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Networks Take New Tack in Revealing Fall Shows

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Networks Take New Tack in Revealing Fall Shows

Business

Networks Take New Tack in Revealing Fall Shows

Networks Take New Tack in Revealing Fall Shows

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/90366313/90366255" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The TV networks unveil their fall programming in "upfronts" to advertisers, hoping to woo them to buy big chunks of airtime. But this year is going to be different, the networks promise. The writers strike is both symptom and catalyst. The uncertainties about new media that led to the strike are also leading to changes in the ad business.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Today's the big day for TVs fall season. The upfronts start in New York. That's when the TV networks unveil their fall schedules, try to create buzz for new shows, and sell billions of dollars of commercial time to advertisers. In the wake of the long and painful writers strike, the business of television is not exactly business as usual this year.

NPR's Kim Masters is covering the upfronts and joins us to talk about it.

Good morning.

KIM MASTERS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, what is the difference so far?

MASTERS: Well, you know, there is going to be curtailed presentations and, you know, fewer wild parties. Usually the networks put on a big show. The most memorable to me was a couple of years ago when the head of ABC did a "Dancing with the Stars" routine for these thousands of advertisers that fill these venues. They are sharply, sharply cutting back on that. It's going to be a very different year.

MONTAGNE: How much of this cutting back is because of the writers strike?

MASTERS: Well, some of it is because of the writers strike. There are fewer pilots to show, and that's something that people like me and the media and people who analyze these shows for advertisers don't like. And it's going to create some awkwardness perhaps for the networks when they're trying to convince advertisers to put their money into these shows and buy commercial time.

MONTAGNE: Will the networks be able to show off fully at least some of their new shows?

MASTERS: Well, it remains to be seen what they'll show. I know in the case of NBC, they're not even doing a traditional presentation. They're doing some kind of thing where you walk through some sort of display that shows off their cable properties and their Internet properties.

I call it the magical mystery tour, because they're being a little bit mysterious about what it is. They are in last place. They have fewer shows that are going to be surefire lures. But I think they're hoping to impress advertisers with this wonderful experience, which we will have this afternoon.

MONTAGNE: Although NBC was the network that proclaimed after the writers strike or even at the end of the writer's strike that everything was changed. It was a changed landscape. No more seasons even. It was going to be 365 days a year, effectively. So I'm kind of interested why they're even there.

MASTERS: This is big business for the networks. It ain't dead yet. They have done $9 billion of business in the past couple of years. So it's worth bothering. I mean, some people feel that what's they're doing - the ones that are cutting back - is a mistake, because they feel the networks need to show, yes, we are still the biggest game in town and we can still throw this kind of bash and show off our wares.

MONTAGNE: Well, are there any interesting new shows that TV viewers can look forward to? I mean, so many of the shows from this season really never caught on.

MASTERS: Yeah, this was a bad season. The networks took a gamble by allowing, you know, a strike to go on. And many viewers went away and have not come back. And there's a serious ratings fall-off. But I know that a FOX show from J.J. Abrams - I think it's called "Fringe" - it's like an FBI agent with supernatural elements; it starts with a plane crash, which was also the case with "Lost." There's also something called "Dollhouse," which is from Joss Whedon of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" fame.

And ABC is going to stick with shows that kind of got a start last year but didn't quite catch on - the "Grey's Anatomy" spinoff and "Pushing Daisies." I think ABC will have fewer new shows. They'll have some kind of thing from Ashton Kutcher, which sounds, you know, kind of game showy. But we may see a lot of shows that got a start this past year and then got cut off by the writer's strike get another chance at life.

MONTAGNE: Kim, enjoy yourself at the upfronts.

MASTERS: I will try.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Kim Masters.

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