To the dark side.
"We've never spent a penny branding ABC," Steve McPherson, president of ABC Entertainment, told Daily Variety recently.
In the late '90s that wasn't the case, not with then-ABC marketing chief, Alan Cohen and TBWA/Chiat Day's "TV is good" campaign. Of course, back then, ABC didn't have a whole lot going for it, program-wise. Yet, those yellow colors that followed "TV is good" around got plenty of buzz.
McPherson doesn't need that kind of buzz these days--not when you have "Desperate Housewives," "Lost," and "Grey's Anatomy" to count on.
It's not just a brand campaign that networks can do without these days--but perhaps the touting of one's schedule. Broadcast networks aren't anchoring themselves to their schedules as they used to. Media buyers don't buy a network's schedule.
In recent years, many a network's schedule--even on the successful networks--have drastically changed. So what's important is the program--especially now as many move into the digital space where there are no schedules.
That's not to say individual programs--or where they are placed--aren't important. Many network's programs during this upfront season are headed into the "24" or "American Idol" approach to programming: that is, run new episodes back-to-back without repeat breaks. ABC said "Lost" viewers are now demanding this. After a break for a new show on NBC, "ER" will run from January/February with new episodes straight through the end off the year.
While the heavyweight shows stick to a schedule, the on-the-fence shows get a different agenda. They will be prone perhaps more than ever to periodic rests, new show substitutions, as well as the grim reaper-esqe lost network show locale, hiatusville.
NBC is in this latter mode. Jeff Zucker, chairman of the NBC Universal Television Group, says NBC's schedule is not set in stone. This, in reaction to NBC's bold move to put its highly-touted "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" in that fishbowl of all TV time slots: Thursdays at 9 p.m.
NBC is seemingly in the same position that ABC was in the late '90s. But don't count on a "blue" or "brown" campaign. (American Express and UPS, respectively, seem to own those colors.). Instead, NBC will stick with finding--and marketing--new programs. And if that doesn't work, it'll rip up its schedule and put those programs somewhere else.