Analysis: Plenty of backstage drama in TV season

Fri Sep 9, 2011 4:42pm EDT
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By Paul Thomasch

NEW YORK (Reuters) - This fall's TV schedule will be full of twenty-somethings looking for love, singers searching out fame and dinosaurs hunting down dinner -- and if that's not enough, there promises to be a heap of drama behind the scenes.

What unfolds at NBC and ABC will be among the most closely watched developments of the 2011-12 season. Both have relatively new entertainment chiefs in Bob Greenblatt and Paul Lee, who made major changes to their prime-time schedules in hopes of resurrecting ratings and satisfying management at Comcast Corp and Walt Disney Co.

Fox and CBS, with stronger schedules, will be under less scrutiny, but all four broadcast networks could feel the heat from advertisers who signed pricey deals for commercial time. Last spring, during the dealmaking period, commercial rates rose around 10 percent from a year earlier.

The trouble is that concerns over the economy have intensified since advertisers made those deals -- today there is far more talk about a double-dip recession -- and they could be taking a hard look at spending plans.

Along Madison Avenue, anticipation is running high for "The X Factor," a new musical competition from Simon Cowell that Fox hopes will be a blockbuster along the lines of "American Idol." Advertisers paid up to $400,000 for 30-second spots and it boasts a clutch of blue-chip corporate sponsors, including Pepsi and Chevrolet.

Other shows that are generating buzz -- for better or worse -- include ABC's "Pan Am" and "Charlie's Angels," NBC's "The Playboy Club," "Smash" and "Prime Suspect," and Fox's "Terra Nova," a costly Steven Spielberg-produced dinosaur drama burdened with high expectations.

Last year, more than three-quarters of the new shows were canceled and several barely lasted a month, the most notable being "Lonestar," a high profile con-man drama that Fox abandoned after two episodes.

"Look, all these guys are under pressure," said Brad Adgate, senior vice president of research at advertising firm Horizon Media. "You get next day ratings and must immediately make million dollar decisions. Every day there is a hero and every day there is a goat. But there's probably more pressure on ABC than anybody."   Continued...