The major TV networks previewed their fall primetime lineups this week, with much of the usual fanfare. But the optimistic predictions and upbeat sales pitches mostly soft-peddled the fact that because of the ongoing writers’ strike, there’s no telling when some of the shiny new shows ordered for the coming season will actually see the light of day.
The annual upfront presentations traditionally provide a showcase for broadcasters ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and the CW, along with Spanish-language networks and some of the top cable channels, to tout their coming attractions, hoping to secure billions of dollars in advertising commitments. Those channels, however, will largely be relying on sports, unscripted programming and overseas acquisitions to fill out their menus barring agreements with the guilds representing Hollywood talent.
There were tangible signs this wasn’t just an ordinary year. CBS sat out formal upfront festivities, and attendees had to pass picket lines of striking writers. The presentations that did go on were noticeably light on talent – usually trotted out to wow the advertisers – as most refused to cross them.
NBC sought to get around that problem by relying on news anchors to introduce many of its clips, and featuring stars associated with unscripted shows, including new “The Voice” coach Reba McEntire.
The shows themselves, meanwhile, reflect the uncertainty and chaos of the current moment, as well as the sense that linear TV networks are essentially managing their decline in the streaming age.
As usual, the networks that did announce new shows tended to tilt toward familiar, identifiable concepts. CBS, for example, will reboot “Matlock,” the courtroom drama, with Kathy Bates in the lead role, spin off “The Good Wife” with Carrie Preston reprising her recurring character in “Elsbeth,” and offer a comedy pairing Damon Wayans and Damon Wayans Jr., “Poppa’s House.”
Similarly, NBC announced a new sitcom featuring “Two and a Half Men” star Jon Cryer, “Extended Family,” which the network said will be paired with its “Night Court” revival whenever that returns for its second season.
ABC took a different approach, announcing a fall lineup consisting almost entirely of game and reality shows, news and reruns of “Abbott Elementary.” Responding to a headline that called the schedule “strike-proof,” one writer sardonically referred to it on Twitter as being “watch-proof.”
Both sides of the strike have plenty to lose under the current scenario, especially if it drags on to the point of delaying fall premieres.
The networks might sacrifice millions in ad commitments if media buyers are underwhelmed by their reality-heavy lineups. Beyond sacrificing income, writers risk losing valuable prime-time real estate to cheaper unscripted shows and other wrinkles to fill time, such as more news programming, international acquisitions, or CBS super-sizing “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race” to 90 minutes each.
The CW was already heading in that direction under its new ownership, with entertainment president Brad Schwartz noting in a news conference that the network makeover included a move to “comb the world” for series, importing fare produced in Canada and elsewhere. Apparently gone, meanwhile, are the network’s familiar roster of DC superhero shows, although the executive said no final decision had been made yet on “Superman & Lois” and the Batman spinoff “Gotham Knights.” (Those series are produced by Warner Bros., like CNN, a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery.)
Despite trying to make the best of a bad hand, some executive acknowledged they were working from a flawed script, with HBO chief Casey Bloys expressing hope the strike would end soon and allow talent to return to these events.
ABC’s announcements also included a new variation of its popular dating franchise titled “The Golden Bachelor,” featuring the same format, only with senior citizens looking for love.
If the current strike drags on as long as the 100-day work stoppage that took place the last time producers and writers faced such an impasse in 2008, every demographic cohort might receive its moment in the reality spotlight before it’s over.