Broadcast television is emerging from the wreckage of the writers' strike with what advertising executives are calling a better development season than many have seen in years. From the acting and casting to the scripts and the scheduling, advertisers can grab their upfront luggage and head home feeling hopeful about the future of the most mass-market medium of all.
Despite the oft-mentioned production-cost cutbacks, some of the clips shown at the upfronts appeared as if they'd been handed down from the silver screen, according to members of Madison Avenue. “[NBC's] Day One looked good enough to be a theatrical movie,” said Larry Novenstern, executive VP at Optimedia. “I told my clients at a cocktail party that right now is the golden age of TV, not the 1950s. There are more great writers and scripts and content than ever.”
Carat's Director of Media Investments Andy Donchin, a noted network TV booster, commented that each network had worked hard to deepen the individual feel of their separate brands. “Every network, including The CW, showed why network TV is still in high demand,” he said. “The cable nets can argue that it's programming, but broadcast networks still show the breadth of their development. Admittedly, most won't work, but what they deemed good enough to roll out in fall was impressive.”
One ad agency PR executive who declined to be named even suggested that the coming season could be on par with 2005, when ABC rolled out Desperate Housewives and Lost: “While not every show is a bull's-eye, there are more shows that I'd want to watch than in the last couple of years.” Overall, there is a sense of relief that business is returning to normal.
Despite the positive reaction, there was no rush to lock in particular shows on the spot. In fact, so many advertisers were flying out of town immediately following the last presentation of the week—The CW's on Thursday morning—that the network had to find storage at its event space to accommodate all the luggage.
Shelley Watson, director of entertainment at RPA in Los Angeles, said she was optimistic about the coming season's offerings but not quite as bullish as others. “There is no urgency to this marketplace,” she said. “We all want to size things up and actually watch the material and see the pilots, and the market will move along as it's supposed to.”
She praised CBS for being aggressive about its 10 p.m. scheduling against NBC's Leno, though she thought NBC's scripted schedule was much more cohesive at two hours a night rather than three: “I saw a little bit more of the NBC sensibility coming out.”
On ABC, she liked the new comedy night on Wednesdays, and said about The CW: “I think I've fallen in love with a vampire,” a reference to new entrant Vampire Diaries. Watson also liked Fox's Glee.
As for the broadcast-versus-cable spat that intensified midweek as Turner unveiled new shows for its three cable channels, advertisers said they didn't appreciate the sniping from either side. “They all have great content and we look forward to doing business with all,” Novenstern said.
And while NBC was the punch line for many a rival's joke, Novenstern defended the network, saying, “No one knows what their financials are other than them.”
Among other shows that piqued interest among the numerous upfront-goers: CBS' The Good Wife and Undercover Boss; Flash Forward from ABC; and NBC's Trauma and Mercy.
The bottom line: Buyers had a gleam for network TV this week. “We need network TV,” Donchin said, observing that perhaps audience erosion is not inevitable. “CBS proved me wrong; take out Sunday, and The CW is flat or up. Maybe we can turn this tide and reverse the scenario.”