Inside the Upfronts: Winners & Losers
Cowell hits (and misses), Warner Bros. rules and NBC reboots as THR evaluates the network dog-and-pony shows.
With heavy spin and many stars, the networks took over New York the week of May 14 to peddle their new fall wares. How did they do? The Hollywood Reporter breaks down who fared best and worst at the upfronts.
Comedy: Ad buyers are hearing "We're making a big bet on comedy" a lot as 16 of the 36 scripted pickups are half-hours. Single-camera still dominates, with a heavy focus on families, fractured or otherwise. NBC chief Robert Greenblatt waxed on about his four -- yes, four -- nights of comedy during his May 14 presentation, prompting Fox's Kevin Reilly to joke later that day, "I think this morning they announced about 200." (Reilly's own comedy, Ben & Kate, garnered a particularly warm reception.) ABC is adding four new comedies (aliens-next-door effort The Neighbors nabbed the post-Modern Family time slot), and CBS (which had yet to present at press time) has ordered two. Even TBS, which crashes broadcast upfront week, scooped up Cougar Town from ABC.
Warner Bros. TV: In the studio sales derby, Warners leads the pack with nine series pickups (besting No. 2 Universal Television, with eight). Chief Peter Roth sold shows to all five broadcast networks. Among them: eight dramas, including J.J. Abrams' The Revolution at NBC and Fox's Kevin Bacon thriller The Following, both particularly well received during their presentations, and one comedy, CBS' Partners from Will & Grace's Max Mutchnick and David Kohan. At UTA's May 13 kickoff bash, Roth began doling out his famous hugs.
Uber-Producers: With pickups for The Carrie Diaries and Cult, Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage's Fake Empire continues to expand. The duo will have four series on The CW, including rising sophomore drama Hart of Dixie and the final season of Gossip Girl. Matching them in series orders is Greg Berlanti, who scored pickups at CW (Arrow) and CBS (Golden Boy), which join USA's upcoming drama Political Animals on Berlanti's résumé. While no one else scored multiple orders, Kevin Williamson (The Following), Ryan Murphy (The New Normal) and Abrams added projects to their full portfolios.
Dick Wolf: The longtime NBC producer remains in a position of power. Despite ratings erosion for the sole survivor of the Law & Order franchise, SVU nabbed another season, bringing the show's total to 14. The network picked up another Wolf hour, the action drama Chicago Fire, and its sister studio, Universal Television, rewarded him with a new three-year overall deal. And the drama veteran has broken into reality with his first major unscripted project, a Mark Burnett/Wolf-produced military challenge series titled Stars Earn Stripes. Ka-ching, ka-ching.
Simon Cowell: Sure, The X Factor fell below ratings expectations and Cowell was forced to ax much of his cast. But the V-necked star-producer still dominated upfront headlines by milking the drama surrounding the show's two new judges. When Britney Spears and Demi Lovato were trotted out onstage, the Beacon Theatre lit up like a rock concert -- even Madison Avenue veterans whipped out phones to snap pics.
Simon Cowell: But ... Last year, Cowell foolishly set the bar for his singing competition at 20 million viewers. His new mantra? To "seriously kick butt." But by failing to meet expectations, the sense of disappointment around X Factor could be hard to shake. And the brief appearance by a notably uncomfortable Spears had one observer refer to her as a "hot mess." Of course, that could be exactly what Cowell wants, but he might overshoot the mark.
NBC: Greenblatt acknowledged that he faces a tough battle. But given the holes the fourth-place network has to fill -- it picked up 11 pilots -- NBC couldn't make its presentation short and sweet. Even suppliers of shows to the network commented that the presentation, which lasted nearly two hours, was flat. Neither Greenblatt nor his No. 2, Jennifer Salke, seemed totally comfortable on the big Radio City Music Hall stage. Greenblatt gamely tried to poke fun at his love of musical theater but lamented to his audience, "I'm not getting any laughs out of you today."
Kiefer Sutherland: Despite an exhausting dash around the globe this year to promote midseason entry Touch, Sutherland saw his series relegated to unfamiliar turf: TV's Friday night graveyard. At least it was renewed. But Reilly noted that he has talked to creator Tim Kring about creative tweaks for the second season, which will be paired with chronically low-rated Fringe. After years of being a fixture at the Fox upfront, the former Jack Bauer was a no-show.
Community: Sure, the low-rated comedy got renewed, a feat in itself. But like Touch, it has been moved to Friday nights. And no matter how determined Greenblatt sounds when he professes a "build it and they will come" strategy, Friday (particularly Community's early 8 p.m. hour) is still a no-man's-land for TV viewing. Add to that creator-showrunner Dan Harmon's uncertain status. "I expect Dan's voice to be a part of this show somehow," Greenblatt said. "I'm just not sure if that means him running it day-to-day or consulting on it." Not a ringing endorsement.
CSI: Miami: And then there were two. Days before CBS' May 16 upfront, the network announced its long-running spinoff CSI: Miami was getting the boot. The irony is that the 10-season series was just named a finalist for the Monte Carlo Television Festival's International TV Audience Award. In fact, Miami, the franchise's renewed mothership and the NY installment are in a three-way race for the title of world's most-watched drama.
-- Marisa Guthrie contributed to this report.