The first couple weeks of May each year can be a stressful time for television fans, but also quite informative.
It all culminates at the week of Broadcast TV Upfronts in which each network is given roughly two hours (and usually a party that afternoon) at a fancy New York City venue to convince advertising representatives to buy commercial time on the network.
The networks trot out their high-level executives, biggest stars, and most eye-catching video presentations in order to pimp their upcoming fall schedule for the first time.
It’s also a great time to get a sense of where the TV networks stand business-wise. Are they faltering at a certain genre? Is there a difficult patch ahead? Is it time for an about face with its programming or is it all about keeping the status quo?
Here are five things that we learned about the TV networks this week:
1.) NBC is in a comedy rut.
The network canceled every comedy on its schedule, but one. “Undateable” was given a last minute reprievewhen its producers agreed to a season of live shows. The test, of course, was last week’s live finale episode. Yet, the live show saw only a slight increase in ratings and total viewership compared to the previous week’s episode. But, a live comedy does fit in with NBC’s push for event programming, which has included live airings of musicals like “Sound of Music” and “Peter Pan,” as well as the upcoming live staging of “The Wiz.”
In the fall, it’s only airing one hour of comedies with “Undateable” followed by new Mark-Paul Gosselaar show “People Are Talking,” about young married couples with children airing on the notoriously tough Friday nights.
It’s a sad predicament for the network that represented a golden age of comedies with “Friends,” “Will & Grace” and “Seinfeld.”
2.) CBS really doesn’t want to be known as the old geezer network anymore.
Although CBS is the most-watched network in total viewers, the network steers way older than the advertiser-coveted 18 to 49-year-old audience. Well, CBS is actively trying to change that with slicker shows that appeal to younger viewers like last season’s “Scorpion.”
Next season, it’s the home of “Supergirl,” which stars “Glee” alum Melissa Benoist as Superman’s 24-year-old cousin. And it has ordered “Life in Pieces,” a zany single-camera family comedy. Single-camera comedies appeal to younger audiences who have become accustom to shows without laugh tracks like “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation,” and “Modern Family.” During CBS’s upfront presentation this week, CBS Corp. president Les Moonves said the network was just 124,000 viewers away from overtaking NBC in the 18-49 category — and they will probably do it with the help of the Super Bowl in January.
3.) Something is working at The CW.
It must get very tiring for CW’s executives to be continually asked by reporters if the network is making money for its owners, CBS and Warner Bros. The assumption comes from comparing the network’s 18-49 ratings and total viewers to that of the other networks — always an unfair comparison. CW has always skewed younger than the other networks and has long embraced a holistic way of looking at total viewership that includes On Demand, online and streaming numbers — way before the other networks — as well as international sales.
Despite the fact that CBS has said that The CW is profitable, the proof is really in the pudding. This year, it renewed pretty much its entire lineup of shows and ordered just three more that fit into its mix of comics-inspired, female-centric and genre-leaning slate.
4.) ABC is sitting pretty. Thanks, Shonda Rhimes.
While NBC can claim the No. 1 overall spot among the broadcast networks, that includes a lot of help from sports and the Super Bowl this past year. ABC can claim the No. 1 spot for entertainment (that’s without the help of sports). That can be attributed to an entire night of hits for Shonda Rhimes-produced shows “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal,” and “How to Get Away With Murder.” And it will have one more coming this year with “The Catch.”
That allows the network to continue leading the charge for diversity in TV with “Black-ish” and “Fresh Off the Boat” earning solid ratings. Sure, “Cristela” had to go, but ABC still gets credit for trying and forging ahead on its diversity quest. The upcoming season will include the TV series adaptation of movie “Uncle Buck” with a black cast; “Dr. Ken,” headed by “Community” alum and “Hangover” star Ken Jeong, and “The Real O’Neals,” about a traditional Irish-Catholic family with a gay son.
5.) Fox is ripe for reinvention, but it’s playing it safe.
As the No. 4 network on TV in the 18-49 demo, Fox has an opportunity to reinvent itself — much like ABC had a year agowhen it was in the same position. In many ways, that could be liberating and experimental.
This will be the first full season under new CEOs and chairmen Dana Walden and Gary Newman. Even Fox’s big hit “Empire” was an order under the previous Fox chief Kevin Reilly. But, it does give the new heads some steam going into this season.
They’re saying tough goodbyes to ratings-challenged, yet previously sacred cows like “American Idol,” “The Mindy Project,” and “The Following.” But instead of experimenting, they’re taking a safe route with easily marketable shows, such as comedies headed by known stars like John Stamos, Rob Lowe and Fred Savage, a TV adaptation of blockbuster movie “Minority Report,” an “X-Files” return and “Scream Queens” from hit-maker Ryan Murphy, whose musical series “Glee” just ended on the network. We’ll see if that works out for them.
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