Horizon Looks at What's Up Front For the Upfront

Horizon Media released its recent analysis of the broadcast networks' programs in development, and in some ways, the networks' 2003-04 season could be back to the future, with familiar shows under development and former TV celebrities under contract. Some of today's headlines - like the threat of terrorism and the reality of corporate scandals - have become fodder for programmers. And the new season will rely less on unscripted programming, at least in September.

The analysis surveyed all programs in development, finding that 131 new programs are being considered for next season. Fifty-four are hourlong dramas, 71 half-hour sitcoms and the rest unscripted. Only about 20% of the proposed shows will survive to air and even fewer will make it to a second season.

Among the shows that are being discussed for spots on the schedule include updated versions of Mister Ed (Fox), Hotel (UPN) and three classic shows for UPN: Eddie's Father (based on 60's show The Courtship of Eddie's Father, MacGyver and The Gong Show. Steven Bocho and David E. Kelley both have shows in development. And the police/legal drama genre continues to go strong, although there are fewer medical shows like ER and this season's failed Presidio Med in the hopper.



Brad Adgate, SVP/corporate research director at Horizon Media who developed the report, said there are several common threads in this year's programming. Two shows focus on the investigative side of combating domestic terrorism threats. The travails of real-life corporate executives who ran afoul of the law are the fodder for several programs, including one that stars Jenny McCarthy but remains without a name, and two other shows on ABC, a sitcom on Fox and another NBC sitcom. Two sitcoms will feature actors playing retired sports stars, including one called Touch 'em All McCall starring Tom Selleck on NBC.

Selleck is just one of many former TV stars who have programs in development. Others are Heather Locklear, Melissa Gilbert, Annie Potts, Rob Lowe, Mark Harmon, Tom Skerritt, Howie Mandel, Valerie Bertinelli and Loni Anderson. Movie stars like James Caan, Ryan O'Neal, Danny Glover and Alicia Silverstone have also inked deals for TV series. But Adgate said that many lesser or unknown actors and actresses in their 20s and 30s are being enlisted by the networks in an attempt to reach that younger audience. Adgate said that familiar TV faces are being employed in an effort to snag viewers, who inundated by all the choices, might turn to a familiar face.

Adgate said the networks that held development meetings in mid-March (all but NBC and CBS) all de-emphasized reality programming. But Adgate said that despite the lack of success of shows like Married By America and even Mr. Personality, he isn't counting out reality.

"They're running a slew of these shows in the summer and if some of these things click, I think you'll see them on the schedule as soon as the November sweeps," Adgate said. He pointed to shows like Survivor, Fear Factor and American idol, which all began in the summer. Adgate noted that the upside includes audience composition among working women and other demographics and that, for instance, Survivor delivers CBS' youngest median age.

"I think we'll see this run of reality shows isn't over yet," Adgate predicted.

Family shows and more diversity are also being considered for the new season.

Adgate also says that product placement will continue to grow on network television, even with The WB's plans for Live From Tomorrow put on hold. McCarthy's sitcom is being pushed for several opportunities for product placement and a WB show, Are We There Yet, also have some opportunities in the travel category. Adgate said that advertisers, concerned about commercial skipping technology and clutter in a 308-channel universe, will turn to product advertising to break through the clutter.

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