TV Upfronts (U.S.): Who’s Up, Who’s Down, Who’s Desperate


 Illustration by: Thomas Kuhlenbeck

Fox plots ‘Idol’ endgame, ABC courts more diversity and NBC wipes its slate clean (again) as the $9B ad scramble hits NYC.

 by Michael O’Connell, Lacey Rose,   5/10/2015
.Pilot season was on a fixed course by the time Empire‘s unprecedented rise astonished network execs. It was too late for broadcast to ready a pack of copycats, but the Fox drama did prove that traditional TV viewers still can be courted in droves. That is sure to weigh heavily on ad buyers as they prepare to dole out up to an estimated $9 billion in advertising — likely off 6 or 7 percent from 2014-15 — when the broadcast upfront market kicks off May 11 in New York.FoxWhere It Stands: The top series on broadcast — Empire, which averaged a 7.1 rating in the key demo, just shy of Sunday Night Football — is sure to garner more upfront airtime than any of its new shows. Sources say Gary Newman and Dana Walden‘s first appearance as TV Group chairmen will bring news that the hip-hop drama has been given a heftier 18-episode order. “The heat is now on Empire to sustain its audience and launch something else,” SMGx’s Sam Armandosays of the No. 4 network, which still suffered a dramatic 20 percent ratings drop courtesy of flopUtopia, more American Idol fatigue and Sleepy Hollow‘s sophomore slump. Idol will return with the same trio of judges, but insiders say the 15th season will be cut back and is expected to be the series’ last.

What’s New: Unlike predecessor Kevin Reilly, under whom Fox operated as an independent network, Walden and Newman are keeping much of their orders in the Fox TV Group family. They’ve pushed for male-friendly comedy — with the buzz on Rob Lowe‘s Grinder making up for its unfortunate title — and a heavy supply of male-led genre plays. Sources say Minority Report‘s late order was the result of a fight between owners Paramount and 20th TV over the number of episodes available on demand. Other eleventh-hour scrambles included finding showrunner help on The Frankenstein Code and DC’s Lucifer.


Surprise Move: Passing on Eric McCormack‘s Studio City, which was, by all accounts, the closest the network came to developing a soapy Empire companion. Insiders say it came in “a bit bland,” and Fox brass feared the Warner Bros. entry would feel “too generic” paired with Empire.


Where It Stands: The only Big Four network to improve its 18-to-49 standing (up 5 percent, year-over-year) should give entertainment group chief Paul Lee, along with new boss Ben Sherwood, plenty to crow about. The network scored with multiple diverse breakouts (How to Get Away With MurderBlack-ishFresh Off the Boat) and Lee’s continued success among female viewers. His confidence is reflected in his renewals, with eight first-year shows set to return. (Don’t worry:Jimmy Kimmel still has plenty of material for his annual upfront roast, including the late, poorly titled Forever.) What’s missing? New series that lure Y chromosomes. “You just have to build on that success with women,” says Horizon Media’s Brad Adgate.

What’s New: ABC largely will stay the course, loading up on diverse fare (an Uncle Buck rebootstarring a black family; a second comedy with an Asian-American lead in Ken Jeong‘s Dr. Ken); and more from Shonda Rhimes (Mireille Enos starrer The Catch) and Rhimes disciples (Joan Allen thriller The Family). Also noteworthy: With the exception of a couple of co-productions, the network ordered only from its sister studio. A Muppets reboot is among the buzziest pickups inside ABC.


Surprise Move: Could ABC’s love affair with corporate cousin Marvel be waning? Despite subpar ratings for Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD and offshoot Agent Carter, many assumed an AdriannePalicki-fronted SHIELD spinoff would have a slot on the schedule. (It doesn’t.)



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