Networks have lived by a September-to-May calendar for decades. But they've long relied on midseason replacements to cover fall flops, or used the idle days of summer to try out new shows like, well, Fox's "American Idol."
Many of prime time's biggest hits made their debuts far from the fall game. Consider the No. 1 series over the past 30 years: In 14 of those years, the top show originally appeared in winter ("All in the Family"), spring ("Dallas") or summer ("Survivor" and "Seinfeld").
The top nets, CBS and NBC, not surprisingly like the status quo. So they stay with one major season, adjusted to meet their needs (NBC, for example, will debut its schedule in August, right after its Olympics broadcast). Fox, trying to work its way out of a ratings hole, is pressing an innovative alternative with a three-season year-summer debuts in June; fall shows in November (after World Series broadcasts); winter shows in January, "Idol" time. Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman calls it a "revolution." We call it more a savvy scheme of marketing and packaging-not that there's anything wrong with that.
Some buyers dismiss Fox's plan as confusing and unneeded. We hope advertisers consider its merits. The world no longer starts in September and stops in May. Year-round public schools operate in at least 46 states. Car makers introduce new models year-round, not just in the fall. In the summer, consumers seek out fresh entertainment; they flock to blockbusters in theaters, and they're primed for new content on TV. The climate is right for a year of seasons.
The next step is for advertisers to buy time closer to these seasons: Marketers would be in a far better position to know what they have to spend and what they are buying. Ditch the upfront, Fox, and you've got yourselves a revolution.