Millionaire's overall strategy "enabled us to put a lot of weight and finances behind our development, and it's really paying off."

Going … going: ABC will take My Wife and Kids, The Job, What About Joan?, Gideon's Crossing, Geena and Once and Again into the scheduling room this week. The first three mentioned might be back; the last three probably won't.

High hopes: ABC has only one series commitment this spring, for new Steven Bochco drama Philly starring NYPD Blue's Kim Delaney. Last minute renewal of Dharma & Greg keeps Tuesday night anchor alive, though ABC apparently paid dearly. Dramas Alias from J.J. Abrams and Thieves with John Stamos are liked. Comedies HMO and Seinfeld alumn Jason Alexander's project—he plays a motivational speaker—have good buzz.

Reality check: ABC thinks it has a blockbuster in The Runner. A second installment of The Mole is coming. We're still waiting for Millionaire producer Michael Davies' next big thing.

Biggest need: ABC still hasn't come up with a TGIF replacement. Also, "We need to introduce the next generation of signature comedies and dramas to our schedule," says Bloomberg.

Wild card: The Runner, which is from Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, may wind up with two weekly time slots and a number of live break-ins across different nights in fall.

Advertiser take: "Now we are wondering how many Millionaires they will leave on the schedule versus how many they were going to add last year. Millionaire has allowed them time to get their development efforts in order, and their midseason shows have been strong."

CBS

Quick take: The network is coming off a big second half of the season with Survivor and the Super Bowl. C.S.I. was a nice bonus. CBS' weekend programming could look very different in fall, especially Friday and Saturday nights. Survivor 3 is coming in the fall, but CBS executives are keeping silent on almost everything else. Median age has dipped to 50.8 years, the best drop of all the networks.

Going … going: Bubble shows include Family Law, The Fugitive, Nash Bridges, That's Life and Kate Brasher. Walker, Texas Ranger is calling it a day. And, of course, there's Diagnosis Murder, the show CBS seemingly can't kill.

High hopes: CBS has given the green light for only one series, Citizen Baines from ER producer John Wells. The other leading drama contender is Education of Max Bickford starring Oscar winners Richard Dreyfuss and Marcia Gay Harden. A few comedies have an early buzz, including Saturday Night Live's Cheri Oteri in Loomis.

Reality check: The third installment of Survivor is set to hit in fall, and Amazing Race may hold for fall rather than air this summer. The network has a number of other projects quietly in development.

Biggest need: Friday and Saturday nights need new blood, with loss of Walker and expected loss of other dramas, including Nash Bridges.

Wild card: CBS programmers are considering yanking their Wednesday-night movie and going with another reality project.

Advertiser take: "Their schedule is pretty strong from Sunday through Thursday now. It's really Friday and Saturday from 8-10 p.m. that needs attention."

NBC

Quick take: Nearly everything new failed—remember The Michael Richards Show? Garth Ancier was canned, and Today producer Jeff Zucker was hired. This will be Zucker's first network lineup; reportedly Ancier's star began to fade with NBC President Bob Wright the day of NBC's upfronts last May. "Our focus is comedy, and our focus is good comedy," says Zucker.

Going … going: 3rd Rock From The Sun, The Weber Show and Deadline are gone. Fighting Fitzgeralds and Three Sisters are both fighting to stick around after their midseason debuts. NBC is also expected to dump movies on Sunday and go with dramas.

High hopes: The fall lineup will have three Law & Order series on it, including newcomer Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Also, Seinfeld alum Julia Louis-Dreyfus is coming back in a limited-run midseason comedy. Insiders say single-camera comedies Scrubs and Leap of Faith have a good chance, as does Inside Schwartz. Drama U.C. (Undercover) with Jon Seda is also a leading contender.

Reality check: NBC is expected to announce a new deal for British game show format Dog Eat Dog, and the network is still working with Survivor producer Mark Burnett on Destination Mir—just without Mir. Two Endemol formats are in works—Fear Factor and Spy TV.

Biggest need: Keeping Must See TV on Tuesdays and Thursday is key. Sunday and Monday both need help, too.

Wild card: Producer Bruce Helford and Drew Carey may have a second improv show on their hands. Insiders say NBC may pick up its own version of Whose Line is it Anyway? for the summer.

Advertiser take: "They've had a lot of success with their returning shows, not their new ones. And at this point, because they have started to take a little bit of a hit on Thursdays from Survivor, new shows will be very important for them this fall."

Fox

Quick take: Fox was in trouble a year ago; now it's talking about winning the adult 18-49 category in the coming season. Veterans That '70s Show, Ally McBeal and sophomore Malcolm in the Middle pitched in with a couple of new series to change fortunes. "We are very content with our schedule this year. We think we have a lot of building blocks in place, and we look forward to adding some additional posts to those building blocks in fall," says Entertainment President Gail Berman.

Going … going: Will The X-Files return? A deal is far from done, insiders say. Spin-off Lone Gunmen is riding the fence, and fellow freshman Dark Angel has yet to be picked up, but likely will. Freakylinks is dead.

High hopes: Fox has commitments for four new series: Undeclared, Greg The Bunny, Fling (formerly When I Grow Up) and The Tick. Insiders say comedies with Andy Richter and Bernie Mac have a good shot, as well.

Reality check: Reality guru Mike Darnell is developing five projects and has a number of offbeat, improv and hybrids up his sleeve. Temptation Island 2, Love Cruise, Love and Rejection and End Game are all on tap.

Biggest need: Thursday and Friday night. This year they get special attention, Fox says.

Wild card: New unconventional comedy Greg The Bunny, a show about a puppet who is the star of a kids show, may take the Sunday slot now occupied by Malcolm in the Middle; Malcolm may lead off Wednesday night for Fox in fall.

Advertiser take: "If they were going to have a big setback, like everybody was saying, it should have been this year because they had something like 80% of their Monday through Friday schedule was new programming."

The WB

Quick take: How much will the loss of Buffy The Vampire Slayer hurt? Perhaps, not much. The WB has developed 17 sitcom pilots, its largest comedy development slate ever, nine more than any other previous season. (UPN, just two.) The WB developed six drama pilots, four less than last year. "We felt we needed a priority push in comedy," says The WB Entertainment President Susanne Daniels. "We sort of traded around this year and kept our development budget the same."

Going … going: A lot is on the bubble, including Popular, Jack & Jill, Angel, Roswell, Felicity, Hype, Grosse Pointe, The Oblongs and The PJs . (Felicity and Angel are probable, though UPN would be happy to get its hands on Buffy companion Angel.

High hopes: The WB has series commitments for hold-over series Dead Last and Smallville, the story of young Superman that will possibly be Buffy's replacement. Comedies Maybe I'm Adopted and Young Person's Guide to Being a Rock Star are said to have the inside track. Jamie Foxx's variety show and Cedric The Coach are also front-runners.

Reality check: The network went from zero to 10 quickly on reality development. Into The Cube, No Boundaries, Elimidate Deluxe, Lost in U.S.A., Classmates and a remake of That's Incredible are on the short list. Sunday night could become a reality outlet.

Biggest need: Life without Buffy could leave The WB toothless on Tuesdays. Also, The WB is banking plenty on as many as six sitcoms this fall.

Wild card: Saturday night's all right for programming. The WB may go to a seventh night. It won't be in the fall, but possibly midseason, insiders say.

Advertiser take: "Although it clearly has a core audience, Buffy had been declining, and you are only talking about a 4 share with the show. The real problem is how many hours are they going to have to replace now. If they lose Angel, there might be some real problems."

UPN

Quick take: The addition of the next Star Trek series, Enterprise, gives the network a much-needed shot in the arm. "We really have our best opportunity in almost four years to take off at the upfronts," says Entertainment President Tom Nunan. "If we have the next Star Trek and Buffy going in, the wind is really going to be at our back." Wind? It could be a tornado if News Corp. ends up owning a chunk of UPN along with Viacom.

Going … going: Veteran comedy Moesha may be out after five seasons. Voyager is flying off after seven seasons, and another Wednesday series 7 Days may follow, though Paramount wants 7 Days to get a fourth season. Claymation series Gary & Mike and repeats of MTV's Celebrity Deathmatch are gone.

High hopes: Dead Zone, based on Stephen King's bestseller, is said to have an inside track, airing after Enterprise on Wednesdays. Holdover comedy One on One has the best shot at knocking Moesha off Monday nights.

Reality check: UPN has five reality projects in development, including a battle-of-the-sexes talk show with radio personality Tom Leykis. Other projects include Ambush TV, Rebuild Your Life and Manhunt. Chains of Love is clinging to another shot in fall.

Biggest need: Fix Fridays. Nothing has worked there. Expect movies to return there in fall.

Wild card: Sources say WWF Smackdown is going to 90 minutes and UPN will use the following 9:30 p.m. slot to launch sitcoms. UPN may have some leverage with XFL negotiations ongoing.

Advertiser take: "They certainly have some calling cards now. Buffy is a nice addition. We'll have to see how the new Star Trek works. Just saying Star Trek to the show's fans doesn't work anymore. It has to be of a certain caliber to keep a loyal following."

Pax

Quick take: Pax received a breath of fresh air midseason with the addition of Doc. The new series with Billy Ray Cyrus has popped strong ratings. Pax currently airs all original programming at 8 p.m. and is looking to add more. Pax's Jeff Sagansky says the three-year-old network will rely less on repeats of Diagnosis Murder and Touched by an Angel. Pax, which is co-owned by NBC, will continue to reap benefits from its bigger relative. The networks will share Mysterious Ways again in fall and are working together on quiz show Weakest Link.

Going … going: Twice in a Lifetime is probably not coming back.

High hopes: Next Big Star, with Ed McMahon in his former Star Search role, is coming and development includes Bonanza spin-off The Ponderosa.

Reality check: Former sitcom star Jeff Foxworthy is developing reality/comedy series coined You've Got to be Kidding. Also, Forbidden Secrets is on order.

Biggest need: Find 9 p.m. programs to follow 8 o'clock originals.

Wild card: Look for Pax to create one night of all-original programs—probably on weekend night.

Advertiser take: "Nobody talks about Pax, but there is a little network that has been growing. It's not growing by leaps and bounds, but its showing steady growth. How far they can grow is certainly a question, but they seem to be doing nicely. An it doesn't hurt to have NBC as a partner."

BROADCASTING & CABLE will take a look at Spanish-language Univision and Telemundo in the May 14 edition.

 

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