September 29, 2023

After Weak Season, Networks Strive for Fresh Ideas

Some of the new series to be unveiled to advertisers in New York this week feature special-effects dinosaurs, an original musical, some period pieces and at least two importations of characters from Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

The networks, conceding that last year’s shows generated yawns among many viewers, are hoping to reap a windfall of advance financial commitments. Advertisers are prepared to increase significantly, perhaps by more than 10 percent, their spending on the networks’ fall season shows. And the programmers are looking to send the message that they recognize they have to find something other than a new round of police procedurals and sitcoms.

“We were looking for fresh,” said Bob Greenblatt, the new president of NBC Entertainment. “I really want people to see the concept for a show and go: ‘Oh wow. What’s that?’ ”

Mr. Greenblatt joined NBC from Showtime, a channel known, like many in cable, for more ground-breaking ideas for series. In the case of Showtime those included “Dexter” and “Weeds.”

“This doesn’t mean I want to put serial killers or pot-selling soccer moms on the air,” Mr. Greenblatt said. “But I do believe a little bit of bold, attention-getting ideas need to get to broadcast television. I think the audience that found cable to be really irresistible also believes it.”

Paul Lee, the new president of ABC Entertainment, echoed that point, saying the lesson of last season was that the networks had to begin offering fresher ideas, or continue to have viewers drift off to cable channels.

Mr. Greenblatt and Mr. Lee are fresh ideas themselves, having taken over the entertainment divisions of NBC and ABC at a point where change certainly seemed necessary. NBC has suffered through one of the most severe droughts in prime time of any network in the last 20 years. And ABC has struggled to keep from ceding the advantage it gained from an influx of big hits seven years ago.

But all four major broadcast networks are turning up with a range of shows based on big, expensive ideas and talent.

Fox will introduce Simon Cowell’s latest talent competition, “The X Factor,” as well as perhaps the highest-cost drama ever in “Terra Nova,” a lavish prehistoric epic with Steven Spielberg — and dinosaurs — participating.

Mr. Spielberg is also one of the creative hands behind NBC’s “Smash,” a hugely ambitious fictional account of the process of mounting a Broadway musical — complete with original songs composed for the series by the Broadway stalwarts Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (“Hairspray”). The series pilot has three original songs and the episodes will add more each week. Its debut will be later in the season.

“Those guys are a songwriting machine,” Mr. Greenblatt said.

Supernatural touches will be everywhere, from “Once Upon a Time” on ABC, a contemporary mystery populated by an anthropomorphized Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin and a host of other Grimm’s Fairy Tales characters, to “Grimm” on NBC, which will take a police detective into a dark world where he sees beastlike characters — like those in the fairy tales.

On Fox, “Alcatraz” will have mysterious missing figures from the famous prison’s past reappearing in the present. It is one of several new shows developed by J. J. Abrams of “Lost” and starring a “Lost” alumnus, in this case Jorge Garcia.

Even CBS, which generally steers clear of the supernatural, has turned to Mr. Abrams for a show its programmers are especially high on, called “Person of Interest.” It fits into CBS’s heavy rotation of crime procedurals in having a former C.I.A. officer trying to stop crime in New York; but the twist is that he is helped in stopping the crimes before they happen by a mysterious billionaire, played by Michael Emerson of “Lost.”

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