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Buyers Upbeat About Peek at Nets' Programs

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NEW YORK Fox and NBC received the most positive buzz from media buyers who attended the broadcast network development meetings last week. And while ABC and CW drew some nitpicks, all four networks were praised for plans to spare no expense in producing programming with big-name talent aimed at drawing the largest possible audiences.

Fox entertainment president Peter Liguori had the most "strategic focus" in his presentation, according to buyers, and both NBC and Fox showed clips from some of their pilots, which added context to their plans. Buyers said ABC was less forthcoming about its shows and scheduling strategy, as was Dawn Ostroff, entertainment president at CW.

Contacted by Adweek sister publication Mediaweek late last week, ABC entertainment president Stephen McPherson said he was less detailed when discussing specific shows in development because he did not want to mislead the buyers. "To me, there is an integrity to our relationship," he said. "March is still very early in the process and we haven't cast or shot most of our shows. A script can look great, but I have no idea how it is going to turn out. It's a great thing to have the dialogue, but I want to be as truthful as I can."

Liguori said Fox's development is being coordinated with current Fox hits and how well newly developed programming will lead-in or out of those shows. For example, Liguori said, Fox dramas in development like 13 Graves or Drive could work well with current hits 24 or Prison Break, while Southern Comfort or The Wedding Album, with female leads, could mesh well with American Idol. Faceless and Beyond could be good companions to current dramas House and Bones, added Liguori.

Fox's new sitcom, 'Til Death, starring former Everybody Loves Raymond cast member Brad Garrett, about a newlywed couple that moves next door to a long-married couple and how they interact, was well-received by buyers, even though they did not see pilot footage. Their positive reaction was based on a clip of Garrett talking about the concept of the show.

"Fox said a lot and they showed us a lot," said Donna Speciale, president of U.S. broadcast and programming for MediaVest. "I walked out of there feeling like Fox has momentum this season and is developing things with a strategy to keep that momentum going next season."

Speciale said Fox, like NBC, also spoke in detail about the producers of the shows in development, which she said is important because "some producers are more amenable to product integration than others and it helps for us to know this."

NBC's presentation took place on the set of its veteran drama Las Vegas. Not surprisingly, entertainment president Kevin Reilly alluded to the tough odds he faces in turning NBC around. The low-key sales pitch seemed to work. "I thought he was confident, but not arrogant," said Laura Caraccioli-Davis, svp, director of Starcom Entertainment. "You could tell NBC made a concerted effort to show advertisers that they will right the ship." Reilly screened several minutes of two drama pilots: The Black Donnellys and Kidnapped. Caraccioli was impressed. "It was reminiscent of NBC of the past," she said. "They seem to have found what their brand is."

The Black Donnellys, set in New York City, revolves around four Irish-American brothers who enter a life of crime. The series is from Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco—the creative team behind the Oscar-winning film Crash. The two made a brief appearance at the presentation.

Kidnapped also is set in Manhattan, and concerns a wealthy couple whose son is abducted. Reilly announced the network had picked up both dramas, giving each series a 13-episode order. "You could tell NBC did not skimp on its production costs on a lot of its dramas," Speciale said.

Reilly also trotted out the cast and creative team behind Aaron Sorkin's behind-the-scenes-of-a-TV-show drama Studio 60 on Sunset Strip. Amid the star-studded affair, however, some advertisers reserved judgment. "All this hype is great," said Lisa Quan, vp, associate director of broadcast research at Magna Global. "But the true test will be whether or not they can sustain interest in these programs over the course of a season." Buyers also gave NBC a thumbs-up for talking about its cross-platform marketing opportunities. "They did a good job talking about how their digital platforms could tie into what we do in programming," Speciale said.

ABC also discussed with buyers the criteria it is using to distribute its programming beyond television.

CW was taken to task for its lack of discussion about a digital strategy, particularly since its target audience is viewers 18-34, perhaps the most conversant with new media. "You would have expected CW to be the first ones there, not one of the last," said Fran McCreary, svp, managing partner of KLS Media.

Asked after the presentation about CW's lack of digital plans, Ostroff said CW's primary goal right now is finalizing its broadcast strategy, after which it could then turn toward its digital blueprint. "To put the cart before the horse and get a strategy for broadband before we're on solid footing with the network just doesn't make sense to me," she said.

Harry Keeshan, evp of national broadcast for media agency PHD, said buyers were disappointed that CW execs did not get into more detail about how the returning shows from the WB and UPN would mesh in the schedule.

Keeshan said regardless of how the presentations are rated, "It was worthwhile and beneficial for us and our clients to be there."