Jueves 26 de Mayo de 2005, Ip nš 110

On Fall TV, the Networks Are Planning Something Borrowed
Por STUART ELLIOTT

For the six big broadcast television networks, imitation is the sincerest form of desperation.

As they try to keep viewers from defecting to cable and other media, the networks are aggressively shaking up their prime-time lineups for the 2005-6 season, according to advertising executives, stuffing the schedules with eye candy centered on subjects - like the supernatural, crime and sexuality - that dominated this past season.

"There are some really promising shows on the schedules, but it's disheartening in a way that the themes of the fall will be alien invasion, infertility and psychic crime-solvers," said Stacey Lynn Koerner, executive vice president at Initiative in New York, a media agency owned by the Interpublic Group of Companies. "That makes it harder for those shows to stand out."

Indeed, the series cited most often by advertising executives as a potential hit is seemingly like none now on the air: "Everybody Hates Chris," a sitcom to appear on UPN, owned by Viacom, at 8 p.m. Thursday. It is based on the Brooklyn childhood of the comedian Chris Rock, who will narrate each episode.

"An off-the-charts hit, the best comedy of the season, hands down, no contest, the show to watch," raved Shari Ann Brill, vice president at Carat USA in New York, a media buying and planning agency that is owned by the Aegis Group. Ms. Brill is rarely so effusive.

The networks' strategies are being dissected based on the schedules they presented to agencies and advertisers last Monday through Thursday during what is known as upfront week. The week raises the curtain for the decisions the executives will make in coming months about buying what could be as much as $9.5 billion worth of commercial time before the season starts.

Two Web sites, Adage.com and Mediaweek.com, reported Friday that some deals were already being made.

The agency executives who help determine which shows advertisers embrace or shun say the networks' game plan is simple: try to maintain the momentum that broadcast TV generated during the 2004-5 season in its battle against cable TV and the Internet for advertising dollars. During the current season, which is to conclude Wednesday, viewers and sponsors warmed to new series like "C.S.I.: New York," "Desperate Housewives," "Lost" and "Medium."

But beware "the copycat phenomenon," warns Ms. Koerner. Of the 31 new series scheduled to appear in the coming season on the 6 networks - ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, UPN and WB - more than a dozen can be categorized as inspired by, or, more cynically, derived from, current hits. Among them: "Bones," "Criminal Minds," "Ghost Whisperer," "Hot Properties," "Inconceivable," "Invasion" and "Night Stalker."

"The networks seem to think viewers are looking for genres, but nobody's looking for suburban drama or science fiction per se," said Steve Sternberg, executive vice president at Magna Global in New York, another Interpublic media agency.

"The shows that were successful this year - 'Desperate Housewives,' 'Lost' - there's nothing like them on TV," he added.

As for the series most likely to fail first, the executives declared a tie between two other newcomers on UPN, "Love Inc.," a sitcom at 9:30 Thursday, and "Sex, Lies and Secrets," an ensemble drama at 9 p.m. Tuesday.

Each year after the upfront week ends, the executives begin to assess, or guess, which new series may show staying power and which may be canceled before the stars have a chance to appear on a cover of TV Guide. Here is a look, by network:

ABC: After a ratings revival stoked by new hits like "Desperate Housewives," "Grey's Anatomy" and "Lost," ABC, part of the Walt Disney Company, showed last week that "it has a lot of momentum left," said Laura Caraccioli-Davis, senior vice president and director for Starcom Entertainment at Starcom Worldwide in Chicago. Her media agency is part of the Starcom MediaVest Group unit of the Publicis Groupe.

Ms. Caraccioli-Davis said she liked "Hot Properties," a sitcom about female real-estate brokers, at 9:30 p.m. Friday, but found "Freddie," a family sitcom with Freddie Prinze Jr. at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, "a little disappointing."

Ray Warren, managing director at OMD USA in New York, part of the OMD media agency owned by the Omnicom Group, said he believed "Commander in Chief" at 9 p.m. Tuesday, featuring Geena Davis as the first female president, would have "the same look and feel of 'The West Wing' " on NBC.

CBS: CBS, owned by Viacom, improved its ratings performance during the 2004-5 season, particularly with a skein of crime shows like the three "C.S.I." dramas.

"The network has a significant dependence on crime now," said John Rash, senior vice president at Campbell Mithun in Minneapolis. "Six of the seven nights on CBS will end with a police procedural."

Still, Ms. Caraccioli-Davis said she believed two new crime shows looked promising: "Close to Home," at 10 p.m. Tuesday and "Criminal Minds," at 9 p.m. Wednesday.

CBS's decision to schedule two hourlong series about the paranormal and aliens, "Ghost Whisperer" and "Threshold," from 8 to 10 p.m. Friday, met with less enthusiasm.

"It will be interesting to see if the sci-fi genre plays on Friday night," said Harry Keeshan, executive vice president at PHD U.S. in New York, part of the PHD media agency owned by Omnicom.

Fox: The executives thanked Fox Broadcasting, part of the News Corporation, for simplifying its schedule from last season, when it had several sets of staggered premieres.

Ms. Koerner and Ms. Caraccioli-Davis praised "Prison Break," a drama at 9 p.m. Monday, and "Reunion," an ensemble drama at 9 p.m. Thursday. Ms. Brill questioned whether "The Gate," a drama at 9 p.m. Friday about bizarre crimes, was "too dark."

Mr. Warren said that with "The War at Home," a family sitcom at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Fox "has a hit on its hands."

NBC: The 2004-5 season was a flop for NBC, part of the NBC Universal division of General Electric, which fell to fourth from first in the ratings among the viewers most coveted by advertisers, ages 18 to 49.

So Mr. Warren said it was "shocking" that NBC was leaving intact its sagging lineup on Thursday, the biggest night of the week for advertising, particularly when ABC, UPN and WB are seeking to capitalize on NBC's woes by scheduling series that night like "Alias," "Everybody Hates Chris" and "Smallville."

The executives had the most praise for "My Name Is Earl," an offbeat sitcom at 9 p.m. Tuesday; Ms. Caraccioli-Davis called it "strong." But Ms. Koerner said it had "a peculiar feel."

Several executives wondered whether scheduling two consecutive nights of "The Apprentice," with Martha Stewart at 8 p.m. Wednesday and Donald Trump at 9 p.m. Thursday, might be overkill. And Ms. Brill turned thumbs down on "Inconceivable," a drama at 10 p.m. Friday about a fertility clinic, asking, "How many sperm stories can you tell?"

UPN: The executives praised UPN for pursuing the audience of younger women that has been the mainstay of its principal rival, WB, and for stepping up its pursuit of ad dollars on Thursday.

"You've got to hand it to them for putting 'Everybody Hates Chris' on Thursday," Mr. Keeshan said, "because it could be anywhere on the schedule." Mr. Warren predicts that Mr. Rock's sitcom "may be the first show that migrates from UPN to CBS," its bigger corporate sibling.

WB: After a tough season, WB, owned by Time Warner and the Tribune Company, is hoping for hits by signing deals with executive producers of popular series on other networks like Jerry Bruckheimer of the "C.S.I." franchise on CBS and McG of "The O.C." on Fox.

The Bruckheimer series for WB, "Just Legal," an offbeat drama at 9 p.m. Monday, "could break through," Ms. Caraccioli-Davis said, and Ms. Koerner praised its "quirky" appeal.

Mr. Rash singled out the McG series for WB, "Supernatural," a drama at 9 p.m. Tuesday about brothers who chase monsters. "If executed properly," he said, "it has the opportunity to transition the values of big-screen horror films to the small screen."


  23/05/2005. The New York Times.