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TV Column
Posted at 09:32 PM ET, 05/10/2012

It’s almost Upfront Week. What are the networks thinking about?


During Upfront Week, where networks like CBS will pitch advertisers new companion to hit shows such as “The Big Bang Theory.” (ADAM TAYLOR - WARNER BROS.)

Every year at this time, Manhattan’s army of bedbugs roll up their sleeves and whole nations of shrimp prepare to meet their maker as hordes of advertising and TV execs head to concert halls in the Big Apple, where they will watch broadcast networks unveil prime-time plans for next season.

Next week is what is known as Broadcast TV Upfront Week because, after watching clips of new shows and looking over the attractive Hollywood starlets who will play the alien hunters and damaged doctors and hot girlfriends, and after gorging on the martyred shrimp and sampling new exotic cocktails, the advertising execs start negotiating to buy commercial time - upfront. This season, the broadcast-network upfront haul is expected to exceed $9 billion.

In anticipation of Upfront Week, NBC on Thursday renewed “Parenthood” and placed short orders for its Thursday comedies “30 Rock” and “Community,” while an order for “The Office” was all but done at presstime. ABC, meanwhile, picked up for next season its comedies “Modern Family,” “Suburgatory,” and “The Middle” as well as dramas “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Revenge,” “Castle” and “Once Upon a Time.”

On Monday, NBC will make the first presentation of Upfront Week — a holdover from the days when it was the No. 1 network and would proudly unveil its schedule, after which the other networks would scurry to adjust their prime-time plans accordingly.

These days, NBC barely beat ABC for fourth place among the young viewers it sells to these advertisers, even though it broadcast the biggest televised event of the year, the Super Bowl.

While the other networks are looking for companion shows for their hit comedies — CBS needs one for “The Big Bang Theory,” ABC for “Modern Family” and Fox for “New Girl” — NBC is still looking for that comedy hit.

To that end, the network has ordered six new comedies for next season:

● Dysfunctional first family comedy “1600 Penn”

● Gay couple comedy “The New Normal”

● Anne Heche talks to God comedy “Save Me”

● Matthew Perry needs therapy comedy “Go On”

●Irascible veterinarian laugher, “Animal Practice”

● Guys with kids comedy “Guys with Kids”

They will join “30 Rock” - the award winning-est of NBC’s Thursday comedy lineup, once famously known as Must See TV but now better known as Self-Referential TV. The Tina Fey vehicle got one last 13-episode-season order. Also getting a 13 episode order for next season is “Community.” Both shows 13-episode orders means the two comedies will share their timeslots with other programming, as they have done the past several seasons. A new season pickup on another of NBC’s Thursday comedies, “The Office” was imminent at presstime.

At Radio City Music Hall late Monday morning, NBC execs also will announce that they’ve renewed “Law & Order: SVU” for a 14th season, ordered a new Dick Wolf drama series “Chicago Fire” about well, Chicago and fire, and a new Wolf reality series called “Stars Earn Stripes,” in which celebrities try to do exercises practiced by all five Armed Services branches.

In addition to “Chicago Fire” NBC has ordered an apocalyptic drama series from J.J. Abrams called “The Revolution, about people living without technology, as well as “Do No Harm,” about a brilliant neurosurgeon with a dubious alter ego. And, for fans of campy soaps about rich people, NBC has ordered up “Infamous.”

Despite speculation to the contrary, NBC has ordered a fourth season of “Parenthood,” even though it lost momentum when it took a six-week break this season, and it has a large (read, “pricey”) ensemble cast -- maybe because it’s the youngest-skewing 10 p.m. drama on any broadcast network, and it refreshingly breaks the stranglehold that cops/docs/lawyers/desperate women have on the genre.

Monday afternoon, at the Beacon Theater, Fox suits will unveil plans to get their swagger back, after “American Idol” fell by 26 percent in the ratings compared to last season, “The X Factor” turned out not to be the monster hit they’d forecast (and advertisers expected), “Glee” took a nose-dive, and even “New Girl” faded in the first quarter. The chairman of Fox parent News Corp. was quoted this week telling investors they must find a way to “drive some fresh energy” into “Idol.”

Fox shed a mess of programming for next season, including “House,” “Terra Nova” “Breaking In,” “I Hate My Teenage Daughter,” “Allen Gregory,” Alcatraz,” and “The Finder.” Kiefer Sutherland will, however be back for a second season of number crunching on “Touch.” And “Fringe” is back for one last season.

“The X Factor’s” getting an overhaul and Britney Spears has signed on to dispense career advice to young aspiring pop stars which, new talent competition show judge Howard Stern noted Thursday, will attract viewers interested in seeing whether she “can function.”

Fox picked up three single-camera live-action comedies — a tough genre for the network. “The Office” alum Mindy Kaling created and stars in “It’s Messy” as a doctor juggling her career and her private life. “Ben & Kate” stars Nat Faxon as a guy hired by his tightly wound single-mom sister to be his niece’s nanny. And Becki Newton and Scott Foley play two of three siblings reunited when Dad dies and his fortune is distributed, in The Goodwin Chronicles.”

Drama-wise, Fox next season will bring us “Mob Doctor” starring Jordana Spira as a surgeon with mob ties in Chicago. And Kevin Bacon will play a former FBI agent hunting for a serial killer who is now head of a cult of serial killers, played by James Purefoy.

ABC, which puts on its dog and pony show at Lincoln Center Tuesday afternoon, will explain whether it intends to shore up the large hole left by the demise of “Desperate Housewives” on Sunday with a “mystical” drama, in keeping with Sunday night’s “Once Upon a Time,” or a soap, in keeping with Sunday’s “GCB.”

CBS, which plays Carnegie Hall on Wednesday afternoon, is expected to unveil a four-comedy block on Thursdays, taking what was once the hallowed Must See TV comedy ground at NBC. Ad execs will also finally find out if they put their money on the right horse, in the betting as to which of  “CSI” spinoff chairman Les Moonves had in mind when he told investors weeks ago that one of them would die at the end of this season.

And CW, which gets its at-bat with advertisers at New York City Center on Thursday morning, will announce whether “Gossip Girl” has a future.

By  |  09:32 PM ET, 05/10/2012

 
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