TV Network 'Upfronts' Offer Previews of New Shows

Television networks preview their fall shows for advertisers this week at special viewings called "Upfronts" in New York City. Hollywood Reporter writer Andrew Wallenstein is attending the upfronts, and speaks with Madeleine Brand about what's on tap for next season.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News, it's DAY TO DAY. This week in New York, the television industry gathers for the annual event known as the upfronts. That's where the broadcast networks present their primetime line-ups for the fall to advertisers. And then advertisers decide how much commercial time they will buy upfront. TV critic Andrew Wallenstein is there this week. And Andy, what's the big deal with these upfronts? Why are they so interesting?

Mr. ANDREW WALLENSTEIN (Writer, Hollywood Reporter): Well, I like to compare it to Spring Training. It's kind of like going and seeing these baseball teams for the first time and what kind of line-ups they're going to have in the fall. So if you love television, this is the ultimate sneak peek. But on another level, it's also like watching a chess game between four players. Well, four teams really: ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox. If you think of the primetime grid as this giant chessboard, everyone's making all these interesting moves, and we're going to see who's going to win various time slots in the fall.

BRAND: So Andy, any new moves from the networks this year? Are they doing anything different?

Mr. WALLENSTEIN: Yeah. There's plenty of new shows and different shows switching time slots. The one that's standing out the most right now, ABC made a very bold move--took their big Sunday night hit Grey's Anatomy, and they're transplanting it to the Thursday 9 p.m. slot. Now that's significant because that's the most competitive night on television. You've got CSI, the big CBS show, at 9:00 as well. There's going to be a tremendous amount of competition.

NBC is, from what we hear, may already be running scared and moving a show they had put in that time slot to another night that's less competitive. So, this is what I'm talking about when I say it's kind of like a chess game.

BRAND: Well, you mentioned NBC. Thursday nights used to be NBC's night, with Seinfeld and Friends. That was the glory days of NBC. And now NBC has been criticized as a bit of a laggard. So, does it have anything at the upfronts?

Mr. WALLENSTEIN: Well, you know, I've seen a show or two that suggests that they could be hits. I don't think anything on Thursday night that they're doing is particularly strong. They're adding a new drama that I said, again, may be moving. It's called Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. It's sort of like an inside take on a comedy sketch show, which I think is a bit too high concept for television. I'm wondering whether they're going to perhaps put something else in there to better deal with what a competitive night it's becoming.

BRAND: And did any show catch your eye there?

Mr. WALLENSTEIN: You know, ABC, they're so good at these dramas like Lost and Grey's Anatomy, they've got a few more that I think are going to be great. They've got a show, remember this name, it's called The Nine. And it's going to air after Lost, and it has to do with the aftermath of a bank robbery. I know it doesn't sound thrilling, but it is clearly the best thing I've seen so far this week.

BRAND: And it's a bunch of bank robbers hanging out counting their money, or what?

Mr. WALLENSTEIN: Not quite. It's actually about the hostages from a bank robbery, and how that incident changed their lives. Very high concept, very different.

BRAND: The networks are expanding aggressively into new media, and I'm wondering if they're unveiling anything new and revolutionary there at the upfronts this week.

Mr. WALLENSTEIN: I don't know about revolutionary, but, you know, it really is such a different kind of show than we've seen from past years, where it was all about what's going to be in prime time. Now each network, particularly NBC, is spending a lot of time about what they're doing on the Internet, what they're doing in mobile. I mean, basically, they want to sort of expand the TV experience off TV. So, we're getting all sorts of details about these new digital platforms that really didn't amount to much previous to this year.

BRAND: Andrew Wallenstein is co-host of the show Square Off on the TV Guide Channel. Thanks, Andy.

Mr. WALLENSTEIN: Thanks.

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