May 19, 2024

Advertising: For Fox and NBC, Let the Singing Begin

For one network, Fox, that message came as no surprise. As the current season comes to an end, it is leading again among viewers 18 to 49 years old — the audience that advertisers have considered most desirable — for a seventh consecutive year.

And Fox, part of the News Corporation, played up its hegemony with a presentation that concentrated on big new shows like “Terra Nova,” with a plot that spans millions of years, and big surprises like a coming makeover of the classic animated sitcom “The Flintstones.”


The power of broadcast was a fascinating message to hear from NBC because that network has been taken over by Comcast, the cable company. Comcast executives were in the audience as the network’s new chairman of entertainment, Bob Greenblatt, pledged to “rebuild NBC.”

“We know that the turnaround may take years,” he cautioned, suggesting that it had already started with “The Voice,” the singing competition that has delivered surprisingly strong ratings since its premiere last month.

“And by the way, thank you, God, for ‘The Voice,’ ” Mr. Greenblatt said. Two judges from the show, Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green, closed out the presentation with a musical performance. By one count, “The Voice” was mentioned from the stage of the Hilton Hotel ballroom 21 times.

Lest “The Voice” burn out, NBC executives are saving the show’s second season until January. By so doing, they are also avoiding any competition with “The X Factor,” the singing competition that Fox showed off at its presentation Monday afternoon.

NBC is emulating Fox’s formula of scheduling singing in the fall followed by singing in the spring. For Fox, “The X Factor” will be followed by “American Idol,” and for NBC, “The Voice” will be preceded by a new season this fall of “The Sing-Off.”

As often happens at upfront presentations, clips of the new sitcoms on NBC and Fox played flat, generating few big laughs in the large crowds.

There are, however, high hopes at NBC for a new drama series on Thursday, “Prime Suspect,” which stars Maria Bello.

Mr. Greenblatt said his No. 1 goal for the 2011-12 season would be to “strengthen Thursday nights,” historically the home of NBC’s “Must See TV” lineup.

By far the best-received new NBC series was “Smash,” a drama with singing performances, “Glee”-style, about the creation of a Broadway musical. The show, which featured original songs and a cast headed by Anjelica Huston and Debra Messing, would surely be NBC’s most talked about show this fall — if it were on this fall.

But NBC decided to hold back “Smash” until January, to pair it with the return of “The Voice.” Several NBC executives described that decision as agonizing because “Smash” would have widely been deemed a highlight of the fall season.

The delay won, however, because of the appeal of following “The Voice” on Monday next winter.

Throughout his lengthy presentation, Mr. Greenblatt emphasized a back-to-basics, blocking-and-tackling approach to the prime-time schedule — a clean break from his predecessor. Jeff Zucker, who was the chief executive of NBC Universal until Comcast’s acquisition, was maligned for talking about reinventing broadcasting and saying that NBC was “managing for margin, not for ratings.”

In the eyes of some advertisers and studios that supply programming to NBC, Mr. Zucker’s strategy — perhaps in preparation for a sale of the network — precipitated NBC’s ratings decline and did serious damage to the network’s brand.

Mr. Greenblatt, who was installed by Comcast at NBC after the sale, tried to make clear on Monday that he wanted to undo that damage, real and perceived. At NBC now, he said, there will be “no managing for margins.”

At the Fox presentation, at the Beacon Theater on the Upper West Side, Kevin Reilly, president for entertainment, showed clips from “Terra Nova,” which has Steven Spielberg as an executive producer. It is an ambitious family adventure set in both a prehistoric past, with dinosaurs, and a decaying future.

Fox initially announced “Terra Nova” last May, at its 2010-11 upfront presentation, but delayed the show partly because the special effects have been “time-consuming to create,” Mr. Reilly said.

“Terra Nova” is “the most anticipated new drama” of the fall, he added, putting a positive spin on the delay. The preview clip shown was worth the wait; it showed a family departing Earth circa 2149 and arriving in a lush new world, and ended with — what else? — a dinosaur chase sequence.

The question the TV industry is asking is whether Fox can keep up the drama and the special effects for an entire season.


Speaking of dinosaurs, Mr. Reilly said that Fox just days ago completed a deal to have Seth MacFarlane, the mastermind of Fox cartoon series like “Family Guy,” re-imagine “The Flintstones,” which ran on ABC from 1960 to 1966 (and beyond in syndication and on cable).

The reworked “Flintstones” will not make its debut until 2013, but Mr. Reilly was happy to announce it. In a video clip, Mr. MacFarlane said he would keep the characters but change the stories.

The upfront week is called that because the networks present their coming schedules before the start of the new season. On Tuesday, there will be presentations from, among others, ABC, part of the Walt Disney Company, and Telemundo, the Spanish-language network under the NBC Universal umbrella.

Stuart Elliott contributed reporting.

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