Upfronts Preview: What You Need to Know

The annual TV-business rite of spring known as the upfronts will soon be upon us. In a few days, we'll have roughly 30 new shows to make snap judgments about, schedule changes to ponder and DVR-recording strategies for the fall to map out.

Before the frenzy begins in New York, though, we thought we'd give you a few things to think about. Based on what we've seen and heard, and the realities of the season that's about to end, here are a few questions to keep in mind as the upfronts approach.

Will ABC break up its powerhouse Sunday lineup?
That seems like a distinct possibility, particularly given the fact that "Monday Night Football" is cable-bound and nothing the network has tried there since January has really caught fire. Unless you count the flameout of "Emily's Reasons Why Not."

"Grey's Anatomy" seems like the most likely candidate to make the move, and it would make sense to place the show at 9 p.m. Mondays, where it could lead into a new drama at 10. "Grey's" has shown this year that it wasn't dependent on a "Desperate Housewives" lead-in to draw strong ratings, especially since its post-Super Bowl broadcast. Which is not to say "Housewives" is now a weak sister -- it still draws better than 20 million viewers a week and could be a launching pad for another show come fall.

Can Aaron Sorkin and Paul Haggis save NBC?
Maybe, but probably not as much as John Madden can.

NBC has already picked up "The Black Donnellys" from Oscar-winning "Crash" writer-director Paul Haggis, and "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," "West Wing" creator Sorkin's latest effort. The cachet of adding shows by A-list writers -- and, in "Studio 60's" case, stars Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford -- could help the struggling network regain some of its luster -- provided, of course, that their shows turn out well.

The biggest weapon NBC will unleash this fall, though, is the return of the NFL to its schedule after an eight-year absence. The network will broadcast Sunday-night games, with the old "MNF" team of Al Michaels and Madden in the booth. How big a difference could it make? Well, this season "Monday Night Football" drew 16.2 million viewers per week for ABC. NBC's Sunday lineup of "The West Wing," "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" and "Crossing Jordan" averaged only 9.9 million. ("Criminal Intent" and "Jordan" have been renewed for 2006-07 but may be held until midseason.)

Is the sitcom still dead?
Probably not, thanks to a mini-revival this year at the hands of "My Name Is Earl," "Everybody Hates Chris," "How I Met Your Mother" and "The Office." What does seem to be on the decline, though, is the old-style, three-cameras-and-a-couch type of show.

Following on the success of "Earl" and others, the networks ordered about two dozen single-camera comedy pilots this year, a huge increase over recent development seasons. And some of those that do use multiple cameras, like CBS' "The Class," will try to vary their approach to storytelling, which has helped "How I Met Your Mother" stand out.

ABC was the most aggressive in developing comedies this spring, ordering a whopping 17 pilots as it tries to bring some of the same buzz to its laffers as it has for its dramas.

Just what the heck is The CW's schedule going to look like?
A lot like a mash-up of the current WB and UPN lineups, if the pre-upfront scuttlebutt is to be believed.

The Hollywood trade papers are reporting that CW executives aren't too thrilled with their drama pilots. If that's true, then the door could be open a little for shows like "Everwood" and "One Tree Hill" that have passionate followings but are perceived as long shots to make the jump to the new network.

As it stands, UPN's "America's Next Top Model," "Everybody Hates Chris" and "Friday Night Smackdown!" look like locks, along with The WB's "Gilmore Girls," "Smallville," "Supernatural" and "Beauty and the Geek." "Veronica Mars," "Girlfriends" and possibly one other of UPN's comedies have pretty good chances. The CW may also get a CBS hand-me-down in the drama pilot "Ultra," about a young female superhero whose dating life is not up to par.

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