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With as much as $9 billion in advertising revenue on the line, the broadcast networks trotted out their new series, their biggest stars and a whole lot of spin during the annual dog and pony show known as the broadcast upfronts. Five key narratives dominated conversations as Hollywood began crisscrossing Manhattan the week of May 13.
1. THE ROSEANNE EFFECT | As one studio chief says, “We can’t try to be cable anymore.” Indeed, in a 500-show universe, audiences have too many other places to find edgier, serialized fare. It’s among the reasons the broadcast networks have returned to ultradigestible, economical multicamera comedies (Fox ordered three) and closed-ended dramas. Another reason: the breakout success of ABC’s Roseanne, which with 21 million-plus weekly viewers even has ABC’s rivals doling out praise.
2. RETOOLING FOX’S COMEDY BRAND | Plenty of time is being spent trying to read the tea leaves at Fox, which remains several months away from its still-murky post-merger reality. (A throwaway line from P. Diddy about sharing the stage with Fox TV Group chairman Dana Walden again at next year’s upfront prompted whispers since her own future is similarly unclear.) In the meantime, Walden’s network made some eyebrow-raising programming decisions, wiping clean its edgier, single-camera comedies (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Last Man on Earth and The Mick) and picking up only two of six half-hour pilots to make room for the rebooted Last Man Standing and a CBS-style multicamera companion, The Cool Kids. The moves didn’t sit well with the network’s comedy team, with sources suggesting the group was fuming heading into the net’s presentation Monday. At least one took to social media to lament internal “challenges.”
3. SHAKE-UPS APLENTY | Much was made about Brooklyn‘s move to NBC (with one insider suggesting Walden made a case to Fox higher-ups to keep the pricey comedy) and Last Man Standing‘s switch from ABC to Fox. What got considerably less airtime: Lethal Weapon, which replaced fired star Clayne Crawford with Seann William Scott days ahead of the Fox presentation. (It was enough time to have Scott, who was offered and passed on the role two years ago, glad-handing at the postparty.) Walden said the decision was not Fox’s but rather a reality presented by Warner Bros. TV, which was sitting on a thick complaint file on Crawford. Still-furious co-star Damon Wayans posted a picture of a poster calling Crawford an “emotional terrorist,” while Lethal Weapon showrunner Matthew Miller was over in Paris reconceiving the drama. In that eleventh-hour scramble, producers are said to have approached Karl Urban and Johnny Knoxville; both passed.
4. WHAT’S OLD IS NEW (AGAIN) | “At this point, there are two kinds of development execs: ones who develop new ideas and ones who rummage through the storage closet trying to see if we still have the ALF puppet,” Seth Meyers quipped at NBC’s upfront Monday. The joke landed in part because, well, every other former hit is being resuscitated (see Murphy Brown, Magnum P.I. and Charmed). Of course, not every reboot scored a pickup, with NBC passing on its Bad Boys spinoff starring Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba (it was “good, not great,” says one source), ABC saying no to Greatest American Hero with Hannah Simone (“too off-brand”) and CBS hitting the brakes on Cagney & Lacey (“too soft”).
5. GROWING PAINS AT SONY TV | In its first upfront with new chiefs Jeff Frost, Jason Clodfelter and Chris Parnell, Sony TV went 0-for-5. Among the season’s most surprising pilot passes: Union and Alba’s L.A.’s Finest and Norman Lear’s passion project, Guess Who Died?, and a potential third season for last year’s miracle pickup, Timeless. (At press time, both pilots were passed over; Sony plans to shop both. Timeless remains on the bubble at NBC.) The trio’s lone new series joining the schedule? The Goldbergs spinoff Schooled, developed a season earlier by the execs’ predecessors, Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht.
Keep track of all the renewals, cancellations and new show orders with THR‘s scorecards for ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and The CW and all the latest pilot pickups and passes with our handy guide. For complete coverage, bookmark THR.com/upfronts.
This story first appeared in the May 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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