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


Unless CBS’s show reel includes a good 30 minutes devoted to gloating, its upfront presentation should be a rather fast-moving affair. Season-to-date, the Tiffany Network leads all comers with an average nightly draw of 11.8 million viewers while ranking second among the demo (3.2). Seven of the top 10 scripted series are broadcast on CBS, which also boasts the No. 1 comedy (The Big Bang Theory), the No. 1 new comedy (2 Broke Girls) and the No. 1 drama (NCIS).

Of the seven new series CBS launched in 2011-12, two (2 Broke Girls, Person of Interest) have been renewed. Given CBS’s mega-order in March, which locked up all but four hours of its prime time lineup, and an inevitable return trip for the unshakeable comedy Two and a Half Men, the network really doesn’t have to do much work under the hood.

There won’t be any leaks prior to CBS’s traditional Wednesday morning upfront breakfast, but the sheer strength of the prime time lineup suggests that only five or six new series will be introduced. A few dramas look especially promising—Ralph Lamb is a Nick Pileggi cop drama set in Las Vegas in the 1960s, while there’s been some decent buzz around Jerry Bruckheimer’s procedural, Trooper—and among the eligible comedies are an untitled Martin Lawrence pilot about a widowed father who joins the police academy and Super Fun Night, a manic multicamera sitcom executive produced by Conan O’Brien.

If CBS does try to make things interesting, it could try to blow out its Thursday night comedy roster, forming a bookend to the two-hour block that dominates Monday nights. In any event, next season is its to lose: Along with its regularly-scheduled embarrassment of riches, CBS will broadcast the Super Bowl in February.

Buyers warn that CBS could stall out if it tries to push too hard on pricing, and given Les Moonves’ early assertion that his team will command double-digit rate increases, this could prove to be an immovable object-irresistible force market. Certainly CBS can expect to lead on pricing and volume; should it average a 10 percent CPM hike and sell off slightly more than 80 percent of its inventory, the network could soak up more than $2.8 billion in upfront sales.