The 8 big trends at this year’s upfronts
The biggest: A huge bump in the number of new shows
May 20, 2013
After a season in which new shows struggled, with only a handful getting renewed and none claiming true hit status, the broadcast networks sunk more money into pilot season, and they ended up with a lot more shows.
The most noticeable trend at this year’s upfront was the larger number of new shows and special events on tap for the coming season.
Last fall there were just 18 new programs airing on the Big Four networks.
This fall there will be 25, an increase of 39 percent.
There are several factors at play.
First, the networks canceled a large number of veteran shows, many of which had middling but not terrible ratings, such as “CSI: NY,” “Body of Proof” and “The Office.”
Second, there weren’t that many new shows worth renewing. Fox, NBC and ABC returned two, and CBS had just one. Compare that to a year ago, when ABC alone renewed four first-year programs.
Finally, there was simply better development this season than there was last season.
The average cost of a pilot hit an all-time high, and the networks have some proven concepts, including ABC’s “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and Fox’s limited-run “24” return, that made for less-risky investments.
The new shows seem to be of better quality. Though there are always a few stinkers each fall, buyers say that NBC’s Michael J. Fox comedy, “The Michael J. Fox Show,” ABC’s “The Goldbergs” and “Super Fun Night,” CBS’s “Hostages” and Fox’s “Rake” look particularly good, better than nearly everything that bowed last fall.
In addition to the large number of new shows, here are seven other notable trends from this upfront:
1. Return of family comedy
Big, broad family sitcoms have in recent years been fallen out of vogue in favor of quirky single-camera comedies. But this year there are a number of broad-reaching new comedies meant for family viewing, including NBC’s “Fox” and “Sean Saves the World,” ABC’s “Back in the Game” and “Goldbergs” and CBS’s “The Crazy Ones” and “The Millers.”
2. Big names
Dozens of big-name actors will hit the small screen this fall, more than any other season in recent memory. A small sampling: Fox, Sean Hayes, Robin Williams, Sarah Michelle Gellar, James Caan, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Anna Faris, Greg Kinnear and many, many more.
3. Limited-run series
The past few seasons many new shows have seen strong ratings during the fall, only to slip into reruns at midseason and return to much lower numbers. The networks are trying to combat this trend by airing limited-run series.
Shows will air either straight through their entire run without repeats, as with CBS’s “Hostages” and Fox’s “24: Live Another Day,” or air for 12 weeks straight, then take a mid-year break and run for another 12 straight episodes through May.
4. Fantasy and sci fi
The genre is hot again with the success of NBC’s “Revolution” and movies like “Star Trek.” More than half a dozen shows with sci-fi elements will launch next season, including the CW’s “Tomorrow People” and “The 100,” Fox’s “Almost Human” and ABC’s “S.H.I.E.L.D.”
5. Better shows on Fridays
For the second straight year the networks are putting renewed emphasis on Friday, where ABC’s “Shark Tank” and CBS’s “Blue Bloods” have turned into consistent hits.
Fox and CBS are moving veteran shows there (“Bones” and “Hawaii Five-0”), and both ABC and Fox are staking out comedy blocks.
There are spinoffs for next fall on ABC, CW and NBC. CBS decided not to order a planned spinoff of “NCIS: Los Angeles” for fall but said it might be in contention for a berth at midseason or next year.
7. Aggressive scheduling
All of the networks made at least one very aggressive scheduling move, something that seemed absent in last year’s rather ho-hum upfront.
CBS is adding another hour of comedy on Thursday, NBC is pushing “Revolution” off to anchor its own night, ABC is putting an entirely new lineup on Tuesday, and Fox is adding another hour of live-action comedy to the schedule.
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