The lowdown on this season’s network upfronts

Kai Ryssdal May 11, 2012

The lowdown on this season’s network upfronts

Kai Ryssdal May 11, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: To quote Liz Lemon of the NBC sitcom “30 Rock”: What the what? The network said this week the coming fall season will be the last for Tina Fey’s show. And “30 Rock” might not be the only casualty of the television programming times.

We’ll find out more next week when the upfronts start, the big parties in New York during which networks give advertisers a sneak peak at the fall schedules. All in the hopes of snaring some of the 9 billion ad dollars on the line.

Andrew Wallenstein is the TV editor at Variety magazine. Welcome to the program.

Andrew Wallenstein: Good to be here.

Ryssdal: First of all, what are you hearing this year in terms of how much better, or I guess worse, the upfronts might be?

Wallenstein: I think we’ll see a slight increase, though the economy isn’t in its best shape. At the end of the day, television offers the kind of place where the very best shows can draw as many as 20 million viewers to top programming, and not a lot of media can do that.

Ryssdal: Yeah. The very best this year — it looks to me to be CBS, right? They look to be the strongest, most stable? A) Do I have that right? B) Then who’s the worst off?

Wallenstein: CBS no doubt has the most stability across its schedule. The worst off has got to be NBC, which has a lot of problems on just about every night.

Ryssdal: They are farming out “30 Rock” as I mentioned. I mean, come on.

Wallenstein: Well, you know, “30 Rock” has really been in a ratings decline for quite some time. It’s never really been a big ratings draw; it’s something that’s really gotten more respect from critics and awards festivals. So it’s not the kind of show that really was built for the long-term.

Ryssdal: What about another aging genre, if you will — the reality show thing. I mean, “American Idol” is fading and “Big Brother” I found out today is still on the air, I mean, come on.

Wallenstein: Yeah, “Dancing With the Stars” I’d also throw into that group. You know, it’s important that the broadcast networks cultivate the next generation of big reality shows, because those do far better than anything else. I think that’s why you’re seeing Fox putting so much muscle behind trying to build the “X Factor,” Simon Cowell’s show, into the next big thing, because they’re absolutely crucial to the health of the schedule.

Ryssdal: Yeah, “The Voice” is very big in my house, I should say.

Wallenstein: Yeah, and “The Voice” is probably the brightest light — and perhaps the only light — over at NBC. It is the absolute centerpiece of their schedule and the speculation is that it’s going to be shifted from midseason to the fall season schedule to give NBC really the best chance at rebuilding.

Ryssdal: Do advertisers care when they buy their time? I guess they probably want the big debuts, the big premieres?

Wallenstein: They do. And really the whole point of the upfront is so that advertisers can commit the bulk of what they’re going to be spending over the given season upfront.

Ryssdal: Badoom, boom.

Wallenstein: Yeah.

Ryssdal: What’s buzzy? What’s the big new show that we’re going to be hearing about come fall?

Wallenstein: Well I can’t say there’s any one new show that I think that is dominating the interest. I think there’s a few things you could probably expect to get a lot of attention. Mindy Kaling, who is beloved from NBC’s “The Office,” is going to get her own show on the Fox network. So I think you’ll see that get some attention. And over on NBC, there’s going to be a new comedy called “The New Normal,” and that is from the executive producer of “Glee,” Ryan Murphy. It’s about a gay couple raising a child with the child’s surrogate mother, and that sounds like the kind of concept that’ll make some waves. But otherwise you really can never tell when the next big show is coming. Sometimes they sneak up on you and don’t have buzz quite this early.

Ryssdal: Which makes it all the more entertaining, right?

Wallenstein: Yeah, suspense.

Ryssdal: Andrew Wallenstein, he’s the TV editor at Variety. Thanks a lot.

Wallenstein: Thank you.

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