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Mad Ave. gets serious about drama

'Kevin Hill,' 'Jack & Bobby' intrigue ad buyers for fall

NEW YORK — Madison Ave. doesn’t need to go to Las Vegas to gamble. It has the new TV sked to bet on.

“There are shows you can bet the house on, and a handful that are snake eyes out of the gate,” Carat USA director of programming Shari Anne Brill says regarding the line-up of shows presented by the nets during the May upfronts.

While the rest of the world mourns the comatose state of the sitcom biz, Brill and several other buyers point out that there are several promising dramas on the new TV sked.

“Some are here to stay and have the makings of a hit written all over them,” Brill says.

The handful of media buyers surveyed by Variety for this story did not want their names used, but rep agencies including Magna Global USA, MindShare, OMD and Carat USA. Here’s their take on the freshmen class of shows:

IT’S NICE AT THE TOP

  • CBS’ “CSI: NY” and NBC’s “Law & Order: Trial by Jury” are without a doubt the gold standard for media buyers. They say there is no safer bet than the brand expansions of “CSI” and “Law & Order.”

  • UPN’s “Kevin Hill,” starring Taye Diggs as a Casanova lawyer suddenly in charge of his baby niece was the runaway drama hit of the upfronts.

    “It’s the best drama pilot I’ve seen so far,” says Magna Global USA senior VP Steve Sternberg, who is also director of Global’s audience analysis.

  • CBS also wowed the upfront crowd with its new drama “Clubhouse,” about a batboy. The operative words: “cute” and “good for families,” two phrases advertisers are eager to hear, particularly with the latest indecency crackdown.

  • The WB’s drama “Jackn&nBobby,” very loosely based on the boyhoods of John and Robert Kennedy, also commanded immediate interest.

  • NBC’s sitcom “Joey,” the much-anticipated “Friends” spinoff starring Matt LeBlanc, made a strong showing. NBC bowed the entire pilot for buyers and advertisers, and concerns that the character of Joey couldn’t carry a show were eased, particularly by the character of Joey’s sister, played by Drea de Matteo, whose character was just offed on “The Sopranos.”

    “There’s nothing to drive advertisers away. It won’t get ‘Friends’-type ratings, but it will do well,” Sternberg says.

  • ABC’s sitcom “Savages” about a single father and his sons. As far as Sternberg is concerned, it’s the best comedy around.

BUILDING BUZZ

  • ABC’s reality show “Wife Swap,” which has two moms switching homes. Media buyers said the name was misleading, and some advertisers might be worried about the sexual connotation. At the same time, it might be that very connotation that draws people to the show, which airs Wednesday at 10 p.m.

    “They have a potential franchise on their hands with this one,” one buyer says.

  • ABC drama “Desperate Housewives” is a sort of “Melrose Place” meets “Twin Peaks” Buyers say there’s nothing else like it on television. Also, with the movie remake of “Stepford Wives” hitting theaters, the timing couldn’t be better.

  • The new TV sked brings another new reality twist –boxing, with NBC and Fox both launching their own versions. NBC has “The Contender, hosted by Sylvester Stallone of “Rocky Fame,” while Fox has “The Next Great Champ,” hosted by super-welterweight champ Oscar de la Hoya.

Buyers say both shows are intriguing, but they worry that boxing isn’t a big advertiser draw, save for a few categories (think beer). They say “The Contender” may have wider appeal, since creator Mark Burnett is known for his story-telling ability. Buyers say “Champ” may appeal more to boxing purists since the winner will fight for an existing title.

  • Yes, there are two “Apprentice” copycats on the new TV sked, ABC’s “The Benefactor” with Internet maven Mark Cuban and Fox’s “The Billionaire: Branson’s Quest for the Best” with Virgin’s Brit Richard Branson.

    Media buyers were lukewarm-to-cool about “Benefactor,” and only slightly warmer about “Billionaire,” saying Branson’s — gulp — zest for life might have some appeal but that neither host is the Donald.

    WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?

    • NBC animated show “Father of the Pride,” the CGI-series from DreamWorks Television, drew big thumbs down.

      Series tells the story of a pride of lions working on the Las Vegas show “Siegfried & Roy” — which was shuttered last year after Roy Horn was attacked by a lion onstage.

      Based on clips shown at NBC’s upfront sesh, buyers said the animation looked poor and also questioned whether it was in bad taste to put the show on the air at all.

      “I don’t care how much they try to spin it as an adult comedy. It doesn’t feel like an NBC show,” Sternberg says.

    • CBS’ drama “Dr. Vegas,” starring Rob Lowe as a doctor at a Sin City casino. Show will air Friday at 10 p.m., going up against another new medical drama, NBC’s “Medical Investigations.” Buyers say the storyline may not be able to sustain itself. And between the two shows, they’re placing their bets on NBC.

    • CBS’ sitcom “Listen Up,” starring “Seinfeld” co-star Jason Alexander. Media buyers crowding into CBS’ upfront presentation grumbled that Alexander wasn’t believable in the role. He plays a sports talkshow host and columnist struggling to earn the respect of his family. Still, the show has an ideal timeslot, Monday at 8:30 p.m., preceding “Everyone Loves Raymond.”

    • WB’s sketch comedy “Blue Collar TV.” Buyers say the Southern-fried humor doesn’t work.

    • WB’s improv show “Drew Carey’s Green Screen Show,” which follows “Blue Collar.” Media buyers observe the show, which puts standup comedians against an ever-changing animated backdrop, is too surreal.
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