Buyers: Few Rock-Solid Shows In Nets’ Fall Lineups

Though media buyers credited each of the broadcast networks—except NBC—for finding at least a few fall 2005 shows that will become solid performers, it wasn’t until UPN showed off its Everybody Hates Chris comedy that they felt they had found a truly buzz-worthy show. In general, however, there’s a feeling of sameness across all the networks’ schedules that left buyers largely unimpressed.

Their predominant complaint was that most of the fall shows fit into one of three boxes: feel-good reality, supernatural or more procedural crime drama. “Every network is starting to look like each other,” said Bill Koenigsberg, CEO of Horizon Media. “All the formulas are the same. Everyone seems to be taking the safe route rather than taking some risks.”

NBC’s slate left buyers with the worst impression—one dubbed it “buzz-less,” and others agreed. Their biggest disappointment was that NBC did not present any shows that they see as turning around the network’s ratings declines. “NBC no longer is the network of forward momentum,” observed one buyer. Mark Kaline, global media manager at Ford Motor Co., added that “I must say I was disappointed with NBC,” but he also didn’t think any of the networks hit a home run with their new slates.

All the others had at least one promising new program with top-of-mind recall. Receiving nearly universal praise is UPN’s Chris Rock vehicle Everybody Hates Chris, which is being touted as a break-out hit and a show that could surpass NBC’s Joey at 8 p.m. Thursdays among adults 18 to 49. UPN, in an effort to become more of a player for movie and retailer ad dollars on Thursdays next season, shifted its WWE Smackdown to Fridays, moving in two of its Tuesday comedies (Eve and Cuts) to lead out of Chris and into another new sitcom, Love, Inc., with Shannen Doherty.

Rock himself showed up to introduce the clips of his new sitcom—loosely based on his early teenage years in Brooklyn—which he narrated and helped write the pilot. UPN entertainment president Dawn Ostroff said, not only will he continue narrating, he’ll stay involved in the scripts and production.

A few other new sitcoms were well received: Twins, new to the WB; ABC’s mid-season sitcoms Emily’s Reasons Why Not and Crumbs; The War at Home on Fox; and CBS’ How I Met Your Mother. Buyers collectively scratched their heads over CBS’ selection of new sitcom Out of Practice—about a family of doctors starring Henry Winkler and Stockard Channing—to lead out of Two and a Half Men Mondays at 9:30 p.m., rather than How I Met Your Mother. They generally agreed with CBS chairman Les Moonves that the latter could turn into the next Friends.

Twins, in which Sarah Gilbert and Molly Stanton play two very different sisters running the family undergarment business, left buyers at the WB’s upfront in stitches. Crumbs returns The Wonder Years’ Fred Savage to ABC as part of a dysfunctional family, with Jane Curtin and William Devane as the parents.