Monday, May 14, 2012

It's Upfront Week

It's upfront week, that time of year when the major broadcast television networks announce their schedules for the fall, and decide which shows are being renewed, which are being cancelled, and which new pilots are being picked up to be turned into series. They're called upfronts, because the the presentations are meant to coax advertisers into buying ad space up front, before the next television season begins in the fall. Most of the big announcement have already been made or leaked, though the networks follow a set order for official presentations: NBC announced their schedule yesterday, and it's FOX's turn today.

However, there are usually a couple of surprises every year. For instance, NBC has cancelled "Harry's Law," the David E. Kelley legal drama starring Kathy Bates, which was one of its better performing shows in spite of an older-skewing audience. Three of NBC's critically lauded, but poorly-performing comedies, "30 Rock," and "Community," are only getting half season orders of 13 episodes apiece. The long term prospects do not look good for "Community," which is being moved to Friday nights, where network shows are usually sent to expire, with "Whitney" as a lead-in. Then again, I don't know that it would fare any better staying on Thursdays, where "Glee" is being transplanted next year.

This is also when we hear about cast and format changes for existing shows. Renewals are often dependent on contracts being ironed out with all the talent involved in advance. So, upfronts are also when we learn the outcome of many people's negotiations, like three major cast members of "The Office" signing new deals to keep the show going, in spite of the fact that several others are leaving for their own projects. After a disappointing first season, the American "X-Factor" is bringing on Demi Lovato and Britney Spears as new judges. Meanwhile, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kate Hudson are going to be guest-starring on "Glee" next year.

And just as we're saying goodbye to shows like "Desperate Housewives," "One Tree Hill," and "House," there are lots and lots of potential replacements in the pipeline. We have some interesting titles in the mix this year. NBC has "Revolution," a J.J. Abrams post-apocalyptic science fiction series, "1600 Penn," which will have Bill Pullman playing the president in a White House sitcom, and a Hannibal Lecter origin story. FOX has Mindy Kaling's "The Mindy Project," and ABC has the country music themed "Nashville" soap. The CW has "Sex and the City" prequel "The Carrie Diaries," and the DC superhero Green Arrow headlining "Arrow." CBS is going to try their own take on a modern Sherlock Holmes with "Elementary," starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu. Expect preview clips for most of these to be on the internet by the end of the week.

Meanwhile, formerly hot prospects like the "Hunger Games"-esque "The Selection," and the new "Munsters" series I was railing about a few months ago, have quietly been delayed or axed. And remember the dueling "Beauty and the Beast" shows? The CW one "Beauty," has been picked up, but rumor has it that the ABC version is kaput. We'll find out for sure tomorrow when ABC's schedule is announced. We can also say our final goodbyes to heaps of last year's ambitious newcomers like "Terra Nova," "The Playboy Club," "Pan Am," "A Gifted Man," "Unforgettable," "Charlie's Angels," "The River," "Awake," "Alcatraz," "The Finder, " "Ringer," "Prime Suspect," and "The Secret Circle." And say goodbye to "CSI: Miami" too, which has been cancelled after ten seasons.

What about the cable channels, you might ask? Being less advertiser dependent, they place less emphasis on these events, but have their own presentations that generally take place earlier in the spring. AMC, for instance, has already announced its new pilot pickups. However much the press lavishes attention on a small group of high profile cable shows, it's important to remember that the vast majority of audiences are still watching broadcast television, and what's getting airtime on ABC or CBS has a huge influence on everything else in the TV landscape.

It's several months before the premieres in the fall, but analyzing the preview that the upfronts afford us, you can already see the trends and tactics. NBC is trying a big overhaul, putting comedies on four different nights. FOX is standing firm, with the fewest new shows, preferring to retool what it already has. Over the next few days we'll see what CBS and ABC are up to, but it already looks like it's going to be another interesting season.

Happy watching

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