Friday, May 18, 2007

Ready, Set, Tivo! Part 2: The Upfront's Are Done Bringing In A Whopping $8.95 Billion!

Well, the television networks have finished their annual ritual of presenting their fall seasons to advertisers. This year, as the line between digital media and television blurs, TV buyers and digital buyers are facing off over the question of whether some portion of digital budgets should be pooled with upfront budgets - and who should oversee it. Broadcast and cable owners are vying for the increasing pool of digital dollars, arguing that their programming is now available in a variety of new media formats. This may, at some point, turn the coming upfront into a multimedia marketplace. But all-in-all, it will be a profitable year for the networks.

Volume of ad inventory has been an important element in this year's upfront, as increases were smaller than in previous years. CBS wrote business at flat to 2 percent increases. CBS is expected to finish with $2.4 billion in ad commitments for next season, down slightly from last year's total which was $2.5 billion, according to AdAge. CBS is expected to top all broadcast nets in upfront take for the second year in a row, with ABC following at around $2.2 billion, NBC's $1.9 billion, Fox has nabbed $1.8 billion, and the CW took in $650 million. The final upfront total is expected to hit $8.95 billion, according to the article.

This year at the upfronts has been who can turn down the glitzy crap — no Mariah Carey, no Aretha Franklin, no Marc Cherry dancing with the cast of “Desperate Housewives” — while still turning out something that kinda looks like an upfront. Did the networks agree on this? Without further ado, we're off to the races...

So, let's get it out of the way, everyone can read this and then the complaints can start flooding in before the rest of the article is read, but let me just remind you: I didn't make this schedule, it is not my fault. I only work for the Eye Network and all in all, Les Moonves and his team have done a good job with our schedule to keep my employed. Thank you Mr. Moonves. Wanna go get a cocktail at Maggiano's or Wood Ranch?

There it is, one new comedy, The Big Bang Theory; three new dramas, Cane, Moonlight, and Viva Laughlin; and one new reality show, Kid Nation. Easy as pie.

The reality show, Kid Nation, gives 40 kids 40 days to build a new city in the ghost town of Bonanza City, New Mexico. The kids are between ages 8 and 15 and will be there, sans adults, trying to create a new Old West town. Unlike most reality shows, no one gets voted out of the town but anyone may leave voluntarily. I'm very curious as to how many times producers and/or cameramen had to step in and stop fights or fix problems (not that we'll ever know or be told that such a thing occurred).

Drama-wise, Cane stars Jimmy Smits (woo-hoo) in a story about a large Cuban-American family (what else?) running a rum and sugar business in South Florida (and George Lopez thought that Cavemen getting on the air would mean that all the Latino-based shows would disappear). When the family patriarch, played by Hector Elizondo, is offered an opportunity to get out of the sugar part of the business, his vocal family voice their opinions.

The Big Bang Theory comes from Two and a Half Men producer and comedy genius Chuck Lorre (have you ever read his vanity cards at the end of his shows? they're hilarious) and focuses on über-nerdy friends who, amazingly, have no problem conversing about the most in-depth scientific issues, but can't talk to women. Well, fish out of water-style, a sexy new single neighbor moves in and the nerds are speechless. Hilarity will ensue. And if they get a character like Kandi in Two and a Half, this might be a winner!

Moonlight is a private investigator tale…with a twist. Mick St. John, PI, just happens to also be a vampire. Sadly for him, he doesn't get along with other vamps and spends a lot of his time protecting mere mortals from his undead brethren. Though he has resisted romance ever since he was bitten, nigh on 60 years ago, there's this new girl in town and Mick is considering his options. I love my network but I'm tired of the vampire/medium/ghosthunter crap!

Lastly, there's Viva Laughlin, based on the British show Viva Blackpool, this “mystery drama with music” focuses on Ripley Holden who wants to run a casino in Laughlin. Ripley has some financing problems and is forced to go to another casino owner (played in a recurring guest star role by Hugh Jackman) to help. Things continue to slide as Ripley's ex-business partner is found dead. But, on the upside he's married to Mädchen Amick and there's music. Oh yeah, this has visions of Cop Rock!

Picked up by CBS as a mid-season replacement is Swingtown, a show based in 1970s suburbia with couples examining the institutions of marriage and gender roles. It stars Jack Davenport and open marriages.

It should also be noted that Without a Trace is moving back to its original Thursday nights at 10 time slot, flip-flopping with Shark. Jerhico bit the dust (so what really happened?) and Class is history too. So much for the shows I liked.

At our other CBS company, the CW is heavy on the reality schedule and Drama-wise, Reaper adds another sci-fi element to The CW's schedule. A 21-year-old slacker finds out that his parents, back in the day, sold his soul to the devil (I had no idea that such a thing was possible, selling someone else's soul, but now that I do, there are a couple of people I'm willing to make deals for). Now the poor guy has to serve as the devil's bounty hunter, tracking down evil escaped souls, Dog-style.

Life is Wild moves a family from the concrete jungle of New York City to a game reserve in South Africa. There they find a wholly different kind of animal. Outcasts at first, the family eventually starts to work things out, and starts enjoying this new life (not that everything will be smooth, of course).

There's only one new comedy, Aliens in America. In this 30 minutes of funny, a sensitive nerdy 16-year-old kid, with a hugely popular sister, has his world turned upside down by the arrival of an exchange student…from Pakistan.

In Gossip Girl, exec-produced by The O.C. creator Josh Schwartz, we enter the life of a super-rich, super-popular, super-girl (but not in the special abilities kind of way). Money however, we learn, does not buy happiness. As Weird Al noted though, it is possible to rent happiness, and I hereby suggest that.

Then, there's the reality programming…

CW Now is a newsmagazine, focusing on music, fashion, movies, technology. You know, like Access Hollywood, Extra, Entertainment Tonight, The Insider, that kind of thing. In a similar, or at least compatible, vein and airing right afterwards, Online Nation looks at blogs and user-generated content on the internet.

The CW also has a couple of midseason reality shows like Crowned: The Mother of All Pageants and Farmer Wants a Wife, plus there'll be another Pussycat Dolls search. The first of these is a beauty pageant with the added bonus of there being mother and daughter teams fighting one another. And the second is exactly what it sounds like: a reality show where 10 women compete for the hand of one farmer.

One Tree Hill will be back too… at some point, somewhere. But Poor, poor Veronica Mars. Kristen, I want you to know though, if you need comfort, many of us who work on CW shows will be for you. All you have to do is e-mail or call us. I looked forward to formatting you showe although I think you should have your Master's Degree by now.

Fox really flipped the biz around this year. They'll be pushing two for the fall and one for the spring. I think these people just wanted more space in my blog. Confused yet? Well, let's add this to the mix. The January differences from the spring schedule are as follows: It's K-Ville in the Prison Break slot, 'Til Death in the Jezebel James one, Idol will run for an hour on Wednesdays at 9:00, not 30 minutes, and Friday and Sunday will still be the fall schedules.

There, now that that's all sorted out, here are their two (thanks for sucking up my blogspace) schedules with Fall being first. So...on to the new stuff…

And now Spring...

K-Ville. A cop show in New Orleans ("K" being Katrina, as in the hurricane). Marlin Boulet (how wonderfully Louisiana is that name?) is a member of the NOPD's Felony Action Squad. That's right, they go after the most-wanted bad guys. His new partner is a tough guy, serving in Afghanistan before the Big Easy, but he's still not comfortable with his partner's methods.

New Amsterdam. This is the story "of a New York homicide detective unlike any other" (Because we've never heard that before). John Amsterdam, back in 1642, saved the life of a Native American girl, but took a sword wound for his troubles. The girl in turn saved his life, conferring upon him immortality. Only Amsterdam's good friend, Omar, knows the truth, but he has a few secrets of his own. Things get even more weird as the Native American's prophesy about a soul mate starts to come true.

From Denis Leary and Jim Serpico, in January we get Canterbury's Law, a courtroom drama starring a rebellious lawyer, played by Julianna Marguiles (Carol Hathaway, if you will). Her son has disappeared and she and her husband have moved to Providence, Rhode Island, in order to distance themselves from the tragedy. However, Marguiles's work in the criminal justice system keeps bringing back the horror that she has had to experience.

We all know, or should know by now, about Skynet and Sarah Connor. No? John Connor? His enemy and then friend, you know, the guy who will be back? No? Come on, The Terminator? Good. This show takes place following Sarah's destruction of the liquid metal Terminator as in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. She and John are fugitives, and enemies from the past, present, and future are always a threat. There is no fate but what we make of it. Let's make it a good one, folks but I think I'll be bored with it pretty quickly!

The lone new fall comedy is Back To You, starring Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton. Their characters used to be an on-air news team in Pittsburgh, before Chuck (Grammer) moved up to the big time. Sadly, after an ill-timed tirade, he finds himself on the slide and working with Kelly (Heaton) again. Too bad they never really got along in the first place. Oh, there are also a couple of off-beat secondary characters to really add some spice.

The new spring comedy, The Return of Jezebel James, features two estranged sisters. The sisters are opposites, one might even describe them as an "odd couple," that end up living together when one agrees to carry the other's baby. Jezebel James, if you're wondering, was the younger sister's imaginary friend, which the older sister has turned into a children's book (trust me, it'll play a part in the goings-on).

Reality-wise, there's Kitchen Nightmares, The Search for the Next Great American Band, and Nashville. The last two of these focuses on would-be musicians, the first American Idol-style, and in the second, well, they're all dreamers trying to make it in Nashville. But it's not a contest-y type of reality show, it's just looking at the dreamers and dream-makers. Kitchen Nightmares has Gordon Ramsay going from restaurant to restaurant, trying to do good, to help the helpless, striving to put right what once went wrong, and, hoping that his next leap will be the leap home.

Well, that's it for the upfronts this year. Ready, set, Tivo. One good thing about the sched this fall (and spring thanks to Fox), it's good to see the established actors back on TV, at least I'll remember their names and maybe, just maybe, I won't have to watch Patty Heaton in all those stupid Albertson's commercials!