New fall TV programming in short supply at networks
Something seemed missing last week when the major broadcast networks gathered advertisers to preview their new programming for the fall : new fall programming.
The tradition of networks rolling out new shows in September is as old as television itself, timed to coincide with automakers’ new car models. September has always been a fully-stocked candy shop for TV fanatics.
This year illustrated just how much that has changed.
Only three of the 12 new series NBC ordered for the next year will begin in the fall. Fox premieres four of 11, ABC five of nine. Traditionalist CBS begins four of eight new shows in September, two more in October when their Thursday night NFL games end.
With dozens of networks, it has become difficult to attract attention to new shows, and many simply get lost when there’s so much to choose from. That’s also why two of Fox’s September series are remakes of “Lethal Weapon” and “The Exorcist” — because they are familiar concepts easier to market.
Networks feel the pressure to have something fresh on every night; viewers can usually catch something they miss whenever they want, and reruns are an antiquated notion. You can’t make 52 new “Empire” episodes each year.
“This has become a 52-week world in terms of how you prepared your schedule and how you introduce new programming,” said Mark Pedowitz, the CW network president.
Kiefer Sutherland was being polite when his friend and neighbor, David Guggenheim, asked him to check out a script he’d written. Sutherland figured he’d give it a cursory read and polite disavowal of interest.
“I found myself on page 25 and … I realized I was potentially holding the next decade of my life in my hands,” the actor said.
That script, “Designated Survivor,” wins the distinction of the most promising new series, based on highlights of the pilot. The former “24” star plays a low-level Cabinet member who, by tradition, is the one official kept away from the Capitol during the president’s State of the Union speech in case something happens. When the Capitol is blown up, Sutherland becomes president.
The series will air on ABC.
Years of hearing digital companies entice advertisers with the suggestion that television is fading had TV executives fighting back. The schedule announcements may reveal where networks are going creatively, but they are essentially giant sales presentations.
Linda Yaccarino, NBC Universal’s sales chief, set the tone by telling advertisers that the average American spends seven times as many hours watching TV as they do on Facebook, and 15 times more than they do on YouTube.
“In our world, a view is at least 30 seconds — not three,” said Donna Speciale, top Turner Networks sales executive, suggesting consumers have more time to see sales messages on television than on a website.
The sales executives had to be a little careful, since many are coupling their television commercial time with ad placement on sites where their shows are being streamed. But Speciale, in an interview, noted that many marketers went digital without knowing if the ads were effective.
“They went so far and now they’re taking a step back and saying, ‘How is our money working?’ ” she said.
At CBS’ presentation, company Chairman Leslie Moonves welcomed advertisers with open arms.
“Business is returning to network television,” Moonves said. “We like that.”
ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel took aim at his new boss, entertainment president Channing Dungey, in his routine at the network’s schedule announcement.
Dungey, Kimmel said, “is the first African-American network (entertainment) president ever to pick up a show about a talking dog.”
She may get the last laugh. Based on highlights, the midseason series “Downward Dog” is funnier than new comedies starring Kevin James, Ted Danson and Matt LeBlanc.
Play it again
Whether a lack of imagination or extreme caution is the culprit, there’s a distinct familiarity in what networks are doing.
Six of the new series planned by ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox are remakes of movies or old television shows: “Emerald City” and “Taken” on NBC, “MacGyver” and “Training Day” on CBS, “Lethal Weapon” and “The Exorcist” on Fox.
“All your favorite VHS tapes are now becoming shows,” Kimmel quipped.
They’re not all tired — Clayne Crawford and Damon Wayans Sr. appear to have a winning chemistry on “Lethal Weapon” — but the track record of successful remakes is limited. That explains CBS hiring the same executive producer who successfully brought back “Hawaii Five-0” for “MacGyver.”
The networks are also becoming boutique homes for particular creative voices. Dick Wolf is starting a fourth “Chicago” series on NBC, and he still has “Law & Order: SVU” running. Shonda Rhimes may not always have a night to herself on ABC, but will have five shows on the network. Greg Berlanti has five shows on the CW. The success of “Empire” led Fox to order a new music series from Lee Daniels.
And set your watch: Time travel is the creative hook for three new series next year.
Since it’s the town’s hottest ticket, it’s no surprise that three networks wrapped themselves in “Hamilton” at their schedule presentations.
Jimmy Fallon donned a period costume for a spoof song over at NBC, and James Corden did the same for CBS. “We just want your Hamiltons,” Corden serenaded the advertisers.
ESPN invited actors Daveed Diggs and Leslie Odom Jr. from the show to sing a new composition.
“It’s great to have the REAL cast members of ‘Hamilton,’ ” sniffed ESPN executive Ed Erhardt.
It was Kimmel’s 14th time delivering an acerbic routine about the TV industry, always a highlight of ABC’s presentation. Seth Meyers and Billy Eichner were sharp for NBC and Turner.
Meyers compared the schedule announcements to your brother bringing a new girlfriend home for Thanksgiving.
“She seems great, but you don’t want to get too attached because she’s not going to be here next year,” he said.
Eichner of “Billy on the Street” noted that “I struggled for 10 years making videos on YouTube to finally get a TV show that people watch on YouTube.”
Kimmel’s sharpest line was directed at NBC for hiring Arnold Schwarzenegger as the new “Celebrity Apprentice” host. “Should the guy who knocked up his maid be put in charge of an apprenticeship program?” he asked.
Kimmel remains champion if only for his consistent ability to get under the skin of CBS’ Moonves with jokes about CBS’ older-skewing audience.
“CBS objects to the term ‘live’ because so much of their audience isn’t,” he said.
Moonves responded from the stage of Carnegie Hall: “He’d be really funny if we hadn’t beaten ABC in demos the last nine years.”