Few new shows wow buyers in TV upfront

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media buying executives don't expect many breakout shows from the broadcast networks' next season, as few struck them as instant hits.

Of those being talked about, media agency executives say CBS's Charlie Sheen sitcom "Two and a Half Men" and Jerry Bruckheimer's drama "Cold Case" are good bets. Fox was praised for its improv celebrity sitcom "The Ortegas" and soapy drama "The O.C." General Electric Co.'s NBC earned high marks for British import "Coupling" and the James Caan drama "Las Vegas." And ABC's sitcom "I'm With Her" was noted by some.

The race to be first in delivering 18-49 year old viewers-NBC is the leader, with Fox trailing close behind-was a major issue at the upfront this year.

"If you are the leader, you should just try to protect your turf," said Shari Ann Brill, VP-director of programming services, Aegis Group's Carat North America, New York. "You have to go out there and be aggressive and be the leader. Most of NBC's moves were defensive. `Coupling' was a defensive move to get something that smacks of `Friends.' They should go out and do something new."

She was impressed by the Fox lineup and believes it has a clear shot at overtaking the Peacock, if not significantly ruffling its feathers again this season, especially with its lineup of new young-adult shows such as "The O.C." (which stands for Orange County, Calif.). "It's new, and that will bring in the young women as well as the men," Ms. Brill said.

prevailing peacock?

But others believe NBC will continue to prevail, despite stiff competition. "NBC has a good, safe schedule," said Mike Drexler, CEO of Publicis Groupe's Optimedia USA. "They clearly will come in with the No. 1 position in 18 to 49 viewers ... [but] Fox had a very good schedule. They will give NBC a run for their money."

News Corp.'s Fox, which scored a major success with "Joe Millionaire" and "American Idol," will stick to scripted shows at the start of the season. Its new 9 p.m. Monday show, "Skin," is about the romance between the children of a politician and a porn mogul. "There might be some advertisers who are skittish about `Skin,"' said Brad Adgate, senior VP-audience research for Horizon Media, since it may include content about the adult-entertainment industry.

NBC will focus on its troubled Tuesday night. "Whoopi," starring Whoopi Goldberg running a New York City hotel, will air at 8 p.m., followed by "Happy Family," starring John Larroquette and Christine Baranski as husband and wife dealing with three grown kids. NBC's controversial sexed-up comedy, "Coupling," takes up the 9:30 p.m. Thursday spot, in the hopes it will benefit from the "Will & Grace" lead-in.

few new realities

Broadcast networks have mostly kept their word-at least for now-when it comes to reality TV. Only one new reality show was on broadcast schedules last week during upfront presentations in New York: Fox's "American Junior," essentially "American Idol" for kids. Otherwise, a standard array of comedies and dramas-with some recognizable names-will be on TV screens this fall.

This season all eyes are on Walt Disney Co.'s ABC, the network needing the most improvement. Its push is to reinstate its Friday family-oriented sitcom block known as "TGIF." Two of its Tuesday comedies move to Fridays, "George Lopez" and "Life with Bonnie." It also adds new comedies, "Back To Kansas," about East Coast guy fitting in with his new Midwest in-laws, and "Hope & Faith," about two sisters, featuring Kelly Ripa and Faith Ford.

On Thursdays, a trouble spot for the network, ABC will start a terrorist-themed drama "Threat Matrix" at 8 p.m. Analysts wonder whether lurid content during "the family hour" will turn off viewers or advertisers.

Viacom's CBS moves aggressively to address problem areas, most notably on Wednesdays, where it aims to establish a comedy block by moving "The King of Queens" to 9 p.m. from Tuesday. It will also add "The Stones," about two grown children living with their divorcing parents. At 10 p.m., there's a David E. Kelley quirky "Northern Exposure"-type show, "The Brotherhood of Poland, N.H."

At least one media buyer agreed with this strategy. "It's a good move to establish another night for comedy," Stacey Shepatin, senior VP-director of national broadcast Hill Holiday. n


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