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Upfront Notebook - Broadcasting & Cable

Upfront Notebook

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They Said It

“We might not be the coolest kid in the classroom, but we're trying.”

Anne Sweeney, co-chairman, Media Networks, The Walt Disney Co., on ABC's turnaround.

“Remember: Jokes about Jeff Zucker are always funny. So a priest, a rabbi and Zucker walk into a bathroom...”

CBS President Nina Tassler, on the advice her boss Les Moonves supplied for her first upfront presentation.

“We learned the Olympics are a good launching pad. All the shows [last fall] launched. They just weren't very good.”

NBC Universal Television Group President Jeff Zucker, on the promotional value of the Olympics. During last fall's Athens Olympics, NBC tirelessly plugged new shows Father of the Pride, LAX and Hawaii. All flopped.

“The days of this network suffering from multiple-personality disorder are over.”

UPN President Dawn Ostroff, on her network's attempts to deliver compatible programming across its schedule.

No, Really. We're No. 1!

An essential element of any upfront presentation is reminding advertisers you are first—in something. At last week's schmoozefests in New York, each broadcast network found a Nielsen stat that shows it coming out on top.

NBC, having tumbled from first place to fourth in the 18-49 demographic, now hyped its status as the top-rated broadcaster with young viewers making more than $75,000.

CBS could top that one. It boasted that it leads in total viewers and adults 25-54 making more than $100,000. It was even first in 18-49s—if you drop out the Super Bowl that tipped that stat to Fox.

Sometimes it was what the networks didn't tell you. Fox didn't point out that, despite the Super Bowl, it ranked fourth in 18-49s until American Idol returned in January.

Though rejuvenated, ABC was still running third in 18-49s, and that doesn't sound too tempting to advertisers. So instead, ABC execs trumpeted Nielsen marks for their dramas, crowing that freshman sensations Lost, Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives are the most watched new dramas. (Of course, a little show called CSI, which draws about 26 million viewers weekly, is TV's most-watched drama.)

Even The WB and UPN got in on the act. The WB reminded advertisers it is the home for viewers 12 to 34 years old. But UPN says it is catching up and surpassing The WB; it says it is the top destination for women 18-34 on Wednesday night at 8. Well, on some weeks, UPN execs admit, it is No. 2, behind Lost, but that still beats The WB.

PBS didn't present, but we're pretty sure but it still leads in programs that are underwritten by “viewers like you.”

Applause-o-Meter

Who earned the loudest applause at last week's upfront festivities? We didn't have a decibel meter handy, but a few performances shook the rooms. CBS, after stressing it keeps getting younger and younger, treated advertisers to a live performance of ageless Aretha Franklin. She earned loud cheers, as did as did Jamie Foxx, who in his best Ray Charles style, sang “America the Beautiful” at NBC's presentation.

Who got the loudest upfront welcome? It must have been Uchenna and Joyce, the affable winners of the last edition of The Amazing Race on CBS, who came out to cheers just seconds after the introduction of Race runners-up Amber and Rob drew a relatively muted welcome.

First runner-up was comedian Chris Rock. His childhood in Brooklyn is the inspiration for a new UPN comedy, Everybody Hates Chris. Rock told advertisers to note the timing of his sitcom: “Everybody Loves Raymond and Everybody Hates Chris. White man out— black man in.”

The week's only standing ovation went to Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry. Decked out in tails and a top hat, Cherry serenaded advertisers with “Beautiful Girls” as the ladies of Desperate Housewives glided across the stage in evening gowns and furs (see photo, page 33). ABC felt the need to share Cherry's act with the rest of the country. The next day, Good Morning America aired clips from the upfront presentation, taking self-promotion to an entirely new level.

In a different venue, the most heartfelt standing ovation of the week went to former MTM and NBC chief Grant Tinker, who received a special Peabody Award at a three-hour luncheon also held last week.

Standing By

Two shows that you won't see on any 2005-06 network schedule now but that still stand good chances of receiving series orders are The Book of Daniel at NBC and the sitcom Old Christine on CBS. Book of Daniel centers on a minister who gets help from a “cool, contemporary Jesus,” per NBC's description, as he navigates the challenges of life. CBS' comedy is Julia Louis-Dreyfus' latest stab at a return to network TV. She plays a divorced mom who owns a health club. Network executives say both shows are still in contention.

Latin Without the Flavor

Univision's upfront was noticeably less caliente this year without appearances by novela actors who star in shows from its Mexican program supplier Grupo Televisa. Were they forbidden to attend or disinvited?

The spicy stars have always been a presence at Univision's show but were rumored to be a no-show this year due to the recent legal squabbling between the network and Televisa, which provides Univision about 85% of its prime time content.

Insiders say Televisa instructed its stars to boycott the upfront, prompting Univision to retract its invitation for them to join. They were ... missed.

Counter-programming 'Housewives'

If you can't beat them, at least attempt to be No. 2 in the time slot. That is the attitude toward broadcast TV's two hottest shows, ABC's Desperate Housewives and Fox's American Idol, which have stumped rival network schedulers desperately searching for ways to counteract the monster hits.

Next season, they'll try again. Trying to offset Desperate Housewives, The WB is installing its bawdy male comedy Blue Collar TV at 9 p.m. Sunday. “It is the quintessential counterprogramming,” said The WB President of Entertainment David Janollari. The ladies of Wisteria Lane have forced CBS to abandon its usual Sunday-night women-in-peril movies. Instead, CBS is focusing on movies with more male appeal, in the vein of recent Locust and anything starring Tom Selleck. NBC, meanwhile, is preoccupied with Fox's midseason monster American Idol. On Tuesday nights at 8, NBC plans to run weight-loss competition The Biggest Loser and, later in the year, bring in gross-out reality competition Fear Factor.

Melanie, Watch Animal Planet

Will & Grace creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, who have new comedy Twins on The WB next fall, suspect the network recruited them for another job: to make the WB a little “gayer.” At The WB's upfront last week in New York, the duo offered up a few suggestions: Among their ideas:

Change the network mascot from a frog to a lesbian

Next fall on The WB: Ryan Seacrest and Clay Aiken are the Gilmore Girls.

Jack and Bobby: A love story.

Take sitcoms Reba and Living With Fran and combine them into Reba's Living With Fran.

Mutchnick quipped: “Smallville?” I don't think so. How about Hung-like-a-Horseville?”

That last one grabbed Twins star Melanie Griffith's attention. When Griffith drifted on stage to plug her sitcom, she giggled, “I would totally watch Hung-like-a-Horse-Ville.”

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