Boning Up on the Upfront: A Cheat Sheet for the 2012-13 Bazaar

An advance look at TV’s annual pitch to the ad world


Like NBC, the Alphabet Net is helmed by a relative newcomer. Paul Lee’s inaugural season as entertainment president was marked by a handful of modest hits (Revenge, Scandal, Don’t Trust the B---- in Apt. 23, Suburgatory) and one all-out phenomenon (the Sunday night drama Once Upon a Time). But there were also a string of noble failures (Pan Am, The River), bubble shows (GCB, Last Man Standing) and outright stinkers (Charlie’s Angels, Man Up! and the execrable Work It).

The literal and figurative heart and soul of ABC is Modern Family, which forms the hot n’ gooey core of its Wednesday night comedy lineup. The third highest-rated scripted series on television, Modern Family averages 10.1 million viewers per night and a 4.1 in the demo.

ABC has already re-upped Modern Family and its Wednesday night neighbors The Middle, Suburgatory and Happy Endings, and a pick-up for Apt. 23 is increasingly likely. The fate of the one-hour Tuesday comedy block is less assured, however. Appearing at irregular intervals after a February hiatus, the Tim Allen sitcom Last Man Standing closed out its freshman run with a respectable 2.2 in the demo. The three inhabitants of the lead-out slot—Man Up!, Work It, Cougar Town—have decamped, and the Reba McEntire comedy Malibu County could be slotted in as a safe pairing with Last Man. Both shows are likely to appeal to an older crowd; in its first season, Last Man posted a median age of 53 years.

Likely drama pickups include Nashville, 666 Park Ave. and the Shawn Ryan rogue-nuclear-submarine strip, The Last Resort. Revenge, Once Upon a Time, Grey’s Anatomy and Castle already have been renewed, and Scandal is expected to grab a lifeline as well.

The beginning of the week poses the greatest challenge to ABC, whose Dancing With the Stars franchise has begun to crumble. The current cycle of the competition series is averaging a 3.2 in the demo, marking a 29 percent decline from the year-ago 4.5. While a wildly different audience flocks to CBS’s Monday comedy slate, the head-to-head competition posed by NBC’s The Voice can’t be underestimated. Season-to-date, The Voice is averaging a whopping 14.1 million viewers and a 5.3 in the dollar demo.

If ABC doesn’t move the needle in May sweeps, it will finish fourth in the demo. Last season, the network dropped 8 percent, and a loss of another tenth of a ratings point will gnaw another 4 percent off the total. It’s time ABC hit the brakes.

ABC should land in the upper middle of the market, commanding CPM increases between 6 percent and 8 percent. If the network sees modest gains in dollar volume, it should close out the bazaar with around $2.55 billion in advance commitments.

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