Granted, one's upfront first impressions are often based on
three things: a) Watching a few minutes of trailers of each new show; b)
Analyzing the proposed schedule for any network's coming fall season; c) Your
gut. Whether scientific or not, they're telling, and a random conversation with
assorted media buying agency execs on Monday had them mostly praising Fox and
giving tepid reviews to NBC following each of their presentations.
Most first blush reactions were that none of the 12
scripted shows NBC announced for fall and midseason really stood out as
potential tent-poles to turn around the network's ratings woes, at least in the
short term. They also agreed that, with the network throwing so many shows out
there that, with no standouts, particularly among the new comedies, it was hard
to distinguish one from another. Hopefully for NBC, the buyers and their
advertiser clients will watch all the pilots before making their upfront buys.
Agency execs were scratching their heads over the network's
decision to not only return its Thursday, low-rated, two-hour comedy block
pretty much intact, but also to move newsmagazine Rock Center with Brian
Williams leading out of the block at 10 p.m. Viewers of the block's
comedies have a median age of around 40, while Rock Center's median age
is 58. The question is, where's the audience flow? On Thursday nights, CBS' 9
p.m. series Person ofInterest does have an older median age
audience of 58, but that's similar to its 10 p.m. series, The Mentalist, allowing for better audience flow and more
Buyers told MBPT that Thursday is a night of major
importance to movie companies and retailers looking to capture weekend consumers,
leaving them confused as to the thinking behind moving a series to 10 that is
both old-skewing and ratings deficient. This season, Rock Center
has averaged 3.5 million viewers, and a 0.9 in the 18-49 demo, with
that demo rating being the lowest among all regularly scheduled Big Four network
Agency execs were also not convinced that the series NBC is
touting to be its next big hit, J.J. Abrams' Revolution, about a world
living without electricity, is going to score big ratings and succeed. Most
buyers agree that the broadcast network audience in general has not embraced
sci-fi series (ABC's Lost may
be classified as an exception but after a premiere season averaging 19
million, it only drew 6.9 million in its final season in 2010) and also
wondered about the mostly female audience flow out of The Voice and into
a sci-fi series.
One agency exec-who like all did not want to speak for
attribution, since they have to do business with NBC and the other networks-remarked,
"Evolution will last longer than The Playboy Club did for
NBC," in reference to this current season's NBC freshman drama that was
the first new primetime series cancelled, after only three episodes.
"Clearly, NBC has decided to go after younger viewers
with comedy," another agency exec said. "But four nights a week of
comedy is a lot of comedy on one network. I guess they are trying to leverage
it while the genre is hot but I think they will be lucky if they can stay flat
in the ratings next season with the schedule they introduced."
Some agency execs were sympathetic to NBC having to return
so many low-rated series, pointing out that a show that only averaged 3.5
million viewers and a 1.5 18-49 rating this season might still do better next
season than an untested new series. Clearly, the network had to play it safe in
As far as NBC bringing back its hit singing competition show
The Voice in the fall rather than saving it for next midseason again,
most agency execs said the move is also risky. With Fox also airing a retooled version of TheX-Factor with new judges Britney Spears and Demi Lovato
this fall-although not on the same nights as The Voice-there is a chance that viewers might get overdosed on
singing competition shows in general.
One agency exec said he hoped NBC wouldn't start using The Voice like ABC used Who Wants to
Be a Millionaire back in the early 2000s, running the show on even
more nights and causing viewers to eventually tune out, killing the show
before its time.
All that said, these are the opinions of media buyers, and
early ones at that. It's really going to be up to the viewers as to what they
will watch and deem a hit. That said, it's the buyers who are putting down the
ad dollars on behalf of their clients, and also giving their clients advice;
right or wrong, their opinions will count in the mix.
And that should make Fox happy, since buyer reaction to its
new shows and schedule was much more positive.
Buyers liked the fact that the network is protecting its two
new comedies on Tuesday night by putting them behind returning sitcoms.
Reaction on the two new comedies was mixed. Most buyers MBPT spoke with like Ben
& Kate leading out of Raising Hope on Tuesday at 8:30,
and fewer liked The Mindy Project leading out of New Girl at
9:30 p.m. However, even the buyers who were not keen on the clips they saw
of the Mindy show believe it could capture the lead-in audience watching
New Girl, pointing out that
Mindy Kaling has a big following both from her role on NBC's The Office
and on Twitter.
Buyers also like Fox's two new dramas, The Mob Doctor, which will air on Monday nights at
9, and the midseason police drama The Following, starring Kevin Bacon.
They concede that Mob Doctor has a tough Monday night time slot,
going up against The Voice and CBS's high-rated sitcom block, along
with ABC's Dancing With the Stars, but those shows all skew heavily
female. The Mob Doctor might be able to pick up those hard to reach
males. Even though the lead character is a woman, there are lots of male
characters throughout the story line.
Buyers like Fox's moving Glee to Thursday night
leading out of X Factor at 9. It has
just the target audience movie studios and retail advertisers are looking
for. Glee has a median age audience of 39. Adding to the enticement of
advertisers will be the appearances in separate short story arcs of Kate Hudson
and Sarah Jessica Parker on Glee.
Despite the media fanfare, most buyers think after an
initial pop in the X Factor ratings as viewers tune in to see Spears and
Lovato, viewership will level off. "I don't think Britney and Demi will
boost ratings that much in the long run," one agency exec said, echoing
the view of several others. "But it will keep down the show's median
age a bit."
Whether or not the buyers are right in the long run about
their impressions of the shows is of less consequence than this vital first
impression. It's their regard for a network's schedule overall that can
determine which one is perceived to be the hot network worthy of the early
upfront dollars at the highest cost-per-thousand rates, and which network is not.
With ABC and CBS still set to make their upfront
presentations among the Big Four English-language broadcast networks, the
pecking order in buyers' minds is up in the air. Right now, however, Fox seems
to have helped itself most.