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Madison Avenue buyers and Hollywood executives descended on a soggy New York last week for a four-day frenzy of new shows, open bars and the promise of break-out success.
The latter is not only appealing but also necessary after a TV season largely devoid of new hits. But the mood was elevated and the offerings fresher at this year’s presentations. One leading analyst predicts the upfront haul will top $10 billion for the big four networks alone.
Leading the charge is Warner Bros. Television, which had 12 new network pilots picked up for next season. Among them: CBS’ Person of Interest, Two Broke Girls and ABC’s Suburgatory – not to mention a rebooted Two and a Half Men starring Ashton Kutcher. The Hollywood Reporter sat down with WBTV president Peter Roth last week to talk about the surge in comedy, the future of Men and the absence of Wonder Woman on next season’s schedule.
THR: If you were writing the wrap-up story of upfront week, what would your headline be?
Roth: Having had a number of years in which the increases were quite minor –in the single digits– and CPMs were marginally improved, it appears as if the industry is poised for a significant growth spurt. And the health and wellbeing of the industry is important for everyone. My second observation is much more specific towards programming, and that is that there seems to be a significant surge of comedy this season.
THR: And why would you say that is?
Roth: It’s probably because viewers love to experience that which they don’t get. A philosophy that we like to use in our development strategy is to ask what’s not on the air. It has been a long time since broadcast network television offered comedies that were either relevant enough or less predictable. There’s an appetite to laugh – to sit back and be entertained. That’s not been on the air in broadcast form for many years and audiences want it; the networks are responding to that.
THR: In recent years, single-camera comedies became trendier — but more expensive and often less successful– than multi-cam ones. Were you surprised by the surge of multi-cam shows picked up?
Roth: As somebody who has been around as long as I have, I’ve seen so many patterns, cycles and everyone thinking that they have the next great solution. I have a very simple philosophy: put on great, compelling, worthwhile television, no matter what the genre. A great, multi-camera sitcom is every bit as relevant and worthwhile as a great drama; and a bad multi-camera sitcom is every bit as irrelevant as a bad drama.
THR: You had the most talked about pilot of the season in Wonder Woman. How does it feel not seeing it on NBC’s schedule?
Roth: I think Wonder Woman was a very well crafted pilot. But after seeing the announcement of the NBC schedule, I now understand and agree with [NBC Entertainment Chairman] Bob [Greenblatt] that it doesn’t necessarily fit particularly well with their schedule. As well crafted and contemporized as it was, it was a big and radical shift for viewers to embrace this new idea — and that may, to some degree, have had to do with why it didn’t make it.
THR: Is there a chance that we’ll see it on another network in another form?
Roth: To be determined. I’m just not sure yet; we haven’t given it a lot of thought.
THR: You have a slew of new shows coming on this fall. What do you foresee being the toughest time period?
Roth: I’d say Wednesdays at 9 is a particularly competitive time period. We have Harry’s Law in that time period. We have at 9:30 [the Fox comedy] I Hate My Teenage Daughter. And at some point mid-season, we’ll also have [the ABC comedy] Work It in the time period. So I find that to be a particularly competitive time period that’s going to be challenging for us.
THR: How about having The Big Bang Theory up against Simon Cowell’s The X Factor the fall, which some suspect will become a second ratings death star?
Roth: Big Bang has been up against the American Idol results show, but Big Bang is such a strong show. CBS gets so much credit for having the guts to make such a bold move last year and frankly it has worked. So I don’t think X Factor, which I have great respect for and think will do well, represents an even greater threat than Idol’s results show did. So I’m not concerned about that.
THR: Come fall, you’ll have Ashton Kutcher on Two and a Half Men. What can you tell us about what that will look like?
Roth: The specifics are literally still being worked out. This is such a dynamic process that I’m sure [executive producer] Chuck [Lorre] will have a number of different thoughts and will write towards the extraordinary strengths of Ashton as we go through the process. What I can tell you is that we’re very excited about Ashton’s presence in the show.
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