Nets are after broader audience base

Since this article is meant to expose the best and the worst of the new crop of u.s.-originating television programs, I will try not to focus on the mediocre.However, since it is also supposed to 'comment on the societal trends that...

Since this article is meant to expose the best and the worst of the new crop of u.s.-originating television programs, I will try not to focus on the mediocre.

However, since it is also supposed to ‘comment on the societal trends that inspired [these programs,]‘ a few of the weaker programs may require mention.

And, finally, at the time of writing this, no Canadian schedules had been announced, so this article will focus on the likelihood of the programs’ success south of the border; success in Canada will be contingent on placement (including simulcasting), program relevance and competitive Canadian programming.

Enough of the preamble. Let’s start with…

The Trends:

1) They are Networks, Not Niches

Last year three of the four u.s. networks (abc, nbc and Fox) declared they were after a more youthful audience, and launched programming geared to the 18-34 target.

It did not work.

cbs, on the other hand, bucked that misguided trend and came out No. 1 for the second year in a row.

As one of cbs’ senior programming executives said last year, ‘We’re a network, not a niche.’

Well, this year, the other three have all proclaimed they are after a broader audience base and, for the most part, it is indicative in the new entries.

While this is not a societal trend, it is clearly a business trend, and a recognition that niche appeal programming attracts niche audiences – not really the desire of a mainstream network.

2) Everybody’s a Comedian

Of the 38 shows set to debut on u.s. networks this fall, 21 (or 55%) are sitcoms.

Sitcoms

And these new comedies are, for the most part, featuring well-known talent – names such as Sinbad, Don Rickles, Richard Lewis, Faye Dunaway, Robert Urich, Kelsey Grammer, Judith Light, Harry Anderson, John Larroquette, Valerie Bertinelli, and, yes, even George Foreman stepping into the comedy ring.

The Best of the Comedy Bunch:

Dave’s World – cbs, Monday 8:30 p.m. – 9 p.m.; starring Harry Anderson (Night Court) as Dave Barry, the Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist of The Miami Post-Dispatch.

Family appeal

Barry is married with two children (providing all-family appeal) and has a likeable character. And of prime importance to its chances of becoming a hit, it is hammocked between Evening Shade and Murphy Brown, thereby guaranteeing trial.

Phenom – abc, Tuesday 8:30 p.m. – 9 p.m.; starring Judith Light (Who’s the Boss?) as the mother of a teenage tennis star, this program enjoys the hammock position between Full House and Roseanne, and, again, due primarily to position, will likely attain hit status.

The John Larroquette Show – nbc, Tuesday 9 p.m. -9:30 p.m.; starring he of Night Court fame as a recovering alcoholic working a graveyard shift as manager of a St. Louis bus station.

This show has the ensemble look of Wings or Barney Miller and could do well if moved, but against last year’s No. 1-ranked show – Roseanne – it will not receive trial.

Frasier – nbc, Thursday 9:30 p.m. – 10 p.m.; Kelsey Grammer reprises his role as the psychiatrist of Cheers, however he has moved to Seattle to become a ‘radio shrink’ after his divorce.

Considered by some to be nbc’s strongest new comedy, Frasier follows Seinfeld, which should ensure hit numbers.

Boy Meets World – abc, Friday 8:30 p.m. – 9 p.m; starring Ben Savage (younger brother of Fred, of Wonder Years) as an 11-year-old youth whose world is changing fast. Placed after Family Matters, Boy should survive nicely, and may make hit numbers.

The Mommies – nbc, Saturday 8 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.; starring two comediennes whose act, known as The Mommies, takes a humorous look at motherhood in the ’90s.

Tough to survive

Unfortunately, Saturday is a weak viewing night, and against the all-family fare of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, the male appeal of Cops and the curiosity factor of George, it will be tough to survive.

The Worst of the Comedies:

Saved By The Bell: The College Years, Cafe Americain, Daddy Dearest.

3) The Dysfunctional Family Reigns Supreme

Of the 19 new programs which feature children, families and relationships as the basis for their plots, 14 are situations in which divorce, death of a spouse or bad family relationships are integral to the story. A few examples not already covered:

Sinbad – Fox, Thursday 8:30 p.m. – 9 p.m.; he is a bachelor who takes in two foster children and relies on his gorgeous neighbor to baby-sit. Good lead-in from The Simpsons could elevate this survivor to hit status.

The Nanny – cbs, Wednesday 8:30 p.m. – 9 p.m.; Fran Drescher (Princesses) takes a job as an unconventional nanny to three out-of-control children of a wealthy Broadway producer. Likely a miss, although she is funny.

Angel Falls

Angel Falls – cbs, Thursday 10 p.m. – 11 p.m.; a single mother returns to her childhood community with her teenage son, in this modern-day Peyton Place, which is meant to fill the void left by Knots Landing.

This show is still in development, so we will not try to comment on its potential for success.

The Second Half – nbc, Tuesday 9:30 p.m. – 10 p.m.; comedian John Mendoza plays a divorced sportswriter raising his two adolescent daughters. Tough time-period against Coach – a miss unless moved.

Thea – abc, Wednesday 8 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.; stand-up comic Thea Vitale stars as a single mom struggling to get by. A miss.

Grace Under Fire – abc, Wednesday 9:30 p.m. – 10 p.m.; yet another stand-up comic stars as a single mom (this time raising three children) struggling to get by. Good lead-in from Home Improvement – may survive but an unlikely hit.

George – abc, Saturday 8 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.; former heavyweight champ George Foreman stars as (what else) a retired boxer who becomes a guidance counsellor in an inner-city high school.

Should pull reasonable male numbers based on curiosity, but will be tough to survive – a probable miss.

4) News, News, Newsmagazines

Newsmagazine programming is growing at the expense of reality shows.

This year, three newsmagazine format programs will launch (not including abc’s Day One, which launched in March.)

Why more news? Because it is relatively inexpensive, it is controlled by the network, and people watch it.

Four of the top 30 shows in u.s. television are newsmagazines, and while reality shows have been viewed by critics with disdain, newsmagazines have a quality audience aura about them that makes them a more desirable buy for the advertiser.

The New Newsmagazines:

NBC Newsmagazine – nbc, Wednesday 9 p.m. -10 p.m.; featuring NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw and Today co-anchor Katie Couric.

It is in a tough time slot against Home Improvement for the adults, and Melrose Place for the Generation X-ers. But will likely survive even if it does not pull boffo numbers.

Eye to Eye with Connie Chung- cbs, Thursday 9 p.m. – 10 p.m.; Chung will be busy, as she is also taking on the co-anchor role of the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather.

Chung is up against Seinfeld, Matlock and In Living Color, so she will have a fight on her hands if she wants to continue on the schedule, but it is good counter-programing for those seeking more serious fare.

Front Page – Fox, Saturday 9 p.m. – 10 p.m.; well, it had to happen some time – the network that brought us The Simpsons, Beverly Hills 90210, Cops I & II and Married…With Children now brings us (?) news.

No, this is not your typical newsmagazine, it is ‘in-your-face’ reporting with fast sound-bites on topical, provocative features geared to a younger audience.

If history tells us anything about Fox it is that it is willing to give a show a chance to survive. And now that Fox is a seven-night-a-week entity, it needs to add news to its program mix. So, this one should survive even if it does not pull stellar numbers.

10 Other Notable Programs:

1) NYPD Blue – abc, Tuesday 10 p.m. – 11 p.m.; Steven (Hill St. Blues) Bochco’s gritty new police drama that is expected to push the bounds of acceptable tv.

If given the chance (and due in part to its strong lead-in – Coach), nypd could win the time-period (or die quickly due to viewer/advertiser backlash.)

2) The Trouble with Larry – cbs, Wednesday 8 p.m. -8:30 p.m.; Bronson Pinchot (Perfect Strangers) stars as a man who returns to reclaim his wife after being presumed dead for 12 years – she has remarried and he has nowhere to go, so he moves in.

Probably place second in the time-period – a survivor.

3) Missing Persons – abc, Thursday 8 p.m. – 9 p.m.; Daniel J. Travanti (Hill St. Blues) stars as head of the Chicago Police Missing Persons Division. Will challenge In the Heat of the Night for third spot after The Simpsons and Mad About You. Should be moved – if not, will probably miss.

4) It Had To Be You – cbs, Friday 8 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.; Faye Dunaway stars as a hard-nosed, all-business publisher; Robert Urich plays a widowed carpenter – the two meet and a romantic comedy for the 40-plus set ensues.

I will go out on a limb and call this a survivor and possible hit.

5) Against The Grain – nbc, Friday 8 p.m. – 9 p.m.; a former star quarterback quits his insurance sales job to take on the role of football coach in a town in which football is everything. Likely a miss, but could surprise.

6) The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. – Fox, Friday 8 p.m. – 9 p.m.; bounty hunter Brisco County Jr. rounds up the worst outlaws in the Wild West with the humor and style of Indiana Jones. Great Friday night youth fare, but will probably not be seen given the heavy competition – a miss.

7) X-Files – Fox, Friday 9 p.m. – 10 p.m.; two fbi agents – one a skeptic, the other a believer in the paranormal – investigate unexplained cases from the bureau’s files. One of only two sci-fi shows this year, you can cross off X, it will be gone by next year.

8) Harts of the West – cbs, Saturday 9 p.m. – 10 p.m.; Beau Bridges quits his city life and drags his family out west to take over a dilapidated dude ranch with the help of the cantankerous old foreman, Jake (Lloyd Bridges). Based on the momentum of Dr. Quinn and the relatively weak competition, Harts could win the time period. A survivor.

9) Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman – abc, Sunday 8 p.m. – 9 p.m.; poor Superman. First he dies, then they bring him back to life to have a contemporary romance with Lois Lane on television. Is nothing sacred? The love interest may last, but the show will not – a miss.

10) SeaQuest DSV – nbc, Sunday 8 p.m. – 9 p.m.; the ‘other’ sci-fi show, this one stars Roy Scheider as commander of a powerful submarine responsible for maintaining world peace under water in the year 2018.

Created by Steven Spielberg, nbc has committed to 22 episodes (at a substantial cost), so it will be moved around if does not pull strong numbers in this time-period.

And finally, our picks for the top five new series (not necessarily in this order:)

1) Dave’s World

2) Phenom

3) Frasier

4) NYPD Blue

5) It Had To Be You

6) Sinbad

(I know, it says five.)

And our picks for top 10 overall programs in the Toronto market (assuming all programs run in simulcast, and, again, not necessarily in this order):

1) 60 Minutes

2) Roseanne

3) Murphy Brown

4) Murder, She Wrote

5) Home Improvement

6) Coach

7) Seinfeld

8) The Simpsons

9) Wings

10) Star Trek: The Next Generation

11) and, maybe, Frasier/Dave’s World

(I did it again.)

Bruce Baumann is vice-president, media director at Toronto-based advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi.