TV Upfront

The Buzz Behind the Scenes at Upfronts

'Modern Family' Clones Give Pregnant Pause; Kimmel Riles Moonves With Aging-Audience Cracks

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Too many relatives for "Modern Family"?
If a new TV-programming idea works, all the networks rush to copy it. How else to explain the glut of song-and-dance competitions and crime procedurals that fill the airwaves? This year, there appears to be a movement to duplicate the success of ABC's "Modern Family."

''The New Normal': NBC's show title could actually refer to the network schedule, which is littered with new 'Modern Family' wannabes.
''The New Normal': NBC's show title could actually refer to the network schedule, which is littered with new 'Modern Family' wannabes.

At its heart, "Family" is an acknowledgement that today's family unit doesn't hail from Mayberry or look much like the Cleavers. Real life is more complex and often comprises nontraditional marriage arrangements, step-siblings and other elements once viewed as unorthodox. When ABC unveiled "Modern Family" in 2009, the program breathed new life not only into the sitcom, but into TV's depiction of our home lives.

But now things are about to get slightly ridiculous. Take these riffs on the "Modern Family" theme:

NBC's "The New Normal" centers on two gay male partners, the woman they bring in as a surrogate for their child, her young daughter and her Archie Bunker-esque mother.

CBS's "Partners" focuses on a "bromance" between a gay man and a straight one and weaves one guy's partner and the other's fiancee into the mix.

The kooky "1600 Penn," also on NBC, mixes "Modern Family" with "The West Wing ," taking a look at a dysfunctional first family in which the first lady is the president's second wife.

Around 75% to 80% of new shows fail, so it's highly likely some of these new shows won't last. Even so, their presence on the TV screen could blunt our appetite for the original. At least "Modern Family," which is heading into its fourth season, has a syndication deal with USA. That means the show has some economic ballast to help keep it steady as these new entries try to steal its fans.

NBC's Thursday-night problem
Ad buyers are puzzled by NBC's decision to move its low-rated "Rock Center" newsmagazine to what has long been one of advertising's most- desired destinations: Thursday night.

Thursdays are must-buy nights for several categories of marketers, especially movie studios that want to get consumers to the opening weekend of a big release and retailers promoting weekend sales.

But NBC is lining Thursday with a series of aging (and sometimes struggling) sitcoms as well as the Brian Williams-helmed news program. In the fall, NBC's Thursdays will lead with "30 Rock," a much-lauded comedy whose ratings are in decline and is about to enter a shortened final season. From there, it's "Up All Night" at 8:30 p.m., which has drawn fewer members of the 18-to-49 audience than ABC's "Celebrity Wife Swap"; an aging "The Office" at 9 p.m.; and then "Parks & Recreation."

NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt cited a desire to focus on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights, where the combination of "Sunday Night Football" and "The Voice" might help spur big ratings . Putting "Rock Center" on at 10 p.m. Thursdays might serve as a good lead-in to late local news, and NBC wants to place more focus on its affiliates and owned stations, said Ted Harbert, NBC Broadcasting's chairman, in an interview.

Ad buyers, however, don't grasp the rationale behind the maneuver. "It's the strangest strategic decision of the season," said one media-agency executive.

The Kimmel-Moonves feud
Don't look for Jimmy Kimmel to get offered David Letterman's spot should the popular host ever decide to step down from his late-night CBS roost.

Making his usual flame-throwing appearance at ABC's upfront presentation, Mr. Kimmel threw a little fire at the eye network. "CBS will be No. 1 among total viewers. And say what you want about their shows, they really do have their finger on the pulse of Americans with almost no pulse," he quipped. Advertising on CBS is "a great way to reach the coveted 18-to-49-trips-to-the-bathroom demographic. Raise your hand if you've ever said, "Did you see what happened on "NCIS" last night?'"

Les Moonves, CBS Corp.'s CEO, was not amused. "He should freshen up his material," said Mr. Moonves a day later, reminding journalists that CBS actually trumps ABC in reaching viewers between 18 and 49.

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