It was an odd upfront
Impact of strike felt during broadcast presentationsThe 2008 broadcast upfronts had it all: a presentation and a party (Fox), a presentation without a party (ABC, CBS), a party without a presentation (NBC) and a party/presentation (the CW).
It was an odd upfront. CBS, traditionally the most stable and conservative network, had the most new fall series. And the unveiling of the fall schedules spanned seven weeks -- from NBC's in-front April 2 to Fox's presentation Thursday.
"It is quite different this year as each of the four networks took a very different strategy: ABC is making pilots on their own schedule; NBC didn't do any, going straight to series; CBS compressed their pilot season; and Fox did it their own way and did a little bit of each," 20th TV chairman Dana Walden said.
The changes were triggered mostly by the WGA strike, the impact of which resonated at the low-key festivities.
Warner Bros. TV and ABC Studios each returned five freshman series. WBTV got four of its seven pilots picked up to series. For 20th TV, it was five out of eight.
"Our pilot-to-series ratio is better, but in the long run, the reduced number of pilots may not be a great thing," WBTV president Peter Roth said. "There is no question that the strike had a profound effect on the business, with viewership levels going down and fewer episodes of the returning series produced."
Reeling from the effects of the WGA strike, the TV industry is bracing for another possible walkout, this time by the actors.
"Another work stoppage will be extremely destructive to the industry," Sony TV co-president Jamie Erlicht said.
Added UMS president Katherine Pope, "I think everyone is going to try and will it not to happen because we have so much work to do."
Indeed, while upfronts normally serve as an end to the development and production season, this year they're smack in the middle of it, with pilots and series shooting even as the networks unveiled their lineups.
"It just doesn't end," CBS Par TV president David Stapf said. "It's a little frustrating, but at the end of the day, it's invigorating and fun."
And this kind of schedule might not be a one-time thing. "There is no question that development will continue to be done over 52 weeks, with networks picking up projects when they are ready," ABC Studios president Mark Pedowitz said.
ABC Studios' "Scrubs" was one of the two major series transfers in the works this year: "Scrubs' " move from NBC to ABC happened, the migration of "The New Adventures of Old Christine" from CBS to ABC didn't.
As usual, there were last-minute wheeling and dealing in the days leading to the upfronts.
CBS took co-ownership of UMS' "Worst Week," and Fox got into Sony TV's animated "Sit Down, Shut Up" in exchange for putting the rookies in the networks' prime comedy slots behind "Two and Half Men" and "The Simpsons," respectively.
And ABC sealed a complicated deal with David E. Kelley to bring his "Boston Legal" back in the fall for one last season in exchange for him letting the network redevelop his "Life on Mars."
The strike-impacted pilot season contributed to an unusually robust post-upfront market for the shows that didn't make the cut this year, with a number of projects, such as the series "Back to You" and "Moonlight" and pilot "The Pitts," being shopped around.
"The decreased volume of development we had this season creates a possibility that there could be some shifting around with pilots that didn't go to series and even scripts that didn't go to pilot because the midseason needs haven't been filled yet," 20th TV chairman Gary Newman said.
Presold concepts ruled the networks' lineups this season, with the majority of new series based on existing properties.
There are a whopping four new spinoffs/sequels on the schedules: "The Office" offshoot and "Knight Rider" from NBC, "The Cleveland Show" from Fox and "90210" from the CW.
Foreign formats that were all the rage during the compressed post-strike pilot season marched triumphantly onto skeds. Three of CBS' five new series -- "Eleventh Hour," "The Ex List" and "Worst Week" -- were based on international series, as are both new Fox comedies, "The Inn" and "Sit Down, Shut Up"; the only new scripted ABC series, "Life on Mars"; and NBC's "Kath & Kim."
And despite the fact that ABC for the first time in decades has only one comedy on the fall schedule, some expect a comeback for the genre next season. Many of the comedy pilots have not been shot, and, in a promising sign, CBS -- the only network that produced all of its pilots -- opened a second comedy block on Wednesday.
"Comedy seems to work in a time of a recession," said Zack Van Amburg, co-president of Sony TV, which produces " 'Til Death," "Rules of Engagement" and "Sit Down."
While in New York, studio execs also might have scouted locations between presentations.
The recent big tax breaks approved by New York already lured ABC's "Ugly Betty." New shows are expected to follow.
20th TV will move "Life on Mars" to the Big Apple after filming the original pilot in Los Angeles. The incentives also solidified Sony TV's decision to shoot "The Unusuals" pilot there.