The Five Biggest Mistakes of the 2007 Network Upfronts

There is no question that the Upfronts bring on a lot of good things, which I will get to in time. However, it’s tough directly after the release of all of the fall schedules to not dwell on the negatives. The show which we canceled, the shows that were mistreated, and the show that you cringe just thinking about. As a result, we start our weekend coverage of the Upfronts with a piece which covers the mistakes made, and which ones will have the most negative effect on the state of television.

The Five Biggest Mistakes of the 2007 Network Upfronts

5. CBS cancels ‘Jericho’

I’ve talked about why canceling Jericho was the right move in the end, but I think it still needs to be recognized that CBS might need to reconsider such moves in the future. Wonky scheduling killed the show’s audience, not necessarily its quality, and I think this is where CBS might have hit their final straw. I think that CBS is worried about the bottom line, and the ratings performance, and I kind of wonder whether they really watched the show to see. Jericho’s fanbase was rabid and of a different sort than most of their shows. The network was able to cancel shows in the past without fanfare (Where’s the outrage for Close to Home?) because they are casual viewers: Jericho didn’t have any of those, and canceling it is likely to end up being more than they bargained for.

It had to be done, but it’s certainly put them in a lesser eye with some of the people that they hope might turn up this season for Moonlight and Viva Laughlin, two shows which might need a touch of their fandom. If they ever want to branch into serial television for real, they will need to realize that quality does matter. We’ll see if their tone changes as time moves forward.

4. ABC Picks Up ‘Cavemen’

It’s a show I haven’t even seen and yet already despise. In a year of development where ABC had plenty of comedy options, including a sitcom pilot directed by Christopher Guest (Best in Show, A Mighty Wind) and produced by Mitch Hurwitz (Creator, Arrested Development), there was no need for them to search out the single worst concept in the history of sitcom television just because it worked well as a commercial. Commercials do not make good sitcoms (Baby Bob, anyone?), and this is a lesson you should have learned by now.

Cavemen is a flawed concept, as it’s basically treating cavemen as the last remaining minority that sitcom television hasn’t yet exploited. The press release for the series basically describes every stereotypical minority subplot in sitcom history: interracial relationships, workplace concerns, etc. These ideas are not fresh, and some of them are likely to border on offensive. They need to walk a fine line here…and Cavemen can’t do that. The commercials are a cute concept which ABC is taking much too far. In the process, any credibility they gained in likely losing According to Jim is yet again lost.

3. The CW’s Treatment of the Cancellation of ‘Veronica Mars’

Although it pains me, canceling Veronica Mars was not a mistake. The CW was patient enough with the show to give it a third season behind Gilmore Girls, and we’re lucky to have even been able to finish out the year with the ratings it received. As a result, the network had no choice but to cancel the drama we hold so dear. However, they didn’t just cancel it: they left it off their schedule, refused to talk about it, and have now said that they’re “discussing something” with creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell. And this treatment, this vague indecision, is The CW’s biggest mistake.

It has put fans in an uncomfortable position, one where we’re getting the rug ripped out from under us. The network left us hoping, left its advertising promoting a season finale, all the while biding time. This put us in a tough spot, sure, but how must the cast and crew feel? That’s why this is the network’s biggest mistake, because they had something good here. Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell, specifically, are the future of this business, and you destroyed their ability to plan for the future. The CW could have shored something up with them, something meaningful, but after this treatment it is unlikely they will return to the family. And that is not good for the future of the network.

2. NBC puts ‘Friday Night Lights’ on Friday…at 10pm

Friday Night Lights is a good Friday show. Its small-town America setting and football theming makes it a strong candidate for the family-friendly viewing most likely to take place on such a night. Plus, let’s face it, it’s in the freakin’ title. So, when NBC announced that FNL would be appearing on Friday evenings, it actually made a fair deal of sense. Then, however, I noticed what time the network placed the show in…and then shook my head in shame at NBC’s idiocy.

Friday Night Lights is not a 10pm Friday show. It will never, ever, be a 10pm Friday show. Law & Order wasn’t a 10pm Friday show either, but at least it had thematic elements which made it a candidate for the spot. This is a show that families should be watching, that young people should be watching. The fact that the sexed-up, testosterone-driven Las Vegas will be airing an hour earlier than Friday Night Lights is the most ridiculous scheduling I’ve seen in a very long time. The show has been sidled with an incompatible lead-in, a timeslot in which its core audience is unlikely to be able to watch it, and an unpleasant fate for its second season.

NBC is going to pay a lot of money to produce a second season of this show. They have a lot of faith in this ratings-challenged drama to even give it a second shot, and I think they know how fantastic the show really is. If this is all the case, then they need to wake up and realize that this show will never thrive or survive in the 10pm Friday timeslot. It just isn’t going to happen, and the show’s inevitable failure is entirely due to this, NBC’s biggest mistake during these upfront presentations.

1. Fox fails to use ‘House’ as a Lead-in

This one is going to seem trivial compared to the rest of them, considering it doesn’t seem like that big a deal to the show in question. I already blogged yesterday about how FOX has placed House into its prime post-Super Bowl slot, and how I feel that this is unnecessary, but that isn’t their only problem. The show is a demographic smash hit, besting even American Idol, and the show is FOX’s greatest asset at this point. So much is made of FOX struggling before Idol returns each January, but House is the show that can fill that gap. It doesn’t need a super bowl spot to be a centerpiece of FOX’s strategy. However, FOX seems to think that House will only remain a success if it stays in its 9pm Tuesday timeslot. And that fact, in the end, is the biggest mistake of the 2007 Upfronts.

It is thus so because it effects the entirety of FOX’s fall schedule. Instead of airing after House, New Amsterdam (Drama about 400-year old New York investigator) will air before it. Now, this timeslot is certainly an open ballgame in the Fall when American Idol isn’t present, so the show isn’t being sent out to die…but it’s not in the best spot. Last year, only a single show was renewed, and it was the one which the network aired after American Idol in the Spring (‘Til Death). Drama after drama fell by the wayside, including the one that Fox stupidly debuted in front of, instead of behind, House: Standoff.

How can FOX be making the same mistake again? If they are serious about developing new shows, they need to be airing them in time periods that give them a distinct advantage. This means that House should move to 8pm (I don’t care if they need to tone down some of the imagery, it won’t kill the show’s dynamic) and New Amsterdam should air after it. This gives a big boost to a new show’s fortunes. How, exactly, this basic principle of TV scheduling continues to elude FOX I don’t quite understand. Their consistent ignorance to this principle drags down their entire schedule, and thus becomes the largest mistake of this upfront season.

Of course, I won’t pretend that this list is in any way comprehensive: there were other mistakes. Anyone else have one they think was worse than the ones above? Feel free to comment below.

7 Comments

Filed under 'Til Death, ABC, Cavemen, FOX, Friday Night Lights, House, Jericho, NBC, New Amsterdam, Ratings, Television, The CW, Upfronts, Veronica Mars

7 responses to “The Five Biggest Mistakes of the 2007 Network Upfronts

  1. amy

    Cancelling Jericho didn’t “have to be done.” CBS execs scheduling hurt this show… this is a very high quality show that millions of us watch. If CBS weren’t so worried about “fast returns” they would have found the ratings continuing to climb, especially if they’d let it run through without hiatus’ and other flimsy excuses.

  2. The problem, Amy, is that hiatuses are unavoidable (If you start in September and end in May), and this cancellation is for executives who saw an expensive show performing poorly. When CBS is able to put together Price is Right specials and nearly double Jericho’s post-hiatus average (50% better in Adults 18-49), that’s a problem for Jericho and one that a network getting tens of millions of viewers with lesser shows can’t ignore.

    It’s reality kicking good TV in the ass, sure, but it’s reality nonetheless.

  3. Myles, buddy, you’ve got to come up with a clear point of view here on Jericho’s cancellation, because you seem to be all over the map. Is the network to blame for mishandling the scheduling of the show? Or is the network to blame for being too quick to pull the trigger and going for cheap-but-lowbrow TV instead of interesting-but-expensive programming? Or is the audience to blame for, well, simply not watching the show and embracing cheap-but-lowbrow TV?

    The answer, of course, is possibly all of the above, but by trying to argue all of them at different types depending on the essay, you come off as playing to all sides. Saying that the show had to be canceled in one post and then turning around and calling it a mistake confuses the heck out of me, even if I sort of see where you’re going with it.

  4. It had to be canceled. And it was a mistake. As you say, you know where I’m going with it, but it’s contradictory on the surface.

    I think that, at this point in time, CBS had to cancel the show to please its executives and advertisers. That’s their game, and they can’t abandon that considering their current success. However, it was a mistake because they’re not used to canceling a serial show like Jericho. The rabid fanbase (clearly present) is something CBS doesn’t usually have to deal with, and as a result it’s still a mistake for the future of their network…just a mistake that had to be made in the grand scheme of things.

    And you’re right: it is “all of the above”. No cancellation of any show can possibly be attributed to just one source, which is why you’re not seeing a cohesive viewpoint on Jericho. It was the audience, the producers, the network…Jericho was as fated to failure as a show could be. One can only hope that all three of those sources learn from its fall for the sake of future shows.

  5. Don

    How does moving Friday Night Lights to Friday Nights make ANY sense at all? The show is about high school football and the core audience is families who enjoy….what else…..high school football. So where will their audience be on Friday nights? AT A LOCAL HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL GAME, you morons!

    I have a daughter who just graduated last year….and a son who is a Sophomore playing football this year. WE LOVE FNL. It’s one of our favorite shows and the whole family relates to the characters and we see similar characters in our real life friends and families.

    But how in the heck are we supposed to watch such a great drama (probably only bested by Lost and Heroes and House right now) when we’ll be at an ACTUAL game every week, experiencing the same emotions that we enjoyed with the actors from week to week?

    This move will KILL that show….10pm…8pm….5pm…it doesn’t matter…this show should NOT be on Friday.

  6. I had to laugh at the Caveman treatment…

    “The press release for the series basically describes every stereotypical minority subplot in sitcom history: interracial relationships, workplace concerns, etc. These ideas are not fresh, and some of them are likely to border on offensive.”

    …and than you criticize the CW! That’s funny, cuz that paragraph is basically a description of the CW since it’s inception!

    If the “Veronica Mars” people wanted to keep their CW slot, they would’ve given her a black boyfriend. No joke!

  7. Nan

    What about cancelling Gilmore Girls? People actually watched the show

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