Spring Forward, Fall Back
Thanks to LAWard for sending this in!
Spring Forward, Fall Back
Networks Unveil a New SeasonWith Few Exceptions, Advertisers Say “Ho Hum” To
The television industry has celebrated its annual rite of spring: the announcement of the fall schedule by all the major networks. But when the presentations, a succession of splashy affairs designed to seduce advertisers into spending billions on new fall shows, were over, it was clear that few of the new programs had created’�s Once and Again, CBS’s Judging Amy, Fox’s Malcolm in the Middle and WB’s Roswell drew immediate praise. Advertising insiders suspect that the importance of having a network-owned show was the deciding factor in the selection of many of the 31 freshman series. “Too much of what we saw had everything to do with the production
entity � the network that scheduled the shows either had an equity stake or owned it outright � rather than [with] whether the show was simply a good idea,” says Bill Carroll, vice president of Katz Television Group, a firm that advises stations on advertising sales and programming.
Three of ABC�s four new series, for example, are wholly or partly owned by Touchstone Television, a division of network parent Disney (Touchstone also produces the hit Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, which will be broadcast four nights this fall). The only new ABC series generating any kind of a buzz is Gideon’s Crossing, a medical drama created by Homicide co-creator Paul Attanasio and starring that series�s Emmy winner Andre Braugher. Despite this pedigree, the hospital hour will have a tough time succeeding opposite NBC’s durable Law & Order. Of ABC’s comedies, Geena, the imaginatively titled Geena Davis vehicle, was given the backhanded compliment from the advertising community as the network�s one series most likely to make it beyond one season. CBS, which has a piece of five of its seven newly presented shows,
received the highest marks from Madison Avenue for its fall entries. The drama with the highest profile is The Fugitive, an update of the 1963-67 TV hit starring David Janssen and the 1993 blockbuster film starring Harrison Ford. The network clearly also has the season’s most anticipated new comedy, The Bette Show, which stars Bette Midler as an extension of her brash, diva self.
“Midler�s a tremendous draw and will fit right in with the CBS audience,” says Steve Sternberg, senior vice president and director of broadcast research at the media-buying firm, TN Media. Meanwhile, NBC seems headed for trouble. The network doesn�t just want to fine-tune The Michael Richards Show; it�s looking for a complete overhaul. A presentation clip of the series, in which the former Seinfeld star plays a bumbling private detective, was a patchwork of tired Krameresque shtick. NBC�s other new comedies � the rudderless Steven Weber Show, the Malcolm clone Tucker and the soft Secret Service send-up DAG � also left little to smile about. (All of these comedies, by the way, are at least partly owned by NBC.) The network�s dramas showed more promise. While it�s unlikely to win any Peabody Awards, the series that advertising savants are dubbing most likely to succeed is Titans, Aaron Spelling’s latest T&A confection, starring such eye candy as Casper Van Dien and Yasmine Bleeth.
Fox’s new dramas trade heavily in science fiction and fantasy. With the postapocalyptic Dark Angel, otherworldly Internet thriller Fearsum and the Twilight Zone-inspired series Night Visions starting this fall, some Madison Avenue handicappers question whether Fox has forsaken reality. “They have so much paranormal you have to wonder what�s there for normal viewers,” says Jon Mandel, co-managing director of Grey Advertising�s media-buying arm, MediaCom. One of Fox�s more down-to-earth offerings, David E. Kelley’s Boston Public, which focuses on the eccentric staff of a Beantown high school, is actually its most anticipated drama. From the reaction of media buyers it appears that Fox dramas stand a better chance of getting laughs
than its two rookie comedies, Don�t Ask, starring John Goodman as a sardonic,
friendly gay dad and Schimmel, featuring stand-up comic Robert Schimmel as a
sardonic, unfriendly straight dad. “There�s nothing breakout there,” says TN
Media�s Sternberg. No kidding. Schimmel has already been shelved until
Meanwhile, WB, which has struggled to balance its teen-dream lineup, has two distinctive new comedies � Grosse Pointe, a satire of a Beverly Hills, 90210�style series and the In Living Color�inspired sketch show Hype. WB�s one new drama, Gilmore Girls, which was developed in conjunction with a consortium of family-minded advertisers, was also a standout. “Gilmore Girls is a family-friendly drama like 7th Heaven that can help WB expand its base,” says Katz TV�s Carroll.
WB�s rival upstart, UPN, is pumping up its testosterone WWF Smackdown! base. Two of UPN�s three new entries are chockablock with bombs, bytes and hip-hop metal beats: Freedom, yet another postapocalyptic drama, and Level 9, one more Internet-driven thriller. Says MediaCom�s Mandel, “You�ve seen what UPN and WB present and you have little doubt what they�re about.”