The networks have been knee deep in "up-front" presentations this
past few weeks. The up-front is an event where the networks show
advertisers and the media how the new season will look come September.
And every year the media turns its attention toward the quality of the
picks and tries to predict which TV shows will work.
Reporters most often conveyed surprise at NBC's decision to make The
Weakest Link its strongest show. The network is upping the number of
nights the show will air come September. Some contrasted this with ABC's
move to reduce the number of episodes of its own quiz show Millionaire -
turns out younger audiences didn't really care who wanted to be a
ABC insists that the Millionaire monopoly on airtime was not a
"(Leaning on the quiz show this past season) allowed us the luxury to
develop the shows we're bringing on," said ABC co-chairman Lloyd Braun
(The Wall Street Journal, May 16).
NBC seems to be sticking with a tried-and-true formula for success with
shows like Friends, ER, and Law & Order. "NBC figures we can never have
our fill of docs and cops," wrote the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (May
15), pointing out that Dick Wolf's Law & Order franchise will account
for 30% of all NBC dramas in the fall. But NBC has had a very tough year
with new shows. Few NBC sitcoms are coming back next fall. Only Ed made
the cut for the fall lineup. "I think NBC needs either Criminal Intent
(a Law & Order spin-off) or Crossing Jordan to work if they expect to
improve over this season's performance," said Steve Sternberg of True
North Communications (The Wall Street Journal, May 15).
While NBC is sticking with drama, the WB is breaking new ground with
sitcoms and reality shows next fall. Most media noted this as a major
departure from the usual WB lineup, which has been geared towards
teenage girls with shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is moving
to UPN next fall, and Dawson's Creek. Some questioned if WB viewers will
consider the trade of Buffy for family-oriented sitcoms a fair one.
All the shuffling of shows and time-slots doesn't change the overarching
opinion of the media that network TV stinks these days. Talent is
stretched thin, as network shows compete with cable hits like HBO's The
Sopranos and Sex and the City, which don't have to answer to
Network executives have tried to bring back "edge" to their shows
through reality TV. "The reality cycle remains on the upswing and there
will certainly be more of these shows in 2001-2002 than in any previous
season," predicted Hollywood Reporter critic Barry Garron (The Baltimore
Sun, May 14).
NBC hopes to make a survivor out of Emeril, a new sitcom starring the
famous Food Channel chef Emeril Lagasse. But journalists are leery of
star-driven vehicles, pointing out CBS' Bette as one of last year's
bigger losers. "Emeril's creators, longtime Bill Clinton image-makers
Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, may be a little rusty by
now. They haven't landed a network series since CBS dropped Hearts Afire
in 1995." (Dallas Morning News, May 15). Even NBC Entertainment
president Jeff Zucker acknowledged that the show is a leap of faith:
"We're rolling the dice a little bit ... It's different and
unconventional." (Plain Dealer, May 15).
From the look of media reports, the fall lineup is going to be more of
the same - don't expect another Seinfeld. Makes one wonder if that
satellite dish isn't such a bad idea after all.
- Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be
found at www.carma.com.