Thanks in part to breakout hit "The Osbournes," MTV's entirely unscripted show liberally sprinkled with language that would make Tony Soprano blush, TV industry observers expect next year's crop of scripted shows to attempt to mimic the spontaneity of reality shows. TV producers are already talking up ideas that blend scripted and unscripted scenes.
"Next year you may see more shows having improvisational component," said Shari Anne Brill, VP-director of programming services for Carat North America.
Industry experts sense the new wave of half-scripted, half-improv shows will be a hit because viewers are tired of predictable formulas.
Two shows already being broadcast that use such a technique are ABC's "Life with Bonnie," starring Bonnie Hunt and HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm." "Bonnie" is only partly scripted-mainly those scenes that involve both child and adults actors. Ex-"Seinfeld" writer Larry David's "Enthusiasm" is more heavily improvised as he attends to his neurosis with his agent, wife and group of Los Angeles celebrity friends.
NBC plans to air "The Ortegas" next season, featuring a Latino family whose son has a TV show he produces in the backyard. The concept is imported, based on the U.K.'s take on an immigrant family, "The Kumars at No. 42." On "The Ortegas," guests walk through the house and interact with the young man's extended family before being interviewed. Most of the show is improvised.
Program analysts also expect coarser language-following the lead of MTV's "The Osbournes" or FX's "The Shield"-to become more prevalent on cable and perhaps even network schedules.
What won't be unscripted this coming TV year is the 2003 advertising upfront selling season. Media buyers are already bracing for prices to continue to increase, since "scatter" pricing for network shows rose 15% to 25% over last June's upfront pricing. Scatter deals are put together on a quarter-by-quarter basis.
TV stays strong
The TV advertising market has been the strongest of the entire media industry. Program prices rose 5% to 9% for the current season over the last broadcast season. Overall dollars rose 19% to $8.1 billion. Many media-industry executives believe TV boosted its share at the expense of magazines and newspapers.
"Things will continue strong in the marketplace," said Andy Donchin, senior VP-national broadcast, Carat North America, New York. "I like to see what is being done with second-quarter cancellations. The second quarter shows the strength in the market for the next upfront."
Good news for broadcast-audience erosion followers: Conditions are somewhat better for the rest of the broadcast season. "It looks like there is going to be a slowdown," said Rino Scanzoni, president-U.S. broadcast for WPP Group's Mediaedge: cia, New York. "It's probably going to be under 3% [vs. a year ago]. It's a good thing." That's because last year the decline was 5% vs. the year before.
A major surprise next season is the unexpected strength of syndication, thanks to the surprise hit this season of "Dr. Phil"-the first syndicated show to break out in almost seven years.
"Syndication has finally had a hit," said Mr. Scanzoni. "It speaks very positively about the whole industry. It benefits all suppliers." The Syndication Network Television Association will hold its first conference in almost 12 years in February.