New York upfronts: Putting on a brave face

As the U.S. networks fare, so too do the simulcasting Canuck nets' fates unfurl. Strategy asked Mindshare Canada managing director Lina Alles to report back on this year's goings-on at the New York upfronts in May. Here's what she saw - and heard.

As the U.S. networks fare, so too do the simulcasting Canuck nets’ fates unfurl. Strategy asked Mindshare Canada managing director Lina Alles to report back on this year’s goings-on at the New York upfronts in May. Here’s what she saw – and heard.

With all the unrelenting, gloomy news about the economy I look around and think, ‘Recession? What recession?’ The presentations were still held at the usual venues, and with the exception of ABC, the after party was in full force, with the requisite free flowing alcohol and food. To top it all off, people seemed to be – dare I say it? – enjoying themselves.

The one indication that maybe, just maybe, the network execs are worried was the fact that they all stressed (over and over again) the primacy of TV as a medium which delivered the best results for clients’ advertising investment.


Fox claims it is the number one network, put there because of American Idol‘s huge success. Other returning shows include House, Fringe, So You Think You Can Dance, Bones, The Simpsons, and Family Guy.

What this means is that Fox is only introducing a few new shows: So You Think You Can Dance, which usually airs in the summer, will now be airing in the fall on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, technically not a new show, but an old show in a new season. On performance night (Tuesday) it will be up against Dancing with the Stars so it will be interesting to see who wins the battle of the dancers.

Glee, on Wednesday nights at 9 p.m., is a one-hour comedy/musical set in a high school: think Fame meets High School Musical. The kids are extremely talented and with the lead-in from SYTYCD it could do well. Fox premiered the first episode after the American Idol finale as a teaser, and it managed to pull a 3.7 Ad18-49, even with stiff competition from the Dancing with the Stars finale. Given the time period average was 2.8, Fox would be thrilled if this teaser is indicative of Glee‘s fall performance.

Also new is Brothers, a half-hour sitcom about two brothers – one who is extremely successful and one who isn’t – and how they interact with each other and their parents. It had some pretty funny lines, but not so sure it will sustain with competition from Law & Order and Ghost Whisperer.


This fall, ABC is bringing back the old favourites: Dancing with the Stars, Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Super Nanny, Ugly Betty, 20/20, Desperate Housewives and Brothers and Sisters. However, they have a lot of cancellations and as a result are launching eight new shows.

Shark Tank, a Mark Burnett production, will premiere on Aug. 9 at 9 p.m., following the return of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Episodes will continue on Sundays at 9 p.m. through Aug. 23, after which it will shift to its regular time period of Tuesdays at 8 p.m. starting Aug. 25. Shark Tank is the American version of CBC’s Dragon’s Den, where each week entrepreneurs try to convince a panel of millionaires to invest in their business idea. Canadian Kevin O’Leary, who is on Dragon’s Den, will also be on Shark Tank as one of the potential investors.

Also on Tuesday night at 10 p.m. is The Forgotten from Jerry Bruckheimer, a police drama about investigating unidentified dead bodies. Each episode is narrated by the missing person, who watches as the detectives try to figure out their identity. With only The Jay Leno Show and The Good Wife as competition it stands a good chance.

Wednesday night is comedy night with four new sitcoms, starting at 8 p.m. with Hank starring Kelsey Grammer as a business man who loses all his money and has to relocate with his family to his old neighbourhood. Unfortunately, Grammer has suffered from the Frasier stigma and hasn’t had a success since then. Although Hank is funny and well written, it will probably not do well because the viewers will only see Frasier (and be disappointed. Anyone remember last year’s Back to You?

At 8:30, The Middle stars Patricia Heaton from Everybody Loves Raymond, (and Back to You) as a middle-class woman living the life of a harassed wife and mom. Heaton, like Grammer has not been able to succeed in a sitcom past Everybody Loves Raymond and this entry will be no different.

Modern Family is ABC’s pick of the season; they previewed the full episode at the upfront, which is unheard of. It’s a comedy about a typical ‘modern’ family struggling with the issues of the day, and received a great reaction from the audience. The last comedy for the evening is Cougar Town at 9:30, starring Courteney Cox as a ‘cougar’…need I say more?

At 10 p.m., ABC switches from comedy to Eastwick, a one-hour drama based on the movie Witches of Eastwick, and it is terrible. Paul Gross stars as Darryl Van Horne, the character made famous by Jack Nicholson…and Paul is no Jack! [Though Gross fans may prefer the clean-cut Mountie at any rate -Ed.]

Flash Forward on Thursday night at 8 p.m. is a one-hour drama described as an ‘intimate epic’ (what does that mean?). Whatever, the show does look good. It centres on a worldwide event where everyone passes out for two minutes and 17 seconds and during that time has a vision of the future. It then follows the journey of the characters as they deal with what has happened and their visions. Nothing ever does well against Survivor, but who knows, maybe Flash Forward will break the trend.

Mid-season replacements include Happytown, The Deep End and V, which if they do make it onto the schedule will not last long.


NBC chose to skip the upfronts this year and instead previewed their schedule on a one-on-one client basis a couple of weeks prior to the traditional upfront. The big news at NBC is the move away from scripted programming in the 10 to 11 p.m. timeslot, where they will run The Jay Leno Show. This is a bold, risky move and one the other networks welcome, as they see this as an opportunity to grow since it gives their 10 p.m. shows less competition.

And returning to NBC: Heroes, Chuck, The Biggest Loser, Law & Order: SVU, Parks & Recreation, The Office, 30 Rock, Law & Order, Southland and Dateline.

New entries include Trauma, on Monday nights at 9 p.m., a one-hour drama series that takes an action-packed look at one of the most dangerous medical professions in the world: first responder paramedics. With the Heroes lead-in, it could be a good alternative for all those people who don’t want to watch Dancing with the Stars.

On Wednesday night at 8 p.m. is Parenthood, from executive producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, a remake of the film about the imperfect Braverman family – four grown siblings sharing the headaches, heartaches and joy of being parents. Given the competition it will probably not do well.

Community, a half-hour comedy on Thursday at 8 p.m., focuses on a group of misfits that form a study group à la Breakfast Club and end up learning more about themselves than they do their courses. Up against Survivor, it will not survive.


CBS introduced only four new additions: three dramas and one comedy.

Accidentally on Purpose is a comedy starring Jenna Elfman as a sexy cougar who has a one-night stand with a younger man, gets pregnant and has to deal with the aftermath…yes, this is the comedy, not the drama. It’s slated for Mondays at 8:30 p.m., right after How I Met Your Mother‘s new 8 p.m. berth.

NCIS: LA is a spin-off airing right after NCIS on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. – hey, it worked for Law & Order and CSI, didn’t it? And it’s followed at 10 p.m. by The Good Wife, a drama about a woman scorned who must rebuild her life after her state attorney husband is publicly humiliated and sent to prison. Chris Noth fans will be happy to see him reprised as the ‘bad’ husband.

Three Rivers, Sundays in the 9 p.m. slot, is a medical drama about surgeons who give patients second chances through organ transplants. Sort of ER meets Grey’s Anatomy. It stars Alex O’Loughlin from defunct Moonlight as one of the surgeons. A bad sign according to Hollywood Reporter, the show is now searching for a new head of transplant surgery, following the decision to replace Julia Ormond.

Mid-season shows include: more medical drama and more Miami in the form of Miami Trauma; more cop drama, but from Canada (!) via The Bridge; and more reality shows, namely Arranged Marriage and Undercover Boss. As per historical trends very unlikely that any of these will survive.

Series that have been cancelled include Without a Trace, The Unit, Harper’s Island and Game Show in My Head.


The CW presentation was fun and hip with a great energetic vibe, which was reflective of their schedule. Despite the speculation, CW confirmed that there will not be a Gossip Girl spin-off - Lily - at least not yet. As well, Privileged and Reaper have been cancelled. What it is focusing on are three new entries that fit seamlessly into its schedule of returning favourites.

Melrose Place, Mondays at 9 p.m., yes, the remake of the old favourite, will follow 90210, the remake of Beverly Hills 90210. These two shows work really well together and should pull the young adult audience that CW is after.

The Beautiful Life, Wednesdays at 9 p.m., a drama about the modeling industry, stars Mischa Barton (The O.C.) as the ‘it’ girl who has been replaced by a younger ‘it’ girl. With America’s Next Top Model as the lead-in, this too should capture a young female audience.

The Vampire Diaries, Thursdays at 8 p.m., is a drama about two vampire brothers (one good, one bad) who battle for the heart and soul of a young woman in the town of Mystic Falls, Virginia. Based on the very popular series of novels of the same name, it already has a cult following, so it should do well.

As for mid-season replacements, Parental Discretion Advised is a drama about a teenage girl who searches for her birth parents, and finds the life she always wanted. It looks good, but given the success rate of new shows will probably not survive.

And that’s it from NYC!

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