US upfronts: Major US TV networks ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC this week revealed their 2010-11 schedules  in New York in the 2010 TV Network Upfronts. That’s where the US TV networks show their schedules for the ratings season that starts in the northern autumn and write ad deals. There are suggestions the networks could get 15%-20% more in revenues this year than in depressed 2009 to more than $US8 billion. But there will be a huge number of new and un-proven shows, many of which will find their way to Australia via the LA Screenings for our networks starting later today and continuing over the weekend). US networks have killed off a lot of old stagers, such as Heroes, Flashforward, Lost, Ugly Betty, Scrubs (a lot of Seven programs there), Law and Order, Cold Case, Numb3rs, etc. Family realism comedies were the surprise hit of the 2009-10 season (Modern Family, Ten, tonight) and The Middle, Ten and GO, in Australia)

Fox goes funny, ha! Fox revealed new comedies, a big boost for Glee and a show by Steven Spielberg. But the big question is what does Fox do with the declining American Idol, especially with judge Simon Cowell leaving. Fox executives say they are exploring new formats for the show, while looking for a replacement for Cowell with pop music credibility. In other words, they don’t have a clue. Ten buys Fox programs in Australia, so it’s very interested in what’s going to be on offer. Idol’s US problems will interest Ten because Australian Idol faded last year to where it wouldn’t surprise in Ten gave it a holiday. Fox has eight new shows at this stage, including X Factor, which could make it to air in Australia in a local version on Seven before it does in the US. X Factor flopped on Ten here in 2005.

NBC goes dramatic and comedic: The struggling NBC Network (which should be taken over by Comcast later in the year) is going for dramas, according to reports of its Upfronts presentation. Seven buys heavily from NBC, so it has a lot riding on it. NBC is adding a political thriller, two police procedurals, a legal drama and a romantic spy adventure. The dramas, including ones from Jerry Bruckheimer (CSI) and J.J. Abrams (Lost), are among eight new shows NBC announced for its autumn line-up. It will also reveal six more shows during the 2010-11 season. NBC is going for two more comedies. Seven programmers will earn their keep this year. Who will get Law & Order L.A.? Ten, seeing it has the various Law & Order series?

Warning CBS: There is an element of desperation at CBS, even though it’s the most watched of the free-to-air network in the US. Its ordered at least six new scripted programs (as opposed to reality-style productions), five of which are due to start later this year. Reports of its Upfronts tell of wholesale changes across its primetime schedule, with Thursday nights having back-to-back comedies for the first time in 40 years at 8pm on Thursdays. CBS has also commissioned eps of a new version of Hawaii Five-O. Book ’em, Danno, for impersonating a TV network. Be scared. CBS dropped Ghost Whisperer (Seven here) but ABC might pick it up. ABC co-owns it with CBS. CBS also killed off Cold Case (it was dying here on Nine).  Shows killed include: The Ghost Whisperer and Numb3rs (Ten) and the Julia Louis-Dreyfus sitcom The New Adventures of Old Christine (Nine, GO).

ABC goes more modern: ABC will have 10 new shows in its weekly prime time line-up, including one called No Ordinary Family (Seven here, I think), which will try and emulate the success of Modern Family. Reports say most of ABC’s new programs are dramas, there’s half a dozen, with the police-based Detroit 1-8-7 to My Generation, which is about a group of fictitious high-school students from Austin, Texas, who reunite a decade after graduation, highlighted in commentaries. ABC has killed off FlashForward, Scrubs, Better Off Ted, The Forgotten, Eastwick, Shark Tank; Romantically Challenged and Happy Town, Ugly Betty and, of course, Lost.

Local networks: That makes for perhaps the toughest screenings for a while for Australian networks at the end of the week in Los Angeles. It’s the 2010 screenings where our networks (Ten, Nine and Seven) take a gander at what the US networks and their producers have on offer, and what may be coming down the pike a little later in the year. All the announced programs have been allocated to the Australian networks. The screenings are the first taste test. With so many programs ending in the US and the big push to comedy (which only succeeds fitfully here), our networks face some tough choices. Medi dramas were big in the US a year ago and so were clones of Lost, such as FlashFoward and Supernatural. Most have gone (V, on Nine here, has been renewed by ABC). Two And A Half Men is very strong in the US, and after some hesitation, Charlie Sheen (who has certain personal and legal problems in the US with an ex-wife), is now reported to have signed for two more seasons at $US1 million an ep, the biggest pay cheque in Hollywood TV.

Big Bang, Big Bucks: The Big Bang Theory has been big in the US and Australia where Nine has it. It’s a key program in the CBS line-up and moves to Thursdays in the US from this autumn. In fact, it’s the highest rating program in the US TV ad demo, the 18-49s. This week its producers, Warner Bros, syndicated it to cable network TBS (owned by Time Warner, surprise surprise) and it starts there in 18 months. It was also syndicated to local stations of Fox (News Corp). Total take per ep is said to be more than  $US2 million (for what are repeats). Nine here buys programs mostly through Warner. The pickings from the 2009 screenings were thin. Good Wife on Ten is a rare 2009 success here.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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