Nets Poised To Place Fall Programming Bets

With Big Five upfront presentations set for May 13, 14, 15 and 16, the networks are looking to fill a lot of slots in hopes of finding significantly more keepers than last season.

If next week’s upfront presentations were to have a theme, a good one would be “Let’s Try This a Different Way.”

The current broadcast season has produced few keepers. The Big Five English-language networks are posting ratings declines from last year. Couple that with mounting competition and the networks have their work cut out for them as media buyers gear up to spend $9 billion on next season’s commercials.

Based on conversations the networks are having with ad agencies, they  are reworking their primetime strategies. Fox is looking for male-focused comedies while giving miniseries a go. CBS is playing it safe with another NCIS spinoff , but it’s also trying a light drama from Eddie Murphy. ABC is trying to revive its once solid female-focused dramas while searching for a sitcom to partner with Modern Family. NBC wants to build on its strong dramas with broad-appeal comedies. The CW is sticking with its focus on young women.

The upfront presentations in New York City take place on May 13 (Fox at the Beacon Theatre and NBC at Radio City Music Hall), May 14 (ABC at Lincoln Center), May 15 (CBS at Carnegie Hall) and May 16 (The CW at City Center).

The primetime numbers are not good this season. Compared to last season, CBS is down 3% in the adult 18-49 ratings to a 2.9 through May 5. Fox is off 22% to 2.5;  ABC has lost 8% and fallen to 2.2; NBC is down 4% to 2.4; and CW is down 13% at 0.7.

Fox, last season’s No. 1 network but now No. 2, has struggled with comedies, including the underperforming New Girl. Next fall, it’s hoping to attract more men with sitcoms like Dads from Seth MacFarlane and Brooklyn 99, a cop comedy with Saturday Night Live’s Andy Samberg.


“It’s tricky to make definitive calls now, but Brooklyn 99 seems to have a good shot at making it to their schedule,” says Brian Hughes, SVP of audience analysis at media agency Magna Global.

Fox has one of this year’s biggest hit dramas, The Following, which ranks No. 10 in the 18-49 demographic just behind NBC rookie Revolution. The two shows are the only two rookies among this season’s top-30 shows.

Next season, it’s looking to find more, including with one of the most talked-about new shows, Rake with Greg Kinnear. It’s based on an Australian show about a defense attorney. “That show looks really strong,” says Brad Adgate, SVP-director of research at Horizon Media. “It has a House feel to it.”

Other Fox dramas likely to make it to its primetime lineup: futuristic cop drama Human from J. J. Abrams and The List, which is about a U.S. Marshall who is searching for the person who stole the list of names in the Federal Witness Protection Program.

Fox’s hit reality shows are returning, but tweaked. Simon Cowell’s The X Factor has yet to announce a replacement for judge Britney Spears. American Idol is expected to be overhauled. Look for new judges and a reworked format.

Fox also will probably tap into its Animation Domination HD studio for content. The studio founded last fall, will funnel comedies into a late night Saturday block starting in July. If they prove themselves there, they could be promoted to primetime.

CBS, this season’s No. 1 network with the smallest rating decline of the Big five, has some of TV highest-rated comedies in Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men. But most of its comedies are aging. Among the new sitcoms likely to land in its fall lineup are Mom with Anna Faris from Big Bang and Men’s Chuck Lorre.

“They need comedies,” says Shari Anne Brill, principal analyst at Shari Anne Brill Media. “I like Crazy Ones with Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Geller. It’s about an ad exec who works with his daughter.”

CBS has done well this season with dramas, including rookie Elementary and its aging but still solid NCIS franchise. CBS is expected to pick up spinoff NCIS: Red with Sex and the City’s John Corbett.

Intelligence, a drama about an investigator with a microchip in his brain, and Beverly Hills Cop based on the 1984 movie with Eddie Murphy are also likely to get picked up.

Beverly Hills Cop is as close as you can get to a sure bet to make it to the schedule,” says Hughes. “Eddie Murphy will have a recurring role on the show.”

NBC has picked up a sitcom with Michael J. Fox loosely based on his life. Other comedies that could make it include Happiness about a dad whose teenage daughter moves in with him. It stars Will & Grace’s Sean Hayes, who is also executive producing. He also executive produces NBC’s Grimm.

“They’re looking for comedies with broader appeal,” Brill says. “Shows like The Office and 30 Rock had lots of critical acclaim. But you need more than that to attract audiences.”

This fall NBC is expected to build on the hits it has, Revolution and The Voice, the No. 3 show this season among 18-49s.

 Last month, NBC renewed five dramas, giving each full 22-season orders: Chicago Fire, Grimm, Parenthood, Law & Order: SVU and Revolution.

New dramas likely to be picked up for fall include Believe, a supernatural drama with Desperate Housewives’ Kyle MacLachlan.

“That’s a pretty good bet,” Hughes says. “[Abrams] produced their one new hit this season [Revolution].

Another drama that could make it is Hatfields & McCoys. It’s a modern-day retelling of the family feud. Last year, History channel generated record ratings for its Hatfields & McCoys miniseries.

ABC, the No. 4 network, this fall will try to play to its strengths: soapy dramas  while trying to find a companion for TV’s No. 2 sitcom Modern Family.

In the fall, its sitcoms will try to appeal to families, including an untitled comedy starring John Leguiziamo. Female-focused comedies are also expected to make it, including the Conan O’Brien produced Super Fun Night, a show similar to CBS’s The Big Bang Theory, but with nerdy women.

“They’re looking for shows that people can emotionally connect with like Trophy Wife, which has an unusual family dynamic — a dad marries a younger woman,” says Hughes.

Next season, ABC will spin off Wonderland from Once Upon a Time. Another drama expected to make it to the schedule is Westside, a show about rival families based on Romeo and Juliet. It stars Jennifer Beals.

“They have a history of strong female dramas,” Hughes says. “That has been fading, so they are refocusing on that.”

Betrayal is a serialized drama about a woman who has an affair with an attorney. He is defending a murder suspect who is being prosecuted by her husband.

“I think ABC has some really good development,” Brill says. “I like Doubt. It’s a legal drama about a person battling personal demons. Gothica is interesting, although I’m not sure if it’s moving forward. It’s a gothic soap set in present day.”

The CW will continue its focus on young women, offering the already announced Vampire Diaries spinoff The Originals. It has seven other dramas in development.

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