Broadcast TV Upfront Week: Prime time to pump up fall hits (or flops)


The Infestation Hypothesis -- A fight between Sheldon (Jim Parsons, left) and Penny (Kaley Cuoco, right) leaves Amy caught in the middle, while Leonard tries to spice up his long-distance relationship with Priya, on THE BIG BANG THEORY, at a special time, Thursday Sept. 22 on the CBS Television Network. (ADAM TAYLOR/WARNER BROS.)
May 10, 2012

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 press time. ABC, meanwhile, picked up 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 beats 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, as well as “Community,” got 13-episode-season orders. The short orders mean the two comedies will share their time slots with other programming, as they have the past several seasons.

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.

NBC has also ordered an apocalyptic drama series from J.J. Abrams called “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 “Infamous.”

Despite speculation to the contrary, NBC ordered a fourth season of “Parenthood,” even though the show lost momentum when it took a six-week break this season and 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 Theatre, Fox suits will unveil plans to get their swagger back after “American Idol” fell by 26 percent in the ratings compared with 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 that 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.” However, Kiefer Sutherland will be back for a second season of number-crunching on “Touch,” and “Fringe” is back for one last season.

Fox picked up three single-camera live-action comedies — a tough genre for the network. “The Office” alumna 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 in “The Goodwin Chronicles,” Becki Newton and Scott Foley play two of three siblings reunited when Dad dies and his fortune is distributed.

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

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

CBS, which will play Carnegie Hall on Wednesday afternoon, is expected to unveil a four-comedy block for Thursdays, taking what was once the hallowed Must See TV comedy ground at NBC.

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

‘Cougar Town’ to TBS

TBS is taking over “Cougar Town.”

The Time Warner basic cable network announced Thursday it has ordered the fourth season of the sitcom, which ABC has been airing for the past three seasons — somewhat reluctantly of late.

The Bill Lawrence comedy will begin airing on TBS early next year. As part of the deal, TBS gets rerun rights to “Cougar Town’s” first three seasons of 61 episodes.

Lawrence went through something similar on a previous comedy series — “Scrubs” — only it was ABC that came to its rescue, picking it up for two seasons after Lawrence spent seven seasons grousing about the show’s treatment at NBC.

The always-outspoken Lawrence, who gave TV critics an earful and then some about “Cougar Town’s” treatment during an open-bar news conference in January, was uncharacteristically quoteless in Thursday’s announcement.

At the open-bar news conference — a great practice, by the way, and one we hope more TV producers embrace — Lawrence was urged to stick it to The Man: Take “Cougar Town” to cable!

Host with the most?

New “The X Factor” judge Britney Spears thinks the Earth is flat, although she’ll attract viewers who want to see if she “can function,” “America’s Got Talent’s” newest judge Howard Stern told The Reporters Who Cover Television at a news conference Thursday in New York, reports The Post’s Emily Yahr, listening in via phone.

“American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest, meanwhile, is “tired” and obsessed with being Dick Clark, said Stern, who scoffed at the notion he was working with “equals” on “Talent” (as compared with his SiriusXM radio show, on which he has sidekicks).

“I am a superstar. I make 500 times more money than you do. I command a huge audience. There’s been a movie made about my life,” he said he’d told “Talent” judges Howie Mandel and Sharon Osbourne during auditions for the coming season.

“I’m the judge you care about,” Stern predicted of the new season. “My honesty is infectious.”

Stern insisted he knew the difference between his satellite-radio voice and his prime-time family-viewing voice. “I respect what ‘America’s Got Talent’ is. It is a family show,” he said. “I know the rules.”

But if viewers reject him in his new kinder, gentler iteration, he said, he can always “crawl back in my hole on Sirius satellite radio and lick my wounds.”

Obama on ‘The View’

President Obama will return to ABC’s daytime gabber “The View” on Tuesday. In July 2010, he became the first sitting U.S. president to appear on a daytime talk show when he visited the ladies of “The View.” (He had appeared on the show in March 2008 and November 2004.)

“We are honored to have President Obama visit ‘The View’ for the fourth time, and we promise to let him get a word in edgewise,” co-host Barbara Walters said in Thursday’s announcement.

His appearance will occur shortly after he appeared on ABC infotainment show “Good Morning America” to say he supports same-sex marriage.

To read previous columns by Lisa de Moraes, go to washingtonpost.com/ tvblog.

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