If you're involved in the upfronts, you're no doubt trying to figure out whether a network has beachfront property to sell (high-quality dramas and comedies) or a lot of run-down tenements. Worry no more. Ad Age has been scouting out this year's real estate and offers up the intelligence you need to keep in mind as you make your journey around midtown Manhattan during Upfront Week.
Yes, "Modern Family" has room to grow, "Dancing with the Stars" is a juggernaut and "Grey 's Anatomy" remains a force to be reckoned with, but some of the Walt Disney network's tentpole programs -- particularly Sunday's "Desperate Housewives" and "Brothers & Sisters" -- are showing signs of age. Ad buyers like the network's efforts to build a Wednesday-night comedy block, but have been disappointed in most of the new program launches in the 2010-2011 season (making us feel better about dropping "Detroit 1-8-7" and "No Ordinary Family" from our DVR must-record list).
Last year "Two and a Half Men" star Charlie Sheen was mired in a contract dispute. This year his antics shut down production of the program this season. But the absence of Sheen hasn't kept both CBS and production studio Warner Brothers from testing whether the program might have a life without its star. Meantime, CBS, which enjoys the success of "NCIS" and "NCIS: Los Angeles," has very few holes to fill. Even its popular "CSI" franchise is in the early stages of decline, and we've heard nary a peep about season starters "The Defenders" and "$#*! My Dad Says" in months.
Thursday's lineup of "30 Rock," "Parks & Recreation" and "The Office," seems to play to East-and-West-Coast intelligentsia (and Steve Carell is out of "The Office"), and the net's efforts to transform "Law & Order" to "Law & Order: LA" appear to have tarnished one of TV's best-loved franchises. New entertainment chief Robert Greenblatt has been keeping a low profile, but any show he trots out that underpromises and overdelivers will be welcome -- by viewers and new corporate owner Comcast. Meanwhile, singing contest "The Voice" is bringing the Peacock new wind.
X marks the spot at TV's renegade network, with many advertisers looking at the News Corp. outlet's new "X Factor," as well as time-travel drama "Terra Nova" and a proposed new drama featuring "24" star Keifer Sutherland. It all sounds great, but so did last year's "Lone Star," which faced high expectations from both ad buyers and network executives and then proceeded to tank. Luckily, Fox has locked in its mainstay programs -- "American Idol," "Bones," "House" and "Family Guy."
The home of "Gossip Girl" and "Vampire Diaries" may be set for a redo. New president Mark Pedowitz is slated to take this small broadcast outlet's reins soon -- a signal, perhaps, that corporate owners CBS and Time Warner have grown weary of what is believed to be the network's inability to turn a profit. CW has, however, been very aggressive in its efforts to link viewership of its programs on TV to audiences who watch its youthful fare online and in digital fashion.
This season, the big Spanish-language network has solidly built up its advertiser-desirable 18-to-49 audience and has become very aggressive after the most recent Census revealed a broader Spanish-speaking population in the U.S. No longer are Spanish-language networks only considered entertainment for new immigrants, but rather they are enjoying the benefits of a growing younger generation. Of course, Univision would do well to name an official successor to now-departed CEO Joe Uva.
Perhaps the most attractive outlet at present in the NBC Universal portfolio, USA boasts clever stories about quirky characters in updated versions of old TV-show formulae. The network may not have the dark edge of FX, but its programs are seen as consistently reliable. We still wonder whether its WWE programs fit alongside its scripted fare. Also: can a network rely too heavily on a particular methodology, so that individual programs become hard to tell apart from one another?
They've got Conan O' Brien and shows such as "Southland" and "Men of a Certain Age" generating critical acclaim, if not "NCIS"-style ratings . And you can't count out the new power of the NCAA men's basketball championships. Expect Turner to come out of the upfront gate aggressively to bolster support of plans to get marketers to consider TBS and TNT alongside the broadcast networks. At the same time, TNT's flagship program, "The Closer," which has helped launch sister shows such as "Rizzoli & Isles," is entering its final season.
Not known as one of cable's top-tier, E! is expected to get a major boost under NBC Universal. NBC News is already making outreach to the entertainment outlet's news show, and there's talk of adding scripted fare to E!'s steady output of (sometimes cheese-filled) guilty-pleasure reality programming. Can you imagine Chelsea Handler being tied to NBC late-night regulars including Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon ? If you're trying to sell advertisers on reaching both men and women during late-night, maybe so.
After hooking viewers on "16 and Pregnant," "Teen Mom" and "Jersey Shore," where else can the youth-skewing net go? Look for MTV to keep punching through social norms, a la this season's controversial "Skins." Not everything MTV does is palatable to the bulk of Madison Avenue. The Parents Television Council is complaining about a recent "Hard Times of RJ Berger"episode due to its off-putting use of menstrual blood. Perhaps there's no clearer sign former MTV architect Judy McGrath has left the building.