What Will Flicker, and What Will Fade, on the TV Screen in 2011?

Tuning In: Chasing 'Idol' Audiences, the New NBC and Getting Oprah's Network Right

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Next year still hasn't arrived but the TV networks have had a good chunk of their plans for it laid out for a while now, scrapping sizable portions of their fall schedules and readying other stuff to replace the canceled fare. We suspect many of the replacements won't last long either, but while we wait to see what happens, here are a few other fronts we'll be watching between now and June.

Chevy's aggressive maneuvering: How much more can Chevrolet drive its vehicles into today's TV programs? Already, we're seeing Chevy cars all over CBS's "Hawaii Five-O," a Chevy dealership playing a very prominent part in TNT's "Men of a Certain Age" and Chevy ads meant to look like HGTV's "House Hunters" running when "House Hunters" airs. And one local Chevy promo recently featured a Chevy vehicle taking up a good part of the corner of the screen -- during programming. With Chevy owner General Motors slated to take part in the Super Bowl, we can't help but wonder how the automaker will integrate, or impose, its brand next.

Paula Abdul's new show 'Live to Dance' is set to run against 'Idol' for a few weeks.
Paula Abdul's new show 'Live to Dance' is set to run against 'Idol' for a few weeks.
Battle of the network song-and-dance contests: Perceiving weakness at Fox juggernaut "American Idol," rival networks seem to be going crazy for song-and-dance shows. The main case in point is CBS's Paula Abdul-led effort, "Live to Dance," which will run against one of two weekly episodes of "Idol" for a few weeks. But NBC also recently brought "The Sing Off" back for a second season while ABC introduced "Skating with the Stars."

The smell of "Idol" blood in the water is heightened by the major success this season of ABC's "Dancing With the Stars." But were its huge ratings driven by new fans flocking to the format -- or by folks drawn by the appearance of Bristol Palin and, occasionally, her mother? Poor ratings for "Skating with the Stars," meanwhile, served as a reminder that "Idol" audiences aren't easy game.

NBC's second season: The Peacock has more or less scrapped a great part of its much-heralded fall season and is now experimenting willy-nilly, launching a comedy block at 10 p.m. Thursdays and pulling back some of the emphasis it had placed on "The Event," that enigmatic drama about aliens and conspiracies it promoted so heavily last fall. Frankly, what NBC does this spring may matter very little in the grand scheme of things. Comcast is slated to take over NBC Universal some time in the next few weeks, and that company's vision of what constitutes broadcast-network fare could differ significantly from the NBC we've seen in the past few years.

On its OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network is slated to launch on the first day of 2011, but our bet is that what you see in the channel's first few weeks won't be what's on the air on the first day of 2012. Media buyers and OWN executives have acknowledged that tinkering will be the rule of this new venture, co-owned by Ms. Winfrey's Harpo production company and Discovery Communications. Its success is crucial not only to Ms. Winfrey's efforts to stay in the public light after next year's farewell to her syndicated daytime show, but also to Discovery's efforts to generate more revenue from the channel now operating as Discovery Health.

Tuning In is an ongoing series of commentaries by Ad Age TV Editor Brian Steinberg on the TV schedule, the ads it carries and changes within the industry. Follow him on Twitter.

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