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


With yet another ratings win in the bag, Fox has much to look forward to in 2012-13. It boasts two major ratings drivers in American Idol and The X Factor, launched a breakout live-action comedy hit (New Girl) and will return one freshman drama (Touch).

Because it takes big swings, Fox tends to whiff badly when it doesn’t make contact. Dino drama Terra Nova was a pricey bus, J.J. Abrams’ time-hopping thriller Alcatraz lost half of its premiere audience, and the Bones spinoff The Finder underwhelmed its way from a post-Idol slot to the blasted desolation of Friday night. Two animated comedies faltered (Napoleon Dynamite and Allen Gregory), the live-action I Hate My Teenage Daughter was in full-on burn-off mode by its fourth episode, and plans for Seth MacFarlane’s Flintstones reboot were quietly snuffed out after Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly had a lukewarm reaction to the script.

For all that, Fox heads into the upfront from a position of strength. Eight consecutive wins in the demo make it the must-buy for advertisers looking to beguile the 18-to-49 set, and even a graying Idol can move product. (Not for nothing does the show boast the highest unit costs in television, outside of prime time NFL games.) And while The X Factor missed its ratings guarantees, it still did well enough to claim the No. 8 spot among all broadcast TV series, wrapping season one with an average draw of 11.4 million viewers and a 3.8 in the demo.

With Touch returning, Fox need only fill the ragged hole left behind by the departure of House. Kevin Williamson’s The Following will do the honors, with an eye toward a midseason premiere. The Warner Bros. TV thriller stars Kevin Bacon as a former FBI agent on the trail of a serial killer (James Purefoy) who uses social media to manipulate a cult of like-minded evil-doers. Also earning a series order is the self-explanatory Mob Doctor, starring Jordana Spiro.

Fox on Monday will also introduce three single-camera comedies, a roster that includes Mindy Kaling’s The Mindy Project (aka It’s Messy), Ben & Kate (aka Ben Fox is My Manny) and The Goodwin Games. Fox snapped up Kaling’s script after NBC passed on it; fans of the pilot are saying that the show is likely to lead out of New Girl in the Tuesday 9:30 p.m. time slot.

If the price is right, Fox sales chief Toby Byrne could once again set the market. Fox should command strong CPM increases, writing premiums within a range of 8 percent to 9 percent. If dollar volume remains consistent with last year’s performance, Fox will walk away from the upfront table with $2.20 billion in hand. 

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