Upfronts 2016: Media Agencies Size Up 2016-17 Shows—PART 2

Buyers weigh in on Shonda Rhimes, Dick Wolf, football and more
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This is Part 2 of a series in which media agency executives answer questions about the schedules announced by the broadcast networks at their recent upfront presentations. Part 1 appeared Wednesday.

What do media agency execs think about NBC having four Dick Wolf shows on the air this season, while ABC has five Shonda Rhimes series? And do they think any one of a handful of new time travel series may draw viewer interest? Do they give NBC's new comedies on Thursday a chance against CBS' NFL football? What longshot new series do they think might become a hit and who will become a breakout star of a new network series?

On board to answer those questions about the upcoming broadcast season are Billie Gold, VP-director of programming research at Dentsu Aegis' Amplifi US;  Brian Hughes, senior VP, audience analysis practice lead, Magna Global; and Dave Campanelli, senior VP, director of national broadcast, Horizon Media.

NBC will begin airing a fourth show from Dick Wolf and ABC at one point in mid-season will have five Shonda Rhimes shows on the air. How many on the same network are too many from the same creator/producer? Or does it not really matter to the viewers if the shows are good?

Gold: For the viewer all that matters is whether or not the show is good or not. Having the auspice of a very successful creator/producer for whom you usually like their previous programs gives these shows an advantage as viewers are more likely to sample them giving them a greater likelihood of success, but ultimately it's the quality of the show that counts. For example, look at lukewarm ratings for The Catch this season. But this is why, of course, the networks seek them and why both Wolf and Rhimes have so many shows currently on the air.

Hughes: Most viewers are just looking for good characters and story, so I don't know that the creative teams behind the shows are a major consideration when deciding what to watch. That being said, there are often certain elements or tone that are characteristic of a particular creator, so there is still a danger of "too much of a good thing."

Campanelli: I go back to the quality of the shows. I don't think there can be too much of a good thing from the same producer.

There are a bunch of time travel series on the networks' schedules for the coming season. Can they all work and if not, which has the best chance of succeeding? And beyond that, why does it seem like when one network develops a particular genre, the others do the same?

Gold: There are three time travel shows on tap for this season, which is very interesting given that the genre has had only moderate success on broadcast TV in recent years with shows such as Sleepy Hollow on Fox. I don't foresee any of the three announced time travel shows emerging as big hits, but NBC seems to have high hopes for Timeless, giving it the 10 p.m. post-Voice timeslot on Monday. The CW's Frequency has some built in recognition from the movie, but it follows the moderately rated Arrow and might not be able to find an audience. As for duffle bag time machine, ummm, I mean new comedy Making History on Fox in midseason, it may have some possibilities being a half-hour comedy if viewers think it's funny.

Hughes: Statistically speaking, it's highly doubtful all of them will work. Time travel is also a tricky device and has to be done very carefully to maintain continuity. I do think Fox using it in a comedy was a bit of a departure, and from what I've seen of Making History, it looks like it attempts to bring humor to some serious historical situations. As far as why we often see similar themes emerging on all the networks, it seems to be an artifact of the development process. It's not unusual to see patterns every upfront. Another one we noticed this time around was new series based on old movies, i.e. The Exorcist, Lethal Weapon, Taken, Shooter, and Time After Time.

Campanelli: Maybe it was the Back to the Future Day that happened recently!  Always interesting when a genre/theme permeates pop culture and results in similarly themed shows.

NBC is moving comedies back to Thursday night after putting male-oriented dramas there last season vs. CBS Thursday Night NFL Football. Do these more female-skewing comedies have a better chance for success?

Gold: Of course anything up against football is at a disadvantage as it's the most watched program on TV, but there's always a thing called time-shifting. NBC's male-oriented Heroes Reborn did in fact get adequately sampled last season and garnered quite a bit of delayed viewing when it premiered, but the show didn't hold up and faded. Of course it's easier for female-skewing shows to get live viewership against football, just look at Shondaland. However we also have to remember that football might do "big numbers," but 70% of the U.S. is not watching it so there's plenty of room for other good shows to make a name for themselves. That being said, NBC's 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. comedies will definitely have a tough go of it this season. Yes, Superstore was a moderate hit in its first season but as a lead-off anchor show against the female skewing Grey's and CBS NFL Football, both it and newcomer The Good Place will not end up in good place.

Hughes: It's hard to say. Thursdays are going to be a bit chaotic this fall with the NFL jumping from CBS to NFL Network to NBC in November. Without that stability, it will be difficult to gain a foothold with new programming until midseason. That being said, it does allow for more first-run episodes for the shows that will ultimately run there.

Campanelli: Any program going up against the NFL is in for tough sledding, but seems like an interesting strategy.

If you have to pick one new broadcast network series that most would think is unlikely to succeed but you think has a chance to work, which one would it be? And why?

Gold:Designated Survivor on ABC. Why? Because it's Kiefer Sutherland and because the premise and pilot lived up to the clips. The only detraction is it's up against two other dramas, both with lead-ins that will produce much higher ratings than black-ish. That being said, Wednesday is ABC's strongest night in the demo, so that was likely the best place for it. Of course Kevin Can Wait (CBS) will most certainly have a great chance of success as well.

Hughes: I'm going to go back to Making History here—it has the same subversive quality as Last Man on Earth, and might just work out for Fox on Sunday.

Campanelli:Son of Zorn was the most off the wall concepts of the week.  But I think it'll work.

Will there be either a new breakout hit or a new breakout star in broadcast primetime this season and if so which show and which star?

Gold: Breakout hit, as noted above, possibly Designated Survivor. As for breakout star, this season has many returning stars in new roles, however, no one popped the way Rachel Bloom did as she enchanted us last season in the upfront clips for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I really love Katy Mixon, formerly of Mike & Molly, in her role in ABC's new Tuesday comedy American Housewife. Micah Fowler, who is a real special-needs teen who stars in ABC's Speechless will also likely get some attention, as might the lead in ABC's new drama Notorious, Piper Perabo.

Hughes: I think Corey Hawkins, the lead in 24: Legacy, has got a big career ahead of him. He's already proven to be a versatile actor, and whether the show is as successful as its predecessors or not, it will dispel any doubts about his credibility as a leading man.

Campanelli: I think we'll see the three stars of Fox's Star on the TV, and hear them on our radios in the coming year.

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