ABC shook up the upfront presentations in New York last week by shifting Sunday-night juggernaut Grey's Anatomy—which follows Desperate Housewives—to Thursdays in September.
The audacious action, which separates two hit shows, sets the stage for a fall showdown with TV's top-rated drama, CBS' CSI, on Thursday, television's biggest revenue night, when movie companies and other advertisers try to hammer their messages home to viewers before the weekend.
The Grey's move also proved a spoiler for NBC's highly anticipated new drama Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip from West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin, scheduled for that same killer time slot. Now some say it's likely to move to either 9 p.m. or 10 pm on Monday. “We can't let this telescope too far from here,” says NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly, acknowledging that a schedule change for Studio 60 could happen as early as this week but declining to be more specific.
ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson, who did a spirited Dancing With the Stars-inspired cha-cha during his presentation, and CBS boss Leslie Moonves, who stuck with standup-comedy lines at his, agreed that two hit shows can work in the same time period without cannibalizing each other. Moonves pointed out that Friends and Survivor once thrived at the same time. When Fox saw Grey's Anatomy going to Thursday instead of the rumored Monday, it flipped Prison Break and Vanished.
Besides the smackdown planned for Thursday night, the fall schedule will be noticeably shaped by an abundance of dramas and a continued dearth of comedies. ABC's five new comedies account for half of the 10 the networks will launch in total, which is actually up from the six new comedies that were on the fall schedule last season. The four networks will roll out 14 dramas this year, compared with 13 last fall. That's not totally surprising following a season in which the scripted-hour form thrived while sitcoms limped along, with only a few achieving even moderate success.
“I don't think there has ever been a day when there are more great dramas on television in the history of the medium,” Moonves says. “This is the golden age of drama on every network, including cable.”
The new fall lineups also reflect the growing trend toward year-round development. Notably, such mega-hits as ER and Lost, will run original episodes consecutively, instead of interspersing reruns. Indeed, American Idol has divided the season into two for Fox, which uses the phenomenon along with midseason hits like 24 to promote and launch its spring lineup. All the networks are reacting, placing either their most valued shows in the fall or, from January to May, on nights when they won't run against Idol. This year, more networks may follow Fox's lead and launch a handful of their fall series early in August to give them a jump on the competition.
Overall, CBS has four new fall series on the way, and Fox has five. And they should have an easier time promoting their respective lineups than either ABC (nine) or NBC (seven), especially at a time when viewers have more programming choices than ever.
Though the only network to improve year-to-year in the 18-49 demo, ABC had a poor batting average with new series this past season, which forced an increase in development. Now it must divvy up its promotional dollars among a total of 15 new shows for the entire year, including six for midseason.
Fourth-place NBC, while benefiting from its new Sunday-night football promotional platform this fall, will have to figure out how to spread its dollars among its new and returning shows, as well as at least three new midseason series.
The CW, meanwhile, announced its initial fall schedule, which was fairly evenly divided between UPN and The WB series, with little new fare. And Fox's MyNetworkTV tried to convince advertisers that it is more than just another syndication play with a splashy upfront presentation touting its telenovela programming strategy.
For all the networks, hope springs eternal in the upfront season. In the following pages, we guide you through how the real drama of the new season will play out next fall.
ABC: Extreme Fall Makeover
By John M. Higgins
ABC ordered more new series for the fall than any of its rivals, largely because last fall's lineup collapsed. Just one of the 12 series ordered at this time last year survived, leaving President Steve McPherson with a lot of holes to fill on his schedule. Still, the network owns the most buzzworthy shows, Lost and Grey's Anatomy.
Moving Grey's to Thursdays is a bold effort by the network to become a player on that night for the first time in years. Other than a couple of reality-show successes, ABC has barely attempted to take on shows like NBC's Friends and CBS' Survivor and CSI on Thursdays, the favorite night of the week for many advertisers.
Grey's was a surprise hit that initially aired as a midseason show last year after ABC's biggest hit, Desperate Housewives. This season, Grey's surprised even ABC executives and started beating Housewives in the Nielsens some weeks. That helped convince McPherson that the show didn't need the strong lead-in and could be used to anchor another night.
ABC ordered 15 new series, slating nine for the fall season and six as replacements. The tally comprises six comedies, six dramas and three reality series.
In trying to build Thursdays, ABC is surrounding hit Grey's Anatomy with rookie shows. Opening the night are two “moment in the life of…” comedies, Big Day (a young couple's wedding day) and Notes From the Underbelly (a couple expecting a baby). Following Grey's is Six Degrees, a complex ensemble drama of six strangers living in Manhattan who unknowingly intermix, drawn together by a mysterious force; McPherson describes the show as “Lost, but the island has 3 million people on it.”
ABC's other big moves: filling the hole left by Monday Night Football, which moved to ESPN, with two hours of reality (Wife Swap and The Bachelor) plus this year's midseason replacement What About Brian. Tuesday night is overhauled with a short, eight-week run of hit Dancing With the Stars plus new sitcoms Let's Rob… and Help Me Help You.
BOLDEST MOVE: Using Grey's Anatomy to take on CBS' CSI and establish a beachhead on Thursday night.
BEST BET:Brothers & Sisters. McPherson shows supreme confidence by nestling the Calista Flockhart-starring drama in the best slot he has, leading out of Desperate Housewives.
BIGGEST RISK: The battle for Thursday. If it fizzles, McPherson will be castigated for not moving Grey's Anatomy to another barren night—Monday—where success would have been fairly certain.
ON THE BUBBLE:Invasion, Freddie are out.
The New Class
Betty the Ugly: A chunky secretary in the anorexic world of New York fashion. Hour-long comedy based on a popular South American novela. Touchstone Television
Big Day: Sitcom touted as “24 marries Father of the Bride,” each episode will follow an hour of a couple's wedding day. Sony Pictures Television
Brothers & Sisters: Happy family becomes less happy after dark secrets start emerging. Calista Flockhart (Ally McBeal) leads this drama. Touchstone Television
Help Me Help You: Ted Danson is a doctor/self-help author leading a therapy group, but he's crazier than his patients. Regency Television
Let's Rob...: Misfits spend an entire season trying to rob Mick Jagger. Touchstone Television
Men in Trees: Hot relationship self-help author's (Anne Heche) own relationship collapses, and she retreats to an Alaskan village starved for women.
Notes From the Underbelly: Andrew and Lauren are having a baby, and they are overwhelmed by the politics of parenthood, including advice from friends and family. Warner Bros. Television
Six Degrees: Mysterious web links the lives of six New Yorkers and draws the strangers ever closer together. Touchstone Television
The Nine: Survivors of a violent bank robbery find their lives forever changed and intertwined. Warner Bros. Television
Day Break: Think of an ultra-tense Groundhog Day, with Taye Diggs being framed for murder over and over. Touchstone Television
Greg Behrendt's Wake-Up Call: Reality show, with real-life self-help author Greg Behrendt (He's Just Not That Into You) counseling troubled couples
In Case of Emergency: Several years after graduation, a group of high school pals discovers no one's life went according to plan. The financial whiz is indicted for fraud; the valedictorian becomes an erotic masseuse. Touchstone Television
Just for Laughs: Candid Camera lives. Short-run series
Set for the Rest of Your Life: Game show
Traveler: A new take on The Fugitive: two 20ish pals are framed for a terrorist bombing by their best friend. Warner Bros. Television
CBS Orders Just Four Series
By Jim Benson
When CBS announced a fall schedule lacking procedural dramas for the first time in recent years, to some it seemed the world had come to an end. So it was appropriate that its new lead show on Wednesday nights is apocalyptic series Jericho.
Confident in its existing shows, CBS introduced just four series—three dramas and a comedy—to its fall schedule on four nights while retaining 18. Still, the network sought to take more chances with its series picks to generate buzz.
“There was an attitude that, okay, we don't get as much noise as everybody else,” CBS Corp. President/CEO Leslie Moonves acknowledged to reporters before his network's presentation. “We like getting the buzz, though I like winning more. But you want to see something different from us, and I think you will this year.”
With just a few spots to fill, CBS moved out of its comfort zone of some crime procedurals and greenlighted the new James Woods attorney series Shark for 10 p.m. Thursdays; Smith, the Ray Liotta Goodfellas-like heist series, for Tuesdays at 10; and Jericho at 8 on Wednesdays.
Smith and Jericho will have serialized elements. But Moonves says CBS will be “real careful that people can tune in” at any time: “Let's not forget that CSI is a far more profitable show than Desperate Housewives. Our prime time is the most profitable because our shows repeat great.”
Beyond passing on the crime procedurals it had in development, the new CBS schedule deviated in other ways. After experimenting the past few seasons with different action-oriented, male-skewing formats to counter Housewives, the network finally became the last holdout to scrap its TV-movie franchise—moving the procedurals Cold Case and Without a Trace into the 9-11 p.m. ET Sunday-night slot to compete against football on NBC and an ABC lineup without Grey's Anatomy.
In comedy, it introduced The Class to run in the protected 8:30 p.m. Monday hammock between How I Met Your Mother and Two and a Half Men.
BOLDEST MOVE: Axing the weak-link Sunday movie and moving to an all Jerry Bruckheimer- produced Sunday-night schedule. Bruckheimer's reality entry, Amazing Race, will move to 8 p.m. following 60 Minutes. An infusion of younger faces like Katie Couric and Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes should help lower its median age (“from 85 to 82,” Moonves quips).
BEST BET:Shark, which generated the most talk among CBS' new-season class at the upfronts and was CBS' highest-testing pilot. With Woods' strong performance and Imagine Entertainment's Brian Grazer behind it, the show could give CBS the buzz it has been craving.
BIGGEST RISK: Thursday nights, where even Moonves admits Grey's Anatomy could “ding” CSI, the top-rated network drama. But CBS executives say it could have been much worse if ABC had moved Grey's to Mondays against its comedy anchor Men and the aspiring The New Adventures of Old Christine.
ON THE BUBBLE:Out of Practice is just plain out.
The New Class:
The Class: A comedy about relationships formed during a third-grade class reunion of twentysomethings. Warner Bros. TV
Smith: Drama with a criminal mastermind who leads career crooks as they plot and execute intricate and high-stakes heists across the country. Warner Bros. TV
Jericho: Tale of the chaotic fallout in a small Kansas town after a mushroom cloud appears on the horizon. CBS Paramount Network Television in association with Junction Entertainment
Shark: An unscrupulous defense attorney switches sides and brings his win-at-all-cost tactics to the D.A.'s office. Imagine Entertainment in association with 20th Century Fox Television
The King of Queens: Aging Sony Pictures TV comedy returns for its swan song.
3 Lbs.: Stanley Tucci in a medical drama about New York neurosurgeons. CBS Paramount
Waterfront: Drama about a real-life colorful mayor in Providence, R.I., with Joe Pantoliano. Warner Bros. TV
Rules of Engagement: Comedy starring Patrick Warburton (Seinfeld) that follows two couples and a single guy through dating, engagement and marriage. Adam Sandler and Sony/CBS Paramount
The CW Picks And Chooses
By Allison Romano
When The CW debuts Sept. 18, it will rely on a lineup that fuses top shows from two soon-to-expire networks, The WB and UPN, and will be laser-focused on the 18-34 demographic.
On Tuesdays, for instance, The WB's well-loved Gilmore Girls will be paired with UPN cult favorite Veronica Mars. On Wednesdays, The CW marries fashion reality show America's Next Top Model with teen soap One Tree Hill.
“It would have taken billions of dollars and years of failed starts to get to this level of quality for a new network with new shows,” said Dawn Ostroff, entertainment president of The CW, which is cleared on stations in the top 50 markets representing 90% of the country.
Only two new shows made it on the slate. Runaway, produced by Sex and the City's Darren Star, is the lone drama. It will be paired on Monday nights with TV's longest-running family drama, 7th Heaven, which was supposed to end its run this season but will return for season 11.
The CW is also returning UPN's African-American comedy block for Sunday nights, adding Everybody Hates Chris. The show's 7 p.m. time slot raised some eyebrows last week, though, since the male-targeted comedy will air against NFL programming.
When its fickle young viewers turn away from TV, The CW is barreling into digital platforms. On its Web site, cwtv.com, each show will have digital extensions, including video clips ranging from backstories for Supernatural to fashion advice from Model's Tyra Banks.
In another twist to entice advertisers, The CW will create mini-programs, or “content wraps,” to run within commercial breaks. One idea is “Date Night,” a short dating program that would follow a prospective couple getting ready, meeting, and recapping their date in three two-minute segments peppered throughout The CW's prime. Each episode can open with a 15-second spot and be loaded with product placements.
BOLDEST MOVE: The CW is throwing two of its acclaimed series, Smallville and Supernatural, into the Thursday-night tussle, hoping to pull in young men—and maybe a few women who prefer its hunks over Grey's Anatomy's “Dr. McDreamy.”
BEST BET: Pairing fan favorites Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars for a Tuesday-night “Girl's Night.” Against minimal competition for female eyeballs, both should thrive.
BIGGEST RISK: Shifting last year's hottest upfront sensation, Everybody Hates Chris, to Sunday nights at 7 p.m. ET, where it will compete with the NFL for male viewers. The CW spin: The time slot is good for family viewing.
ON THE BUBBLE: Acclaimed family drama Everwood didn't make the cut. Reba could be back for midseason.
The New Class:
The Game: Behind-the-scenes comedy about the wives and girlfriends of star football players. Happy Camper, Grammnet Productions, CBS Paramount Network Television
Runaway: The CW's lone new fall drama stars Donnie Wahlberg as a fugitive on the run with his family as they try to clear his name. Sony Pictures Television, Darren Star Productions and Golly Inc.
Hidden Palms: Teen drama set in tony Palm Springs, Calif.. Along with the usual adolescent angst, the characters are hiding some darker secrets. Lion's Gate Television and Outerbanks Entertainment
Can Fox Go Beyond 'Idol' Worship?
By Ben Grossman
Selling itself as more than the American Idol network, Fox unveiled a fall schedule with returning hits that reflects a level of stability that the network hasn't enjoyed for years.
Following a season in which it is on track to win its second straight ratings crown, Fox's strength now includes its ability to bring back at least one hour of programming from last season every night of the week.
The network will again separate itself into two schedules, one for the fall built around the baseball playoffs, and then a midseason lineup that features Idol and the return of the still-vibrant 24.
The network will debut three dramas, two comedies, and a Saturday late-night series this fall. Fox will add yet another interesting storyline to Thursday nights when it debuts two traditional comedies in an 8 p.m. ET block.
Married-couple comedy 'Til Death, starring Brad Garrett, and odd-couple sitcom Happy Hour give Fox a block of multicamera comedies in an hour when NBC has stuck with its single-camera, quirky look.
The network will use solid sophomores Prison Break and Bones to launch dramas on Monday and Wednesday, respectively, but has left rising star House in its Tuesday at 9 slot, opting instead to introduce drama Standoff at 8.
In early January, Fox will also have a strong male-oriented promotional tool, like baseball in the fall, when it takes over the rights to college football's Bowl Championship Series and then again in February when it grabs the Daytona 500 on an annual basis.
But midseason is all about American Idol, which Fox once again says it will leave on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Mondays will also turn over after the break, when Prison Break and rookie Vanished will give way to Standoff at 8 followed by the sixth really bad day for Jack Bauer on 24. Prison Break will return later in the spring and run into the summer.
Bones will shift to Friday at 8 as the lead-in to new drama The Wedding Album.
BOLDEST MOVE: Fox is slating two four-camera sitcoms in the 8 p.m. hour, looking to attract the traditional comedy audience that no longer gets serviced on Thursday nights.
BEST BET: Leave Idol on once per year, leave it on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, back up the Brinks truck. Rinse and repeat.
BIGGEST RISK: Leaving The O.C. on Thursdays at 9 against Grey's Anatomy may be a prescription for angst for the teen drama. Fox Entertainment President Peter Liguori says he took a step back after ABC's announcement but decided to stand pat: “We had a very brief discussion about moving it.”
ON THE BUBBLE:The Loop and The War at Home return, Bernie Mac doesn't.
The New Class:
Vanished: Serialized drama focuses on the disappearance of a senator's wife. 20th Century Fox Television
Standoff: Drama centered on a couple, both of whom are hostage negotiators. 20th Century Fox Television
Justice: Victor Garber (Alias) stars in a drama about a group of Los Angeles-based defense lawyers. Warner Bros. and Jerry Bruckheimer Television
'Til Death: Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond) stars in a comedy about two married couples, one young and one old. Sony Pictures Television
Happy Hour: Comedy following a pair of very different roommates. Warner Bros. and Werner-Gold-Miller
Duets: Simon Cowell is behind this four-week alternative special pairing singing stars with celebs in a competition for charity. Simco and Fox Television Studios
Talk Show With Spike Feresten: Half-hour late-night comedy/talk show featuring a former writer from Seinfeld and The Late Show With David Letterman. Fox Television Studios
The Wedding Album: Drama focuses on the travails of a wedding photographer and his assistant. Fox Television Studios and 20th Century Fox Television
The Winner: The first live-action comedy from Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane and Ricky Blitt has a successful fortysomething man looking back at his less-productive thirties. 20th Century Fox Television
On the Lot: Aspiring moviemakers compete for a studio development deal at DreamWorks. Mark Burnett Productions, DreamWorks Television and Amblin Television
NBC: Not a Lot Of Laughs
By Ben Grossman
With just two new comedies on the fall schedule, NBC is hoping a new batch of dramas and NFL football will help turn around its struggling prime time lineup. Counting on Sunday Night Football to deliver an audience that will stay during the week, the network will focus marketing efforts on new series at 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday.
After dominating network TV's coveted 18-49 demographic for years with its Must-See TV lineup of hits from Friends to The West Wing, NBC has fallen into fourth place the past two seasons. The new drama-heavy slate is the network's latest attempt to revive, and the stakes are high. The most notable change in NBC's upfront presentation was the dismantling of its Thursday-night comedy block, although that could change if Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip moves to another night.
NBC will look to get back in the game on Thursday nights with its only two returning comedies, My Name Is Earl and The Office, in a block at 8 p.m. ET, followed by the highly anticipated Studio 60 at 9. At 10, the network will air new episodes of ER in the fall and spring, resting it in favor of rookie The Black Donnellys for 13 weeks beginning in January.
Entertainment President Kevin Reilly has said previously he would like to get back to two hours of comedy on Thursday night but wasn't ready to do so this fall. “It felt vulnerable to go with a four-comedy strategy on Thursday night,” he says.
NBC will launch its only new comedies, Twenty Good Years and 30 Rock, Wednesdays at 9.
The network is hoping Studio 60, along with new dramas Heroes on Mondays and Kidnapped on Tuesdays, will give it “tent poles” in the schedule at 9 p.m.
Hoping, too, to play to the football audience it will have on Sundays, it is also adding Friday Night Lights, a football-centric show based on the movie of the same name, Tuesdays at 8.
Popular game show Deal or No Deal will kick off both Mondays and Fridays in the fall after resting over the summer.
Since NBC was the first to announce its fall schedule, Reilly admits that he may do some tinkering before fall: “We're going to really look at it this year.”
BOLDEST MOVE: Plunking Studio 60 on Thursdays at 9 was a strong play until ABC moved Grey's Anatomy into that time slot. With CBS's CSI also in the time period, NBC should consider reshuffling its deck before the fall.
BEST BET: With The West Wing's Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme behind it and an all-star cast on-screen, Studio 60 is NBC's best chance at the big drama it desperately needs.
BIGGEST RISK: A show taking place behind the scenes of a TV show may not play in the heartland, so scheduling two—on consecutive nights—may be tough to pull off.
ON THE BUBBLE:Scrubs is in; Conviction and Fear Factor are out.
The New Class:
Heroes: Five ordinary people discover that they have superpowers and go out to save the world. NBC Universal Television Studio (NUTS).
Friday Night Lights: A high school drama set in a football-crazed town in Texas, based on the film of the same name. Imagine, NUTS and Film 44.
Kidnapped: An entire season plays out around the kidnapping of the son of a wealthy Manhattan family. Sony Pictures Television and 25C Productions.
20 Good Years: John Lithgow (3rd Rock From the Sun) and Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development) star as an aging odd couple. Warner Bros.
30 Rock: Saturday Night Live star Tina Fey and recurring host Alec Baldwin star in a comedy set behind the scenes of a TV variety show. Broadway Video Television and NUTS.
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: The creative team behind The West Wing takes on the back-stage drama of a Saturday Night Live-type show. Strong ensemble cast includes Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) and Matthew Perry (Friends). Warner Bros.
The Black Donnellys: The Academy Award-winning creative team behind Crash is driving this look at four Irish brothers involved in organized crime in New York City. NUTS and Blackfriars Bridge Television.
Raines: Jeff Goldblum (Independence Day) stars as a detective who talks to dead crime victims. NUTS.
Andy Barker P.I.: Conan O'Brien and former sidekick Andy Richter reunite behind the camera in a comedy starring Richter as an accountant. NUTS and Conaco.
The Singles Table: Ensemble comedy based on five young singles who meet at a wedding. 20th Century Fox Television.
MyNetworkTV Debut Heats Up
By Allison Romano
In its inaugural upfront, Fox's MyNetworkTV (MNT) faces a bigger challenge than its rivals: selling advertisers on both a brand-new network and untested programming. But, MNT execs say, the sixth broadcast network must break the mold to attract viewers and ad dollars.
“We had to look at things differently to give you a much better chance of winning,” Roger Ailes, chairman of Fox Television Stations and Fox News, said at the network's upfront presentation. “What makes MyNetworkTV different is scheduling and programming.”
MNT debuts Sept. 5 with just two shows—steamy English-language telenovelas billed as short dramatic series—running five nights a week for 13 weeks, with weekend recaps. At 8 p.m. ET will be Desire: Table for Three, about two feuding brothers and the woman they both want, followed by Secret Obsessions: Fashion House, starring Bo Derek as a fashion maven scheming in her business and family. When the 65-episode telenovelas conclude (assuming both stay on the air for their entire run), a new duo of dramas will take their place, also named Desire and Secret Obsessions but with completely different casts and stories. A third set of shows will follow in the second quarter.
Fox TV Stations group and Twentieth Television, co-operating the network, are pushing MNT as alternative TV with broadcast-quality reach and appeal. Says Stations CEO Jack Abernethy, “These are gripping stories” that will “provide a sense of urgency for viewers.”
To sweeten the pitch, advertisers will be able to sponsor shows and place products prominently in dramas and on MNT's online and mobile companions.
The network's Web site, mynetworktv.com, will feature 3,000 original video clips tied to the dramas, such as actors, in character, giving backstory on plotlines. Borrowing a page from sister News Corp. company MySpace.com, MNT's site will enable users to share video clips and participate in blogs and community pages.
Since unveiling the network in February, MNT has signed up affiliates in 82% of the country and 26 of the top 30 markets. The network says it will reach 90% of U.S. homes by launch.
BOLDEST MOVE: Bucking the status quo of checkerboard scheduling by gambling on two series, five nights a week.
BEST BET: With 10 of its owned-and-operated stations carrying MNT and its own studio producing the programming, Fox has a strong incentive to make the network successful. Coordinating with popular community site MySpace.com will provide a window to younger viewers.
BIGGEST RISK: International audiences may be addicted to telenovelas, but some media buyers express concern that viewers will not tune in consistently. If the audience bails on the 8 p.m. show, will enough viewers return to a similar show at 9 p.m.?
The New Class:
Desire: Table for Three: Two brothers—one scrupulous, the other devious—duel for the same woman. Twentieth Television.
Secret Obsessions: Fashion House: Bo Derek stars as a fashion mogul out to dominate the industry and her family. Twentieth Television
DesireArt of Betrayal: : (first quarter 2007) A scorned woman seeks revenge on her ex-husband by having their sons seduce his stepdaughters. Twentieth Television.
Secret Obsessions: Watch Over Me: (first quarter '07) A security guard falls in love with his beautiful charge, who has a ruthless fiancé. Twentieth Television
Desire: Rules of Deception: (second quarter '07) A beautiful, devious woman plots to steal her best friend's husband. Twentieth Television
Secret Obsessions: A Dangerous Love: (second quarter '07): Modern take on the Romeo and Juliet love drama. Twentieth Television
Hispanic Upfronts: ¡Caliente!
By Anne Becker
The Hispanic upfronts were hotter than ever this year, buzzing with news of new growth, new media, and possibly a new owner for dominant Spanish- language network Univision.
Univision, expected to take in $1.1 billion in this upfront to Telemundo's $400 million, focused on new novelas and reality series, declining to acknowledge the elephant in the room: that the network is up for sale.
The company, watched as closely by advertisers as by investors these days, announced a new season and a spinoff of its dancing reality hit Bailando Por Un Sueño (Dancing for a Dream), along with several telenovelas, a reality series about a beauty pageant, a sitcom, a game show, and other programming for Univision and its sister networks Telefutura and Galavisión.
“The sale has nothing to do with what's on the air,” said Univision Communications President/COO Ray Rodriguez in response to a question about how the impending sale affected advertisers' desire to buy ads during Univision programming.
Telemundo, the NBC Universal-owned network that places a distant second to Univision, touted digital offerings, playing to the “TV 360” upfront branding of parent NBC and drawing attention to the fact that it owns its content and can more easily facilitate distribution on multiple platforms.
The network—between the Telemundo channel, its youth-targeted cable network mun2 and Yahoo! Telemundo—is offering advertisers 24 opportunities to put content on digital platforms, according to Steve Mandala, senior VP, sales and marketing, Telemundo and NBC Universal Networks.
The network also unveiled novelas of its own, in addition to a Saturday variety show to rival Univision's long-running juggernaut Sábado Gigante. Telemundo, as always, stressed that it produces its own content.
“None of these [digital offerings] would be possible unless we developed and created our own content,” Mandala said.
Spending on U.S. Hispanic network TV is projected to grow by 10.4% in 2006, almost twice the 5.4% growth projected for all U.S. media, according to TNS Media Intelligence.
Univision, which has had flat-to-down ratings over the past year, is projected to grow its upfront take by 10% this year, according to a Merrill Lynch report. With increased ratings and new digital offerings, Telemundo is projected to grow by 25%. Both networks pushed product integration as one opportunity for advertisers.
Univision is preparing for what could be a heated bidding war in which analysts predict the company could go for $12 billion. Grupo Televisa, the Mexican programmer that supplies more than three-quarters of its prime time novelas and owns 11% of the company, has partnered with private-equity groups—including Bill Gates' firm Cascade Investment—to bid.
This year, the Hispanic networks began to be rated on the Nielsen Television Index (NTI), the national sample that tracks the English-language broadcast networks, rather than on a separate Nielsen Hispanic Television Index. NTI ratings helped bring attention to the Hispanic networks. Since joining the NTI sample in December, Univision says, the network beat ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox in the 18-34 demo one out of every two nights.
Bailando, in which celebrities dance with average Joes who need a cash prize to make a dream come true, outranked both NBC and CBS in adults 18-34 for its 8-11 p.m. finale in February, making the Hispanic network third in the demo for the night. The show will be back for a second season, along with Cantando por un Sueño, which puts singing into the same format.