Game of Shows: How Did the Studios Do in the Upfront?

The studios and their network siblings are tighter than ever. But is it good for business?

Fox's Napolean Dynamite from 20th Century Fox

For the new series set to appear on broadcast networks this fall, the odds of survival are grim. Thanks to a highly fragmented audience comprised of increasingly fickle and distracted viewers, it’s likely that 70 percent of the shows unveiled at the upfronts two weeks ago will not make it to a second season. Millions invested by the networks will go wasted; careers of executives, writers, and actors will stumble. In television, fall is the scary season.

Of course, unlike in the old days of independent production houses (when FCC regulations prevented networks from owning their programming), studios now hedge against the risk of losing it all by creating shows in-house.

“The networks aren’t going to be held hostage by studios outside their own companies,” says Brad Adgate, head of research at Horizon Media. “It just takes away all of that haggling, when it comes time to renew a series, or make changes to a program, or divide revenue.”

In other words, it saves companies like ABC Studios, CBS TV Studios, Twentieth Century Fox TV, and Universal Media Studios a great deal of money. But does playing it close to the vest stifle the possibility of true breakout hits that could possibly survive that high mortality rate?

Though some agency executives would argue that, yes, it’s resulted in more homogenized lineups (witness the ever-expanding lists of procedurals that eat up prime time—tested and true!). Yet execs like Gary Newman, who, along with Dana Walden, is chairman of Twentieth Century Fox TV, argue that the cooperation between the studios and broadcast networks actually increases the ability to experiment.

“I think the advent of vertical integration has enabled companies to take far greater financial risk with projects where they own both the broadcast and ancillary rights,” says Newman. “If you look at a show like Lost, I’m just not sure it could have happened outside of a vertically integrated studio. By and large, it enabled ABC to swing big at a big idea.”

Yet that hasn’t prevented Newman’s studio from cross-pollinating, supplying other television networks with Fox shows. Though Twentieth Century Fox TV remains Fox Broadcasting’s primary content supplier, it has also supplied programs like Modern Family to ABC, How I Met Your Mother to CBS, and upcoming period drama The Playboy Club to NBC.

“It just makes incredibly good business sense,” says Walden. “Our primary goal is to be home to the best creators in the business. And you can’t be that magnet if you’re forcing all of those creators to look at one target, to program one network.”

Below is Adweek’s guide to which studios have what going out in the fall, and where those shows will air. We've limited the following tally to scripted prime-time network series that the studios produce for the broadcast networks.

(Below: The first column represents the studio; the second, how many new shows the studio has produced; the third, the number of returning shows; and fourth, the total number of shows per studio.)

Warner Bros. Television 11 13 24

As it has for much of the past decade, Warner Bros. Television this year leads the pack, with 11 new scripted series in prime time, including the CBS comedy 2 Broke Girls, from Sex and the City executive producer Michael Patrick King, which was well received by advertisers at the network’s upfront presentation. The studio also is returning 13 scripted series to prime time, for a total of 24 new and returning scripted network series.

Twentieth Century Fox Television 11 10 21

Twentieth Century Fox Television comes in second, with a total of 21 new and returning prime-time series, including two new animated comedies for Fox—Allen Gregory and Napoleon Dynamite—as well as five returning ‘toons in Fox’s Sunday night “Animation Domination” programming block. Among the studio’s new live-action series are ABC’s Tim Allen comedy Last Man Standing, and NBC’s period drama The Playboy Club.

CBS Television Studios 7 14 21

CBS Television Studios has seven new scripted series, and 14 returning series, all of which air on its siblings CBS and The CW. Among the studio’s new shows is CBS’ male-buddy comedy How to Be a Gentleman, which was given a 13-episode order, and The CW drama Ringer, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. The latter is a co-production with WBTV and ABC Studios.

ABC Studios 8 8 16

ABC Studios has eight new scripted series, and eight returning scripted series, for a total of 16. With the exception of The CW’s Ringer, all of ABC Studios’ shows air on sibling network ABC, including the fall premiere of fairy-tale drama Once Upon a Time, and the midseason premiere of the highly anticipated Darren Star-produced soap Good Christian Belles.

Universal Media Studios 8 6 14

Universal Media Studios has 14 new and returning series, all of which air on sibling NBC, with the exception of Fox’s hit medical drama, House. Among the studio’s new shows is the Whitney Cummings comedy Whitney, and the midseason musical drama Smash, from executive producer Steven Spielberg.

Sony Pictures Television 3 3 6

Sony Pictures Television will produce six scripted broadcast series next fall. It returns three comedies—ABC’s Happy Endings, CBS’ Rules of Engagement, and NBC’s Community—while adding three new dramas—a remake of Charlie’s Angels and period drama Pan Am for ABC and CBS’ cop drama Unforgettable.