Network faces challenge at end of week

After days of sitting cooped up for hours in chilly, cavernous theaters as the networks trot out stars, make bold ratings predictions and tout their oh-so-desirable demographics, media buyers are walking zombies by the end of network upfronts week.

That’s the disadvantage of going last, as Fox — which traditionally presents its schedule on Thursday afternoons — has learned. Jokes that might have gotten a laugh on Monday fall flat. Buyers eager to end the week are less excited to see those big-time celebrities cross the stage, compared with the swooning they did at other networks’ showcases earlier in the week.

The upside, of course, is the net has a chance to see what all of its competitors are up to, and adjust accordingly.

But this year, Fox Entertainment prexy Peter Liguori feels their pain. According to insiders, the network is hoping to dramatically reduce its presentation this year — which takes place May 17 at the New York City Center — to just an hour.

Fox’s upfront presentation is already shorter than many, last year clocking in at a little more than two hours.

“It’s a good idea,” said one exec who heard about the initiative. “Everyone says it needs to be more about the business and less about the flash and dash.”

The network upfronts are frequently criticized as bloated affairs, as the nets add a little sizzle to their scheduling announcements by bringing out big-time singers, Broadway performers and comedians. Add that to clips of new and returning shows, segments on other dayparts and the tradition of handing new series stars a microphone for a few scripted remarks, and the presentations always last longer than expected.

But the nets have been working to change the flow of the show. ABC took a dramatic step in recent years as entertainment prexy Steve McPherson dropped the tradition of announcing the schedule night-by-night, and the net instead now focuses on the shows. Others have followed — and of course, given the rapidly changing media landscape, many wonder whether the upfront presentations themselves will be seen as anachronistic in the coming years.

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