TV Upfronts: Two Top Agents' Brutally Honest Assessment of the Networks

Issue 18 REP Agents Dish Illustration - P 2013

Issue 18 REP Agents Dish Illustration - P 2013

An anonymous critique of the chaos at NBC, why ABC is worth rooting for and the potential to earn big at Fox and CBS.

This story first appeared in the May 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

With the annual upfront bazaar set to begin May 13, The Hollywood Reporter turned to two top agents for their perspective on doing business with each of the five broadcast networks. 

On CBS...

Agent 1: The strengths? They’re the most professional. It’s very clear what you sell them, what pilots are likely to go forward and why it would or wouldn’t.

Agent 2: Les Moonves is the best in the business at identifying people who hit the top of the call sheet. Other networks might snob out and not choose Marc Harmon. Now he’s the star of the no. 1 show on television [NCIS]. You can’t beat that. And as an agent, you feel pretty lucky when you get the big sale there. You can make a fortune.

Agent 1: The weakness? The sameness.

Agent 2: They’re only doing one type of show, and they have an inability to launch bolder, cooler concepts. They have this older audience and it’s very hard to get those people to watch a Jericho.

On NBC...

Agent 2: Bob Greenblatt and Jen Salke are an improvement, but it’s still chaos there.

Agent 1: They’re just throwing it all out there hoping that some of it sticks.

Agent 2: NBC goes with the relationships. They wanted a Ryan Murphy show last year. They wanted a Matthew Perry show. Some of the problem is that Bob has cable taste in a broadcast environment. And it’s hard to get answers out of them, so I don’t like to take big clients there. I do not want to get yelled at by [a big client] because Bob Greenblatt never read his pilot. That would never happen with Nina Tassler at CBS. Unless you’re parked behind The Voice, no one is watching the network.

Agent 1: The measure of a hit on NBC is can I hang in there long enough that it goes four or five years and maybe with SVOD there might be some worth to it? At CBS, there are fewer jobs at but bigger payoffs; At NBC and ABC, the threshold is not as high so you can limp along.

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On ABC...

Agent 2: There’s lots of opportunity there. They’re going to keep ordering a lot of comedies because they have this window where Modern Family is on for another three or four years and they know they better launch and establish a comedy block around it. It would be like if NBC had done The Cosby Show and never did Cheers, Family Ties, Mad About You, Seinfeld and Friends. Les did it around Everybody Loves Raymond. All of that stuff, Two and a Half Men, Big Bang, is a result of Raymond. You got to launch other shows. The ABC people are the nicest people to deal with. They’re upfront and they’re great. You’d rather have a hit show on CBS, but you kind of want those ABC people to win.

Agent 1: You really do root for them.

Agent 2: And I do like that ABC can kind of program anything. Their brand is the broadest because they’ll do genre, procedurals, medical shows, sitcoms, single camera comedies.

On Fox...

Agent 2: If you get a hit at Fox, you can make a fortune. Glee is going to make a fortune. The animated shows make a fortune. House is one of the most unbelievably lucrative shows of the last 20 years. The biggest problem with Fox is that they just haven’t done a lot of shows.

Agent 1: There are more shows on FX than there are on Fox. And they’re making noise, and the problem is that the networks are trying to chase that. With American Idol finally hitting a low, hopefully it will be better for us.

Agent 2: There have been more shows that have come out of Fox and gone into syndication in the last 20 years than at NBC or ABC. Seth MacFarlane? Rich. Ryan Murphy? Rich. The 24 people? Rich. Peter Rice and Kevin Reilly are professionals. They’re programmers, and they seem like they’re in the game – and they know how to market and launch something. One of the perks of not doing a lot of programming is that they can launch The Following. The bummer is that they buy 60 drama pilots a year, they made 5 last year and they picked up two. Those numbers suck.

On The CW...

Agent 2: CW is great. It’s like a cable network. They know exactly what they do. They like certain people. They only buy from two studios [Warner Bros. and CBS TV Studios], and Mark Pedowitz and Thom Sherman have their favorites. The negative is that they seemed more culturally relevant back in the Buffy era. There are a lot of networks doing their thing now [ABC Family, MTV, etc]. It’s been hard for them to launch new genres. It would be great for them to try something bigger and bolder, like the cable networks do to break out. They need their Walking Dead. Given the age of their audience, they should try something like that.