Media buyer says? So-so upfronts

Prior to the networks unveiling their new fall schedules, there was a lot of debate surrounding the upfronts: Specifically, are the events and parties still relevant? Given the thousands of people who showed up to each of the big four's events, the answer is still yes. But this year there was recognition that the days of boring three-hour presentations are long gone. The result: presentations that were all about brevity and business.

Prior to the networks unveiling their new fall schedules, there was a lot of debate surrounding the upfronts: Specifically, are the events and parties still relevant? Given the thousands of people who showed up to each of the big four’s events, the answer is still yes. But this year there was recognition that the days of boring three-hour presentations are long gone. The result: presentations that were all about brevity and business.

So what did we learn? First and foremost, the big nets are finally recognizing that they need to extend their offering into the digital arena. In short, there is serious revenue to be had if they can figure out how to tap into these alternate platforms.

Next insight: Some fairly consistent themes emerged which can be lumped into five categories:

Bringing sexy back: It worked for Justin Timberlake, and the nets are hoping it will work for them as well with a bunch of Sex and the City clones: Cashmere Mafia (ABC), Lipstick Jungle (NBC) and CBS’s male offering, Big Shots.

Geeks rule: Witness CBS’s The Big Bang Theory and two from NBC, Chuck and The It Crowd.

Sitcoms are dead: A theme that surfaced last fall continues as the nets steer away from the half-hour comedy.

Reality lives: It’s unfortunate, but all nets have taken reality TV to a whole new level with more game shows and crazier challenges.

Search for a Hero: Sci-fi is hot and everyone is in search of their Heroes, the hit no one expected. Now, the details…

ABC

This net earns the title of Most Shows Unveiled this Fall, with a whopping 18.

Comedies include Sam I Am, starring Christina Applegate, about a woman who wakes up with amnesia and learns she doesn’t like the person she used to be. It was well received and could do well on Monday nights at 9:30 p.m. following Dancing with the Stars. Cavemen, on the other hand, follows three neanderthals living in modern-day Atlanta, and was painful to watch. And Carpoolers, the story of four men with nothing in common other than carpooling to and from work, doesn’t stand a chance with Cavemen as its lead-in.

ABC chose Wednesday to launch three of its one-hour dramas, which is pretty risky with no lead-ins. Pushing Daisies, a love story about a young man with the ability to bring people back to life, won’t survive in the 8 p.m. timeslot against Deal or No Deal and America’s Next Top Model. Private Practice, the Grey’s Anatomy spin-off at 9 p.m., should fare better. True, there’s no lead-in and tough competition – but some of Grey’s’ fans are sure to follow Addison to L.A. Dirty Sexy Money at 10 p.m. is the only show with big names this fall (Peter Krause, Donald Sutherland). It follows a New York family driven by power, money and privilege and shows promise. If nothing else, the title caught everyone’s attention.

Big Shots – men do Sex and the City – stars Dylan McDermott (The Practice). Although up against ER Thursdays at 10 p.m., it has a great lead-in with Grey’s and should attract females. Women’s Murder Club, adapted from James Patterson’s novels, doesn’t have any competition on Friday at 9 p.m., so it could do well.

One midseason replacement worth mentioning is Cashmere Mafia, ABC’s Sex and the City clone starring Lucy Liu.

NBC

The last-place network surprised everyone by introducing only five new shows. The Bionic Woman remake is up against returning Criminal Minds and Bones and the new Private Practice. In a tough time period and without Lindsay Wagner, The Bionic Woman will struggle for share.

Similarly, Chuck, about a computer geek who becomes a secret agent, doesn’t stand a chance against House, The Unit and Dancing with the Stars. The other two new dramas won’t survive either: Journeyman, about a man who travels through time, is up against CSI: Miami; and Life, the story of a wrongly imprisoned cop, is up against CSI: NY.

NBC’s reality offering, Singing Bee, where contestants sing popular song lyrics, looked like fun. Who hasn’t made up their own words to a song and been convinced they are right?

Mid-season replacements worth mentioning include Lipstick Jungle, based on the novel by Candace Bushnell. It chronicles the lives of three career women who, unlike Carrie Bradshaw, ‘are not looking for Mr. Big…they are Mr. Big!’ Meanwhile, Baby Borrowers is a social experiment that gives teenage couples the chance to experience parenting firsthand.

CBS

The number one net, which consistently has the most stable schedule, unveiled only a few new shows. CBS has a ‘commitment to be daring,’ said CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler, and they delivered with Swingtown. It’s a mid-season, racy, adult drama set in the 1970s, following the lives of suburban swingers. The remaining entries were less so. Cane, a drama with Jimmy Smits leading a powerful Cuban family, is scheduled for Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. It gained positive buzz, but will face tough competition against Boston Legal and Law & Order SVU.

Moonlight, the story of a private investigator who happens to be a vampire, will likely appeal to Angel fans. Hammocked between Ghost Whisperer and Numb3rs, and with no real competition, it has potential. On the other hand, Viva Laughlin, a BBC-inspired musical mystery set in a casino, is going to have a hard time. Why? Anyone remember Cop Rock? Yep, it’s a musical drama where people break into song in the middle of a conversation. It just doesn’t work, and not even Hugh Jackman (its producer) will be able to save it.

CBS’s one reality show, Kid Nation, which follows 40 kids who live together with no adult supervision, was not well received. Frankly, who wants to witness that nightmare?

Finally, Big Bang Theory is the net’s token comedy about nerds with no social skills trying to interact with women. It should do relatively well with How I Met Your Mother as its lead-in.

Fox

This year Fox redeemed itself by having the shortest presentation, at one hour. That can’t, however, make up for the net’s unimpressive fall track record. Fox Entertainment president Peter Liguori hopes the new fall shows will allow the net ‘to come out swinging’ and, in combination with 17 returning series, ‘help give Fox the momentum that has eluded them in early fall.’

In total, 12 new shows were unveiled, although only six will start this fall; the remainder are slotted for January. One-hour dramas include K-Ville, a police show set in post-Katrina New Orleans, which has a great lead-in with Prison Break and was well received, and New Amsterdam, another show with an immortal protagonist, which looks promising and has no competition Tuesdays at 8 p.m. But Nashville, a docu-soap that looks inside that music scene, will fail on Fridays against returning fave Las Vegas and new entries Moonlight and Women’s Murder Club.

Coming midseason are Canterbury’s Law, a courtroom drama; Return of Jezebel James, about two sisters who are opposites but move in together as one carries the other’s baby; Rules for Starting Over, which follows four thirtysomething friends in Boston; and Sarah Connor Chronicles, which is a continuation of the Terminator franchise.

Fox also introduced Back to You (yes, a sitcom), marking the return of Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton to television. They play news anchors who can’t stand each other. Everyone in the audience seemed to like the show, and it is obvious that Fox is confident that it will be a success for them. It is certainly the best of the new offerings in the Wednesday 8 p.m. timeslot, and should easily beat out Pushing Daisies and Kid Nation.

The net’s reality offerings include Kitchen Nightmares, essentially Hell’s Kitchen with a new name. There’s also Search for the Next Great American Band, the American Idol for bands, and finally, When Women Rule the World, an unscripted series where women run things and men are subservient. These reality shows are all so bad they will probably do well.

Lina’s Picks

What did I love? Nothing.

What did I like? Sam I Am looked funny and Christina Applegate was great as the lead comedic actress. Cane has all the elements to be a success: love, money, greed and Jimmy Smits! Moonlight: I’m a sucker for all things vampire

(pun intended).

What did I hate? A lot. But the worst of the lot were: Cavemen, Kid Nation, Swingtown and Pushing Daisies. They’ll probably be hits.

Lina Alles is a managing partner at MindShare Canada in Toronto.