During a standup routine at the ABC upfront presentation last week at New York City's Lincoln Center, late-night host Jimmy Kimmel fired a barb at rival NBC Universal in the wake of its decision to move Law & Order: Criminal Intent to USA Network.
“Law & Order is moving to cable,” Kimmel deadpanned, “And NBC itself may be moving to cable.”
If the upfront presentations were any indication, NBC is not the only broadcast network moving to cable, or at least looking a lot like a cable network.
In broadcast TV, a network's collective stable of shows defines its current brand, whereas in the cable world, networks are narrowly defined by their genre or audience profile.
But more so this year than ever, the broadcast networks are beginning to take on personalities—fitting nicely into niches. It is the inadvertent result of executives' chasing development similar to their current hits.
Not only do producers start to pitch more like-minded shows to those networks hoping to capitalize on their current successes, but the networks themselves often want similar fare as companion pieces to anything that works.
But networks have to tread carefully, as economic models demand that they command the mass audiences on which advertisers still want to bet $9 billion during the upfront spending season.
“Yes, the networks have narrowed and become more niche,” says John Rash, senior VP/director of media negotiations for media buyer Campbell Mithun. “But economically, it is imperative the broadcasters remain broad.”
Despite that warning, the nation's broadcasters are getting increasingly narrow.
With another pack of estrogen-heavy shows on the way, resurgent ABC is strengthening its increasing role as the Lifetime Television of broadcast TV.
After building its turnaround on female-targeted dramas like Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy, ABC is smartly staying in its sweet spot with development like Cashmere Mafia from the creator of Sex and the City and Grey's spinoff Private Practice.
The network is trying one male-centric drama in the form of Big Shots, a Thursday-night ensemble about four CEOs. But Entourage it is not—no surprise given ABC's current feel. “Even [Big Shots] looked like men as described by women,” says one ad buyer, noting that it may to be tough to promote a male-targeted show on ABC's female-heavy schedule.
Struggling NBC says it is betting on quality to dig itself out of the primetime doldrums, with many of entertainment chief Kevin Reilly's shows looking like they would play well on his former employer and home to some of cable's best-made shows, FX.
But while highly acclaimed shows watched by just a few million viewers may work for FX, NBC execs know they need to find another mass-audience hit like Heroes to turn things around.
Poor choices, like the recent airing of low-brow reality show Real Wedding Crashers on Mondays at 10 after Heroes, betrayed NBC's desired image of quality, new fare like dramas Bionic Woman and Chuck were well-received by advertisers.
The CW wants to be what MTV used to be, a trend-defining place for America's youth to meet. At its first upfront, in 2006, advertisers credited the fledgling CW with one of the better presentations, a short and acutely targeted message about chasing the hip and tech-savvy 18-34 demographic. But with a thrown-together hodge-podge of aging shows from two failed networks, such as 7th Heaven and Reba, the network simply didn't have the assets to back up or build that brand last year.
This year's presentation was again on target, and with its first full development season producing scripted shows like Gossip Girl and the Web-audience-targeted Online Nation, the network may finally start to live up to its brand.
Seldom is even a cable network built around a single show, and Fox is gradually adding assets to be more than the American Idol network. And those shows continue to have the irreverent and edgy feel that, with Idol, won the adult 18-49 ratings race yet again this year.
What used to be called the “Fox attitude” is still going strong with veterans like House and this year's rookie Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? fitting the bill. Now the network is adding more edgy fare like post-Katrina New Orleans drama K-Ville and Terminator spinoff Sarah Connor Chronicles.
CBS may be the exception to the rule, desperately trying to add some buzz to its crime-heavy brand, which still consistently leads the networks in viewership.
With atypical CBS fare like musical Viva Laughlin and couple-swapping drama Swingtown, the network aims to get edgier, and younger. But with a bunch of crime shows, some aging but successful reality assets, the new diverse dramas and the highest-rated comedy lineup, CBS is getting harder to paint with one brush stroke.
Says one CBS executive, “Hey, I guess we are just kind of the 'big-tent' network right now, compared to everyone else, and that is fine by us.”
ABC: Staking Out Wednesday
By Ben Grossman
When ABC launches eight shows early next season, it will try to avoid getting marooned by the disappearance of Lost from its fall schedule.
The aggressive slate—the network will add at least three more rookies later in the year—follows a season in which two new shows, Ugly Betty and Brothers & Sisters, found traction, a decent result for a network these days..
As expected, ABC is staking out Wednesdays at 9 for its most talked-about new show, Grey's Anatomy spinoff Private Practice. That sets up an early rookie showdown with NBC's prized recruit, Bionic Woman, should NBC decide not to move the freshman drama.
ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson says the new drama will be reworked from the two-hour backdoor pilot that ran recently as a Grey's Anatomy episode.
"We spent a lot of time introducing the characters and not enough time on the stories," he says. "We have to get the stories stronger."
ABC is also staring down the barrel of the industry's comedy doldrums, planning three half-hours for the fall and another for midseason. The announcement came a day after NBC failed to introduce a single new half-hour.
Sam I Am gets the plush post-Dancing With the Stars spot on Mondays at 9:30, while Geico commercial spinoff Cavemen and Carpoolers team up for an hour block Tuesdays at 8. Miss/Guided is being held for midseason.
Getting the prime post-Grey's real estate is rookie drama Big Shots, which ironically is a male ensemble drama on a network built on lighter, female-skewing shows.
Betty and Brothers are not the only 2006-07 rookies to earn a second season for ABC. Late-season additions October Road and Notes From the Underbelly are back, and both will run Mondays between the network's fall and spring runs of Dancing With the Stars.
McPherson also says he was "bummed" that NBC decided to keep Scrubs, because, had NBC passed on it, the ABC Studios-produced comedy would have jumped to ABC.
BOLDEST MOVE: Going into the fall without Lost, one of ABC's biggest players from both a ratings and buzz perspective.
BEST BET: ABC knows where its bread is buttered, as light, female-targeted dramas like Grey's spinoff Private Practice and Cashmere Mafia are right on-brand.
BIGGEST RISK: ABC wants to fix Wednesdays but is rolling out an all-rookie night. McPherson hopes viewers' familiarity with Grey's can help Private Practice anchor the night at 9 like a returning show.
ON THE BUBBLE: George Lopez and Knights of Prosperity are out; According to Jim is gone but still might return.
The New Class
Big Shots: Male ensemble drama starring Michael Vartan (Alias) and Dylan McDermott (The Practice). Warner Bros.
Carpoolers: Four men relish their daily commute. ABC Studios
Cashmere Mafia: Four ambitious women balance high-powered careers, from Sex and the City creator Darren Star. Sony Pictures Television
Cavemen: Comedy based on Geico Insurance commercials. ABC Studios
Dirty Sexy Money: Peter Krause (Six Feet Under) as an idealistic New York lawyer. ABC Studios
Private Practice: Grey's Anatomy spinoff set in California. ABC Studios
Sam I Am: Comedy about a woman who must start over after losing her memory in an accident. ABC Studios
Women's Murder Club: Murder-solving drama based on James Patterson novels. 20th Century Fox TV
Eli Stone: Lawyer starts to have hallucinations that make him consider a higher calling. ABC Studios
Miss/Guided: Comedy in which a woman returns to her high school as a guidance counselor. 20th Century Fox TV and ABC Studios
Oprah's Big Give: Alternative series gives money away to change people's lives. Harpo Productions
Pushing Daisies: High-concept drama in which a man discovers that he can bring dead people back to life by touching them. Warner Bros. TV
CBS: Throw Out The Rule Book
By Marisa Guthrie
CBS is throwing out its own rule book next season, adding a slew of edgy, high-concept dramas to its stable, highly repeatable cache of crime procedurals.
The network will premiere three dramas this fall: a musical (Viva Laughlin), a vampire thriller (Moonlight) and a Cuban-American family saga headlined by Jimmy Smits that will include some subtitles (Cane). Midseason drama Swingtown will further shake things up by examining the considerable sexual peccadilloes of the '70s swinging set. The drama was conceived by Alan Poul (Six Feet Under) as a cable property, said Nina Tassler, president, CBS Entertainment. But the network was smitten enough to ask Poul and Co-Executive Producer Mike Kelley (The O.C.) to develop the show for network television.
"This may have been one of the most unusual scheduling seasons for us," CBS Corp. President/CEO Leslie Moonves said, adding that he was sold on musical drama Viva Laughlin when CBS News/CBS Sports President Sean McManus—whom Moonves describes as "a jock"—watched it and loved it.
CBS will introduce only a single comedy this fall: Chuck Lorre's The Big Bang Theory, which will get the 8:30 p.m. slot on Mondays after How I Met Your Mother. Lorre's other CBS comedy Two and a Half Men, will stay put at 9 p.m. followed by Rules of Engagement.
CBS will lead off Wednesday night with the new unscripted entry Kid Nation, a feel good show that gives 40 kids ages 8-15 40 days to rebuild a deserted community according to their own vision.
Tassler and Moonves said the network's stability went a long way in emboldening them to try something new. Indeed, CBS is using returning shows to make further inroads on Wednesday and Thursday, where ABC and NBC will be heavy on new product. Without a Trace will move back to Thursdays at 10 p.m., going head-to-head with the aging ER on NBC and new male-centered drama Big Shots on ABC.
The dearth of comedy in general was underscored by CBS' decision to give The New Adventures of Old Christine an abbreviated 13-episode order and a midseason bow, but Tassler said the network is mulling additional comedies and may look to establish a second comedy beachhead on a new night.
BOLDEST MOVE: Shaking up the CBS image with edgy, risky fare
BEST BET: The Big Bang Theory fits nicely into the Monday-night comedy block.
BIGGEST RISK: Shaking up the CBS image with edgy, risky fare
The New Class
The Big Bang Theory: Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons play a pair of quantum-physics geniuses who are social misfits. Warner Bros. Television
Cane: Jimmy Smits headlines this drama about a powerful—and at times ethically challenged—Cuban-American family. CBS Paramount TV; ABC Studios
Kid Nation: An unscripted series in which 40 kids have 40 days to create their own community with no supervision or guidance from adults. Tom Forman Prods. and Good TV
Moonlight: Joel Silver drama about an undead private eye who resists his urge to feed on human blood. Warner Bros. TV
Viva Laughlin: Hugh Jackman produces and recurs in this musical dramedy based on the British hit Viva Blackpool, about an idealistic businessman (Lloyd Owen) who dreams of opening a casino in Laughlin, Nev. Sony/CBS Paramount
Swingtown: '70s-set drama about a young couple (Jack Davenport and Molly Parker) who discover open marriages and free love when they move their family to a Chicago suburb. CBS Paramount
The CW: In Search Of A Breakout Hit
By Anne Becker
After a year of finding its footing, The CW is looking for its first breakout, network-defining series. Targeting viewers in the 18-34 demo, the network is using established reality hits to launch two scripted series and has also lined up a new family drama, an entertainment talk show, a viral-video compilation and two wacky reality series.
"We know the key to our success is developing the next big hit," CW Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff told advertisers. "The bottom line is, we want The CW to be the first stop our viewers make when they want entertainment."
The CW played it safe last year with a schedule full of existing shows from its precursors, The WB and UPN, while it marketed hard to let viewers know what it was. Now, with the upfront slogan "Get into The CW," the network is aggressively courting viewers with new shows and media buyers with the promise that it's the only broadcast network going after hip, young viewers.
Rich-kids-in-New-York drama Gossip Girl gets the prime 9 p.m. Wednesday time slot, following the network's biggest hit, America's Next Top Model, at 8 p.m.
Reaper, a new comedic thriller about the devil's young bounty hunter, is slated for Tuesdays at 9 p.m., following Beauty and the Geek, which moves to 8 p.m. from Wednesdays at 9 p.m.
The CW's other two scripted entrants are Aliens in America, a single-camera comedy about a Pakistani exchange student and his U.S. host family, and Life Is Wild, a family drama set on a South African wildlife preserve. Aliens joins the Monday-night comedy block at 8:30 p.m. after Everybody Hates Chris and followed by returning shows Girlfriends and The Game.
Life is set for 8 p.m. Sundays with a lead-in from new consumer-generated video show Online Nation and entertainment newsmagazine CW Now. Top Model repeats stay on Sundays at 9 p.m.
The CW's Thursdays and Fridays stay the same for the fall with Smallville and Supernatural on the former and Friday Night Smackdown! wrestling fare on the latter.
Midseason will bring a new season of veteran soap One Tree Hill set four years after the previous one left off and new reality shows Farmer Wants a Wife and Crowned.
Gone from the schedule are cult favorite Veronica Mars and Will Smith-produced comedy All of Us.
Boldest Move: Pairing tried-and-true reality with new scripted dramas in a bid to find that network-defining original show.
Best Bet: Executives are most excited about Gossip Girl, the next big thing from O.C. creator Josh Schwartz.
Biggest Risk: Bringing back One Tree Hill for years in the future. Messing with the formula of a solid performer could backfire.
On the Bubble: Midseason contenders include Dash 4 Cash (CBS Paramount TV), a behind-the-scenes comedy about a reality show, and Eight Days a Week (CBS Paramount TV), a comedy about four friends working for power brokers in New York.
The New Class
Aliens in America: Comedy about a Pakistani Muslim teen and the U.S. family he lives with as an exchange student. CBS Paramount Network TV/Warner Bros. TV
Reaper: Comedic drama about the devil's bounty hunter, who reclaims souls escaped from hell. ABC Studios
Gossip Girl: Drama about rich kids and parents in New York is based on the books of the same name and is written by O.C. creator Josh Schwartz and the show's Stephanie Savage. Alloy Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television/CBS Paramount TV
Life Is Wild: Family drama set at a South African game preserve, based on the British series Wild at Heart. CBS Paramount Network TV/Warner Bros. TV/Company Pictures
Online Nation: Viewer-submitted video show. Room 403 Productions
CW Now: Entertainment newsmagazine. Telepictures Productions, Warner Horizon Television
One Tree Hill: Another season of the stable soap, this one set four years after the earlier one left off
The Pussycat Dolls Present: A second season of the reality show
Crowned: The Mother of All Pageants: Mother-daughter beauty-pageant reality show. Fox Television Studios
Farmer Wants a Wife: Reality dating show. Fremantle, Super Delicious
Fox: Less Baseball, Extra Innings
By Jim Benson
Fox Entertainment President Peter Liguori emphasized his network's stability last week, announcing a fall schedule with 17 returning series, a handful of new reality shows and eight new scripted series to be doled out over the season. Even the choice launch-pad slots behind juggernauts American Idol and Super Bowl XLII were reserved for returning shows.
With the luxury of fewer baseball preemptions this fall, Fox will set a more leisurely pace than in years past. It will introduce just three scripted series in late August or early September—later than in previous years—and five likely in the second half of the season.
The go-slow approach will allow Fox to run original programming all season and devote more promotional attention to the four new dramas and four comedies.
Still, the network is putting House, TV's top scripted series, in the coveted post-Super Bowl berth and keeping it behind Idol on Tuesday nights. And sophomore comedy 'Til Death will retain its post–Idol-results-show slot on Wednesdays.
Of three scripted series debuting this fall, only one—the post-Katrina New Orleans cop show K-Ville—will have an established lead-in on Mondays in Prison Break. But not for long: In January, K-Ville will take over at 8 p.m. for a few months while Prison Break is on hiatus.
Another rookie, New Amsterdam, about an immortal cop, will lead off Tuesdays against the CBS drama NCIS before moving to Fridays behind Bones in the spring. Fox will keep House at 9 p.m. to fend off one returning and two new dramas on other networks.
Back to You, the high-profile Kelsey Grammer-Patricia Heaton workplace comedy, will go into the Wednesday 8 p.m. lead-off slot. But Liguori considers the rookie to be a returning show, since the stars are well-known brands that will be easy to promote. Back to You will be the lead-in for 'Til Death until March, when sitcom The Return of Jezebel James (working title) will step in behind it and 'Til Death resumes its post-Idol spot.
Thursday-Saturday will become solid reality blocks this fall, but new legal drama Canterbury's Law will go into the Thursday 9 p.m. slot in the spring.
BOLDEST MOVE: Holding the buzzed-about The Sarah Connor Chronicles until spring and airing the live-action drama at Sunday 9 p.m., out of an animation block, for 13 consecutive original episodes.
BEST BET: Back to You. Comedy heavyweights Grammer and Heaton in front of the camera and Steven Levitan, Christopher Lloyd and James Burrows behind it. Enough said.
BIGGEST RISK: Putting Canterbury's Law, from Executive Producers Denis Leary and Jim Serpico (Rescue Me, The Job), into the 9 p.m. Thursday slot next spring against ABC's Grey's Anatomy and CBS' CSI—and giving it Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? as a lead-in.
ON THE BUBBLE: The Winner (oh, the irony)
The New Class
K-Ville: Cop drama about life in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. 20th Century Fox Television
New Amsterdam: Directed and executive-produced by Lasse Hallström (My Life as a Dog, Chocolat), this is Fox's contribution to TV's undead craze. Regency Television, Scarlet Fire Films
Back to You: His career in retreat, a downtrodden anchorman returns to Pittsburgh to partner with his former co-anchor and old flame. 20th Century Fox Television, Levitan/Lloyd Productions
Kitchen Nightmares: Hell's Kitchen chef Gordon Ramsay hits the road each week to assist restaurants in crisis. Granada America, Optomen Television, A. Smith & Co.
The Search for the Next Great American Band: American Idol's producers will be charged with getting young viewers to stay home on Friday nights. FremantleMedia North America, 19 TV LTD
Nashville (working title): Docu-soap from the producers of Laguna Beach featuring more soap than music from a cast of Faith-Hill wannabes. Go Go Luckey Productions
Canterbury's Law: Julianna Margulies (ER) takes on risky, unpopular cases. Sony Pictures Television, Apostle
The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Part of the Terminator film saga, the series is set in modern-day Los Angeles (a place where ex-Terminators can become governor). Warner Bros. Television, C-2 Pictures
The Return of Jezebel James: Comedy about an estranged sister carrying the other's baby. Regency TV
The Rules for Starting Over (working title): The Farrelly brothers' (Dumb and Dumber) unique take on love. 20th Century Fox Television, Conundrum Entertainment, Watson Pond Productions
Anchorwoman: A comedy about a supermodel who becomes a news anchor in a small Texas town. Fox 21, The G Group
NBC: Thin on New Shows—And That's OK
By Marisa Guthrie
NBC's fall schedule is notably thin, with only four new dramas, a game show and no new comedies. But the abstemious menu is by design, says Kevin Reilly, president, NBC Entertainment.
"Loading up on product is not necessarily a recipe for success, particularly in this day and age with the fragmented audience," he says. "You simply can't market them."
The fourth-place network will run two of its new dramas on Wednesday nights, Bionic Woman at 9 p.m. and Life at 10. Reilly is banking on Bionic Woman—which stars Michelle Ryan as a surgically altered superwoman—to "blast a hole" and become a tent pole for the network.
NBC will attempt to extend the sci-fi milieu on Monday nights, giving Journeyman, about a time-traveling newspaper reporter, the plum post-Heroes slot. Chuck will air Tuesdays at 9 p.m. At this point, the only other new fall entry is reality show The Singing Bee, a karaoke version of a spelling bee, that will anchor Friday nights, alternating with returning game show 1 vs 100. Candace Bushnell's Lipstick Jungle is slated for Sundays at 10 p.m. in January after football wraps.
The network also plans to bow comedy The IT Crowd, about a crew of computer nerds in an office IT department, during midseason. Acknowledging that comedy development has become particularly challenging in the age of unscripted TV, Reilly says the network will work more comedies into the schedule "opportunistically."
"We've been very methodical about our comedy development," he says.
The dearth of new comedy on NBC means that there will be more of the old. The Office and My Name Is Earl will "bulk up" with additional episodes; Earl will have 25 while The Office will expand to 30 episodes next season, including five one-hour installments. But perhaps a bigger challenge for the quirky Greg Daniels comedy about the pallid office personnel at a western Pennsylvania paper company is to anchor the highly competitive 9 p.m. Thursday hour, where it will face ABC's Grey's Anatomy and CBS' CSI.
BOLDEST MOVE: Running Heroes without the long hiatus that sapped its momentum could keep fans satisfied. It remains to be seen, however, whether six-episode Origins: Heroes will have the same impact as the original.
BEST BET: Bionic Woman has all the trappings of an 18-49 hit: a young photogenic lead, sci-fi elements and girl fights.
BIGGEST RISK: NBC has a particularly risk-averse fall slate with only three new dramas, one reality show and no comedies. Such a thin menu could turn out to be the biggest risk of all for the No. 4 network.
ON THE BUBBLE: The Apprentice is not on the schedule. Donald Trump is making noise about peddling his show elsewhere.
The New Class
Bionic Woman: Michelle Ryan (EastEnders) plays a college dropout whose life is altered when surgery after a catastrophic accident turns her into a post-millennium super-heroine. NBC Universal TV Studio
Chuck: Josh Schwartz (The O.C.) and McG helm this quirky dramedy about a computer geek who becomes the most wanted man in America when he inadvertently downloads government secrets into his brain. Warner Bros. TV
Journeyman: Kevin McKidd (Rome) plays a San Francisco newspaper reporter who inexplicably starts to travel back in time to change lives and history. 20th Century Fox TV
Life: Damian Lewis stars as a detective who returns to the job—with a new lease on life and an addiction to fresh fruit—after years in prison for a brutal murder he didn't commit. NBC Universal TV Studio
The Singing Bee: In this karaoke/spelling bee hybrid, contestants must accurately sing the lyrics to pop songs—when the band stops playing. The Gurin Company, Juma Entertainment LLC
Lipstick Jungle: Candace Bushnell's follow-up to Sex and the City examines a new generation of high-powered New York City career women (Brooke Shields, Kim Raver and Lindsay Price). NBC Universal TV Studio
The IT Crowd: New comedy centers on the nerds at the company IT department; Rocky Carroll headlines as the company boss. NBC Universal TV Studio
Hispanic: Nets Strut Stuff
By Michael Malone
Univision and Telemundo set their sights on bigger competition at their upfront presentations last week. For Univision, it's the well-established English-language networks, CBS, NBC, Fox and ABC. For its part, Telemundo is taking the fight to Univision, hinting that its rival is as big as it's going to get.
At stake is a growing pile of money. Spanish-language TV advertising grew almost 14% in 2006 (to $4.28 billion), according to TNS Media Intelligence, and a spike is forecasted for 2007. According to Borrell Associates, the U.S. Hispanic population was 29 million in 2006, climbing to 35 million in 2010 and 42 million in 2015. "The growth rate is through the roof," said Borrell Director of Internet Sales Bill Caudill, "and they're watching television in huge, huge numbers."
Telemundo's Sales Senior VP Steve Mandala likened presenting at Radio City Music Hall to "wearing the big-boy pants." Sticking with the party line of parent company NBC Universal, Telemundo played up multi-screen avails, and repeatedly stressed that, unlike Univision, it owns its shows, and can offer advertisers a wider range of propositions.
President Don Browne, while not referring to the network by name, questioned Univision's growth potential. "Our competitor is as good as it's going to be," he said. "We're not even close to as good as we're going to be."
New shows include primetime novelas, news programs and a late-night talk show, Mas Vale Tarde. The network also announced that it had acquired exclusive digital rights to the Mexican national soccer team, and will be the official Hispanic broadcaster of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.
Telemundo execs were thrilled with a 10% viewership increase May to May, according to the Nielsen Television Index, which Browne called "our new best friend."
Recently sold to a consortium of equity groups, Univision made its pitch at Home of Jazz at the Time Warner Center. Sharing numbers from a Simmons Market Research study, new CEO Joe Uva said that 63% of Univision viewers watch commercials, as opposed to 39% of English-language viewers, and 44% make purchases because of ads, compared to 10%. Univision viewers largely avoid time-shifting, he said.
Joining the Univision slate are a batch of novelas, Amas de Casa Desesperadas, the Spanish-language version of Desperate Housewives from Disney-ABC International Television, and Como Ama una Mujer, a miniseries created by entertainer Jennifer Lopez.
In a press conference after the presentation, Uva also vowed to claim retransmission consent cash from cable operators, to the tune of $1 a subscriber.
Univision siblings TeleFutura and Galavision and Telemundo sister network mun2 also made their pitches.
Some are calling for a bump in upfront revenue. "There should be some gains," says Danielle Gonzales, managing director of Starcom's multicultural offshoot, Tapestry. "I do think demand [for the Hispanic networks] will be up, though it's too early to say how much."