Upfront 2003: The Programmers – Matchups


FOX: Skin

NBC: Las Vegas

What to do when the competition is Monday Night Football on ABC and blockbuster sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond on CBS? If you’re NBC and Fox, you go back to the drama drawing board with big-screen star James Caan in NBC’s Las Vegas rolling the dice opposite Skin, Fox’s tale of two young lovers and their feuding families set against the backdrop of California’s adult film industry. With both shows leading out of reality (Las Vegas out of Fear Factor, Skin out of the second incarnation of Joe Millionaire) and both in search of audience leftovers, you could say they are on equal footing. Even if red-hot Joe Millionaire does bring more viewers to Skin – a definite possibility given the ratings this season – the familiarity of current 9 o’clock NBC offering Third Watch means fans seeking action/adventure might find their tale of a Las Vegas surveillance team more appealing. Skin’s biggest problem is Middle America. Are audiences really ready for a drama in which one of the lead characters is a pornographic movie producer? And, is a serious drama coming out of the light-hearted Joe Millionaire really the best programming option? Of course, if it’s warm and fuzzy family dramas you seek, there’s always sophomore Everwood on the WB. That’s the real drama to keep an eye on in this hour next season. – Marc Berman


ABC: 8 Simple Rules

NBC: Whoopi

The good news for both sitcoms, at least initially, is the absence of Fox mega-hit American Idol, which won’t be back in the hour until midseason. With less competition (Fox clone American Junior won’t match its predecessor; CBS’ JAG has been replaced by unproven spin-off drama NCIS), chances of sampling for Whoopi Goldberg’s new comedy, Whoopi, looks like a sure thing. But can the multi-talented comedienne compete opposite a second season of John Ritter and Katey Sagal in 8 Simple Rules, or will Whoopi be itching for her center square back on Hollywood Squares? Of the two options, consider the game show circuit more likely. In a time period where laughs don’t register on NBC (remember In-Laws, Emeril and The Michael Richards Show?), the familiarity of 8 Simple Rules will rule over the strain (and subsequent pain) of Whoopi. Clips screened at the recent upfront were admittedly just a sampling, but what little we saw would make even a diehard Whoopi fan grab the remote. In other words: John and Katey, relax. You have nothing to worry about till American Idol returns to the scene. Whoopi headlining her own sitcom is not unprecedented; in 1990, she starred in the failed CBS comedy Baghdad Caf?, which sounds awfully familiar to her new hotel-based half hour. – MB


UPN: Jake 2.0

WB: Angel

Considered on-the-fence just two weeks ago, not only was moderately rated WB drama Angel renewed, chances are that more viewers will tune in next season, thanks to the show’s relocated Smallville lead-in. With parent show Buffy, the Vampire Slayer now history, only one established vampire in prime time is also a good thing. Opposite Angel, out of Enterprise (which is expected be retooled next season) and in search of the same young viewers, UPN will counter with Jake 2.0, a new drama about a computer technician who is accidentally transformed into a secret agent for the National Security Agency. In a time period occupied by ABC’s The Bachelor, NBC’s The West Wing, and comedies on CBS (King of Queens, The Stones) and Fox (Bernie Mac, Cedric the Entertainer Presents), it’s the battle of science fiction on UPN and the WB. With Smallville potentially cutting into Enterprise, less viewers leading into Jake 2.0 will only hinder the unproven, long-shot vehicle. Although Angel isn’t a mass hit, and never has been, the good-guy vampire should have no trouble taking a bite out of the audience for the gimmicky looking Jake 2.0. If former time period occupants The Twilight Zone and Special Unit 2 couldn’t find an audience on UPN, why will Jake 2.0? Relax Buffy fans – not only is Angel back,he could be stronger than ever. – MB


CBS: Brotherhood of Poland, NH

ABC: Karen Sisco

With NBC’s Law & Order the show to beat, or at least compete with, it’s back to the drawing board for the other nets. Instead of doctors (short-lived dramas MDs and Presidio Med didn’t make it last fall), we’ll see stylish detective Karen Sisco (Carla Gugino) on ABC opposite middle-aged, potbellied brothers Randy Quaid, John Carroll Lynch and Brian Haley on new CBS David E. Kelley drama The Brotherhood of Poland, N.H. In the looks and lead-in departments, ABC has the advantage with The Bachelor at 9 o’clock, expected to trounce CBS’ revamped combination of King of Queens and new sitcom The Stones. Even so, and despite a less-than-stellar track record (including two-episode dud girls club on Fox last fall), Kelley could pull a second place upset. His former CBS drama, Chicago Hope, managed to survive opposite Law & Order for two seasons (1997-99). His brand of storytelling fits well with the average age of CBS’ audience (51). And, the former success, albeit modest, of another of signature Kelley series, CBS’ Picket Fences, means Emmy could come calling. While Karen Sisco is based on the character portrayed by Jennifer Lopez in the 1998 theatrical Out of Sight, Carla Gugino is no J. Lo. And she doesn’t have the advantage of David E. Kelley writing her scripts. – MB


FOX: Tru Calling

ABC: Threat Matrix

Opposite killer competition – the final season of NBC’s Friends and CBS’ still-top 10 Survivor – the name of the game is survival. It’s all about fighting for the leftovers, and keeping the audience intact until Friends ends next spring. On that note, and with the bar for success obviously limited, ABC and Fox have scheduled action-oriented dramas in the difficult Thursday 8 o’clock hour. ABC’s Threat Matrix will focus on an elite task force charged with protecting the nation, while a recent college graduate working nights at the New York City morgue (Buffy’s Eliza Dushku) hears future murder victims asking for help on Fox’s Tru Calling. The networks are on equal footing. Neither has had a successful series in this time period in years (ABC’s last hit was sitcom Mork & Mindy in 1981; Fox’s was drama New York Undercover in the mid-90s). Both avoided programming aggressively here last fall (ABC ran repeats of cable drama Monk; Fox scheduled various “B”-level programming options) and both have vowed to be patient next season. If the recent upfront presentations mean anything, the buzz generated by Tru Calling could give the former Buffy star a minor advantage over Threat Matrix. In a time period this competitive, however, patience – and plenty of it – will be required for both shows to make it past midseason. – MB


NBC: Miss match

CBS: Joan of Arcadia

In search of a female audience, and with ownership of the Friday 8 o’clock hour up for grabs, CBS and NBC are using new dramas to compete opposite sitcoms on ABC, Fox and the WB. Although CBS is quick to point out that a teenage girl who communicates with God on Joan of Arcadia is no Touched By an Angel (which just exited after nine seasons), the concept sounds awfully feel-good familiar and potentially older-skewing. Opposite Joan of Arcadia, and in place of former time period player Providence, perky Alicia Silverstone plays a sharp attorney who just happens to have a knack for matchmaking on NBC’s Miss Match. Of the two, and because it’s the end of the work week, the less serious (and considerably more appealing-looking) Miss Match is the show to beat. If recent history means anything (CBS’ last Friday 8 o’clock hit was The Dukes of Hazzard in 1984; NBC’s was Providence earlier this season), look for Providence viewers turned off by recent political drama Mr. Sterling and reality hour America’s Most Talented Kid on NBC to return to the hour this fall for Miss Match. While the Top 10 won’t come calling, enough women (and men who dig Alicia Silverstone) may very well tune in. If Miss Match can at least match former Providence levels in the time period, consider it a keeper. – MB


CBS: Cold Case

ABC: 10/8

From 1984 to 1995, CBS’ whodunit Murder, She Wrote was a magnet for older-skewing viewers out of 60 Minutes, often placing among the top prime-time programs. Seven years later, and after numerous programming attempts such as Becker, Bram and Alice, My Big Fat Greek Life and The Education of Max Bickford, CBS has failed to recapture its dominance. By going back to the drawing board, and realizing it’s mystery and crime-solving the audience wants, Cold Case could be just the ingredient the net is looking for. Over at ABC, and in place of the perennial Wonderful World of Disney (which moves to Saturday), a former bad boy turned Los Angeles Sheriff’s Academy graduate is the focus on new drama 10-8. While both shows are of the crime drama school and both have established lead-ins (Cold Case with 60 Minutes, and 10-8 with the relocated America’s Funniest Home Videos), more viewers, albeit older, coming out of the veteran 60 Minutes gives Cold Case the advantage. Assuming ABC’s 10-8 will skew younger, competing with Fox’s coveted The Simpsons for the adult 18-49 demographic could be a definite disadvantage. While their hair might be a bit grayer, the audience size (not to mention the wallet size) for Cold Case could be considerably larger. – MB