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This story first appeared in the May 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
With the annual upfront bazaar set to begin May 11 — and another batch of series purchased, rejected and renewed — The Hollywood Reporter turned to two top agents for their brutally honest perspective on doing business with the Big Four. Below is their network-by-network assessment.
AGENT 1: Empire is that wake-up call for all of those shows getting a 1.7 that we all characterize as “doing well” — Empire shows you that 1.7 is not doing well. The audience is there; embrace what broadcast television is. Big and populist. Scream Queens is probably their best shot at grabbing the Empire audience. It’s another big, bold show.
AGENT 2: I think Dana [Walden] and Gary [Newman] are off to a good start. The first year was about cleaning things up. And I’m not worried about their ratings. It takes one Glee, one Empire. … Now, they need to rejigger their comedies.
AGENT 1: They went from Zooey and Mindy to John Stamos and Rob Lowe. Listen, Gary and Dana were the studio executives on New Girl, which had a really hard time in syndication. It’s a single-camera, female-led comedy, and there wasn’t a market for it in off-net [syndication]. So, what do you want your brand to be? Do you want it to be all of these chick comedies that aren’t going to be valuable? Les Moonves likes having a network that has procedural dramas that make people rich and multicamera sitcoms that make people billionaires. That’s a pretty good brand, and I think Gary is thinking, “We’ve got to put the kinds of comedies on the air that make people rich.”
AGENT 2: They finally have a comedy brand. I think they did a really good job with Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat. With drama, they tried with American Crime to do edgy, thought-provoking fare, but the truth is, people want to see Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder. The soapy stuff.
AGENT 1: Paul Lee probably left the upfronts last year with American Crime thinking, “I’ve got a great show.” And he did, it just wasn’t a broadcast show. Shonda Rhimes knows what a broadcast show is, and that’s why they keep working. The other thing I’ll say is that it seems really bizarre how beholden ABC appears to be to the Marvel brand. Those shows [SHIELD, Agent Carter] are getting beat by everything, including the DC shows on The CW. That just feels like it’s happening at a very high level corporately, and it’s not good for ABC.
AGENT 1: Historically, people have gone to CBS to make the most amount of money. It was never a place you went to win awards. They had a great year at the Emmys this past year, but most of their dramas are procedurals — Good Wife is an exception, and Jim Parsons winning for The Big Bang Theory has more to do with the state of the comedy business than it does Jim Parsons being the best actor in the world.
AGENT 2: They made Mom into a hit because it was after another Chuck Lorre show, but they’ve had real trouble trying to brand new hits in comedy. With drama, they know how to maintain assets there.
AGENT 1: We’re all excited when CBS is trying new stuff. Other than the three agencies that are splitting the package, nobody is excited about the Criminal Minds spinoff. It’s just not fresh. CBS has been out of the superhero business and out of the high-concept business. They don’t do vampires. They don’t do creepy, dark, genre stuff. It’s clearly not a content issue — there are more murderers on CBS than any other network. But it’s always very clear who the good guys are: David Caruso solves the case every week. On CBS, the guy got murdered and we catch the guy, every time! With 18 procedural dramas! So it’ll be nice to see them try something a little riskier, like Limitless and Supergirl
AGENT 2: Their weakness is comedy. They have zero brand identity, and they’ve sent mixed messages to the community of agents, writers and studios — even their own studio. When you have Coach, sight-unseen, at 13 episodes, that’s pretty telling. But where there’s chaos, there’s opportunity.
AGENT 1: The good news for NBC — the only good news for NBC — has been the emergence of the Chicago Fire franchise. Having three steady 10 o’clock shows is a great thing for any network — ABC and CBS would kill for that.
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