Upfront 07

Buyers Like What Nets Offer Up

Dramas Still Take Up Bulk of Schedule, but Sitcoms Make Surprising Comeback

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- No one's going to call this year's development slate the most dynamic or original when the most hyped shows are essentially updates of "The Bionic Woman" and "The Terminator" and retreads of "Sex and the City." But in terms of the quality of prime-time programming, buyers seem to think the networks have stepped up their game.
Michelle Ryan stars as Jamie Sommers in ABC's 'The Bionic Woman'
Michelle Ryan stars as Jamie Sommers in ABC's 'The Bionic Woman' Credit: Alan Zenuk

'A good era'
"We're in a pretty good era for programmers," said John Swift, managing director for PHD. "People are a lot more strategic about scheduling. I thought this was a really good week for our business."

Though serialized dramas continue to make up the bulk of the networks' offerings, sitcoms have made a surprising comeback this year. At Fox, "Back to You," starring Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton, was the subject of much after-party chatter, with Horizon's research director Brad Adgate dubbing it a surefire hit based on the talent alone.

Also receiving favorable reviews were the Christina Applegate vehicle "Sam I Am" at ABC and its family drama "Dirty Sexy Money"; CBS's "Cane," a Cuban-American family drama starring Jimmy Smits; the CW's Kevin Smith-produced "Reaper"; and NBC's hour-long "Chuck," a comedic mix of "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and the sci-fi overtones of "Heroes." As Mr. Adgate noted, "It's a big year for nerds."

Little hope for 'Cavemen'
Only ABC's "Cavemen" seemed to strike out in the comedy realm. Based on the popular characters from the Geico commercials, the show is the first broadcast program to center on an advertiser's creation. Laura Carraccioli-Davis, Starcom's director of entertainment, said she had minimal hopes for the pilot "if it truly is as bad as that clip was."

Beyond that, buyers didn't point to any obvious misfires. And none of the shows were quite on par with the hype surrounding NBC's "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" last year. The singing casino bosses of CBS's musical drama "Viva Laughlin" drew comparisons to the early-'90s Steven Bochco series "Cop Rock" -- suggesting it might not work -- but the show still generated favorable buzz.

Fox's "Terminator" spinoff "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" may capitalize on the male audience that avoids "Desperate Housewives" on Sundays at 9 p.m., but that's on deck for midseason. Ditto CBS's steamy '70s drama, "Swingtown," but buyers expressed concern over how to sell it to family-friendly advertisers.
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