Hype aside, each net faces one big problem that must be solved at upfronts
These are the days that try webheads’ souls — or, at the very least, cause upset stomachs and pounding headaches.
Next week will be all about heavily-choreographed, hype-heavy sales presentations to advertisers, crowded cocktail parties and endless rounds of self-delusional chatter about how the new crop of comedies and dramas ordered to series represents the best development season we’ve had in years.
This week, however, is when suits go behind closed doors and brutally dissect what’s wrong and right about their webs. Pilots are praised and pilloried; veteran skeins are put under a microscope to determine whether they still deserve that plum timeslot.
A hundred decisions big and small will be made, but there always one overriding issue each has to grapple with. Here’s a look at the Big Problem facing each of the Big Four:
ABC: Where to begin?
The Alphabet’s woes have been so well-documented, it’s hard to pinpoint the toughest challenge going into upfronts.
While the backbone of family-oriented sitcoms have helped give the net definition, and decent numbers to boot, ABC still lacks a mega-hit. It’s now be up to new prexy Steve McPherson to either turn an existing or new laffer into a huge player.
More importantly, ABC would like – no, must – find a hit drama. “The Practice” is over, “NYPD Blue” is nearing retirement and “Alias” will continue as an average performer at best. Unable to tap the so-called procedural marketplace, web will take another stab at the genre via a mix of action- and relationship-oriented pilots.
The timing couldn’t be better for a new drama. With “Practice” leaving and Barbara Walter’s departure from “20/20” perhaps signaling a time period shift for that newsmag, net will likely be able to fill two very desirable timeslots — Sunday and Friday at 10 p.m. — with new entries.
CBS: Is Saturday night still worth the fight?
The Eye’s lineup is humming along nicely, with the net a dominant first in viewers and closing in on an adults 25-54 win as well. CBS has also made strides in adults 18-49, with one big exception: Saturdays.
Even with the only all-original lineup of scripted skeins — ABC and NBC long abandoned the night for repeats — CBS still regularly finishes dead last in young adults on Saturday. Dramas like “Hack” and “The District” have struggled, while even “Star Search” sank.
CBS chairman Leslie Moonves will have to think long and hard about whether to stick with first-run dramas on Saturdays, particularly since repeat movies and the occasional “Price is Right” special have fared so much better.
One solution would be to air repeats of hit laffers like “King of Queens” or “Two and a Half Men” from 8-9 p.m., with repeat theatricals rounding out the night. Net could also try an out-there reality show, or offer same-week repeats of one of its newer procedural dramas.
Bottom line: Sticking to the script on Saturdays doesn’t make sense.
Fox: Enough critical acclaim — bring on the hits!
Fox has been a critical darling for the past few years, with scribes swooning over “Arrested Development,” “Wonderfalls” and several other shows developed by entertainment chief Gail Berman.
But with the exception of “The OC,” the net has been unable to launch a scripted show that’s both well-regarded — and a hit with viewers. Even “The OC” (along with “Bernie Mac” and “24”) haven’t been quite the smashes Fox needs.
As Fox embarks on its ambitious plan to launch shows year-round, execs will be looking for broad-appeal comedies and dramas as they sort through a couple dozen pilot contenders. The shows that have already snagged pickups for summer prove that.
Laffer “Method & Red,” for example, looks like a single-camera comedy (a Fox hallmark) but boasts a laugh track. Sudser “North Shore” makes “The OC” seem as dark and heavy as a CBS crime drama. “The Jury” reps Fox’s first stab in a while at launching a procedural drama like “Law & Order.”
None of these shows is likely to make any year-end top 10 lists. But Fox doesn’t need Emmys — it needs ratings points.
NBC: Jeff Zucker’s smiling — but he needs to laugh.
If the net’s not careful, it may see a wholesale comedy collapse in the coming years.
NBC heads into fall with a strong drama slate – thanks to the continued power of the “L&O” franchise, as well as “ER” and the surprising return of “Crossing Jordan” – and is riding high on the reality bandwagon, a genre the net was initially late to embrace.
But just two laffers — “Will & Grace” and “Scrubs” — will return to the Peacock schedule next season. With “Friends” and “Frasier” both ending their runs this spring, NBC execs know full well how crucial it is to replenish the well.
Next season, web will likely sked four comedies on Tuesday and two on Thursday–a grand total of three hours, one fewer than the “L&O” franchise once the fourth edition hits air in midseason.
Peacock needs to balance its schedule with a few more laffers if it wants to stay on top. Luckily, net has a number of strong contenders, including the already picked-up “Joey” and “Father of the Pride.”