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Network upfronts cautiously look back to the future

If the major networks are running scared of changes assailing their business model, it hasn't been enough to make the...

Posted: May 17, 2018 2:14 PM
Updated: May 17, 2018 2:14 PM

If the major networks are running scared of changes assailing their business model, it hasn't been enough to make them change their shared programming strategy -- a formula tilted toward familiar titles and relative stability, based on this week's upfront presentations to media buyers.

Although the networks collectively stress that television is a year-round business, the fall prime time lineup remains a bellwether for just how much turnover broadcasters think they can absorb, and how many new shows they can effectively promote. The reliance on reboots and revivals, moreover -- with CBS' updates of "Magnum P.I." and "Murphy Brown" and a CW "Charmed" remake joining fare like "Will & Grace" and "Roseanne" -- offers a leg up in getting new fare noticed and sampled.

Broadcasters have largely concluded that even modestly performing shows present less risk than willy-nilly change, with the five networks -- including the CW, which is expanding its lineup to a sixth night -- scheduling just 18 new programs in the fall, the fewest in recent memory. Part of that has to do with the presence of NFL football Sunday and Thursday nights (on NBC and Fox, respectively), but the number of brand-new shows ordered overall has been drifting downward -- about three dozen this upfront, including mid-season pick-ups, from 45 in 2015.

As for stability and comfort, NBC's decision to schedule its three "Chicago"-branded dramas together on Wednesday night is an almost symbolic expression of those priorities -- a logical enough move that nevertheless became a punch line for competitors (and even the network's own late-night host, Seth Meyers) throughout the week.

The programs themselves, meanwhile, don't exhibit much effort to break existing molds in a TV ecosystem that has become more crowded than ever, with a fairly conventional lineup of procedural dramas and comedies. Even the anticipated "'Roseanne' effect" -- predicated on ABC's hit -- was muted, tilted more toward the aforementioned revivals than the discussed possibility of a resurgence of multi-camera sitcoms.

Fox, in fact, did as much that appeared to reflect "Roseanne's" influence as ABC did, resurrecting that network's canceled Tim Allen comedy "Last Man Standing" -- a maneuver that executives attributed to the chance to showcase a proven sitcom star, not the show's format or its conservative politics.

Related: Moonves vs. Redstone: A pivotal week for CBS

Fox also went against the grain -- likely out of necessity -- by stressing the value of a go-it-alone strategy with the pending sale of its studio assets to Disney, while virtually every other network touted the benefits of size and synergy. The network maintained that the divestment would actually prove beneficial, allowing "New Fox" to be less reliant on ancillary concerns, like international programming sales, than its competitors.

By contrast, ABC shared the stage with Freeform, its sister cable network, citing the advantages in working together. And NBC was virtually lost in a sweeping presentation promoting all the channels owned by parent Comcast, which CEO Steve Burke kicked off by boasting that there are "more people watching television on the networks of NBCUniversal than any other company."

CBS, as usual, offered the most robust defense of broadcasting, with CEO Leslie Moonves calling the medium "the true survivor of this crazy TV business that we love," one that has weathered "every supposed threat" posed by new players.

For CBS, the lineup possesses a decidedly retro flavor -- with the two new revivals joining existing ones "Hawaii Five-O," "MacGyver" and "SWAT." Still, the network also made strides in addressing past criticisms regarding a lack of diversity in its casting, featuring African-American leads in three new fall shows, while Jay Hernandez, a Mexican-American, stars in "Magnum."

Despite a fair amount of discussion about the shifting TV consumption model and challenges that creates for advertising, the overall tone was more cheery than dire. Turner Networks -- showcasing its stable of networks alongside the broadcasters -- was most direct in addressing the need for change, with ad sales president Donna Speciale introducing the presentation by saying, "Today will be different. It has to be." (CNN is part of Turner Broadcasting.)

For the most part, though, an upfront week for a 2018-19 TV season that will see "Roseanne," "Murphy Brown" and "Magnum P.I." back on the air seemed content to party like it's 1988.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 609387

Reported Deaths: 7743
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1262491796
Ramsey52997910
Dakota47216475
Anoka43200465
Washington27664296
Stearns22659227
St. Louis18245319
Scott17686139
Wright16518153
Olmsted13503103
Sherburne1212396
Carver1073749
Clay829692
Rice8249111
Blue Earth769944
Crow Wing687999
Kandiyohi669885
Chisago626954
Otter Tail590087
Benton585198
Goodhue485574
Douglas477781
Mower477533
Winona463552
Itasca462768
Isanti445566
McLeod434261
Morrison427762
Beltrami410163
Nobles409850
Steele400719
Polk390772
Becker389157
Lyon365054
Carlton356958
Freeborn350734
Pine337323
Nicollet334045
Mille Lacs314856
Brown308640
Le Sueur299527
Cass288133
Todd288133
Meeker265444
Waseca240723
Martin236933
Roseau212221
Wabasha20833
Hubbard197741
Dodge18943
Renville183146
Redwood178141
Houston175416
Cottonwood168124
Wadena165023
Fillmore158910
Faribault156920
Chippewa154038
Pennington153820
Kanabec147828
Sibley147310
Aitkin139237
Watonwan13619
Rock129019
Jackson123112
Pipestone117126
Yellow Medicine115320
Pope11396
Murray107310
Swift107318
Koochiching96819
Stevens92611
Clearwater89217
Marshall88817
Lake84320
Wilkin83813
Lac qui Parle76122
Big Stone6094
Grant5958
Lincoln5863
Mahnomen5669
Norman5509
Kittson49122
Unassigned48193
Red Lake4037
Traverse3815
Lake of the Woods3474
Cook1740

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 374664

Reported Deaths: 6109
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk58891646
Linn21448342
Scott20426250
Black Hawk16680319
Woodbury15319230
Johnson1473686
Dubuque13595213
Dallas1144099
Pottawattamie11307177
Story1082848
Warren592092
Clinton564393
Cerro Gordo562297
Webster538996
Sioux519174
Muscatine4920106
Marshall491479
Des Moines478275
Jasper452073
Wapello4366123
Buena Vista431040
Plymouth404982
Lee392658
Marion369177
Jones301257
Henry301037
Bremer292763
Carroll286252
Boone271234
Crawford270841
Benton262755
Washington259851
Dickinson250745
Mahaska232551
Jackson225842
Kossuth219166
Clay217327
Tama213372
Delaware211743
Winneshiek200636
Buchanan196734
Page195422
Cedar192923
Hardin191144
Wright189140
Fayette188243
Hamilton186851
Harrison181973
Clayton173057
Butler167835
Madison167719
Floyd164642
Mills163824
Cherokee161538
Lyon160941
Poweshiek159036
Allamakee155552
Hancock153134
Iowa148324
Winnebago145731
Calhoun143113
Cass140855
Grundy139333
Emmet136741
Jefferson134535
Sac132620
Shelby131838
Louisa130249
Union129535
Appanoose128049
Franklin127823
Mitchell127243
Chickasaw125717
Guthrie124532
Humboldt124526
Palo Alto114924
Montgomery106738
Howard105322
Clarke102424
Monroe100633
Keokuk99932
Ida92735
Adair89632
Davis86825
Pocahontas86822
Monona85931
Greene79111
Osceola79017
Lucas77423
Worth7568
Taylor67112
Decatur6629
Fremont64810
Ringgold56824
Van Buren56718
Wayne56323
Audubon52913
Adams3494
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