Upfronts 2017: Deciphering the spin

"Dynasty" on The CW
"Dynasty" on The CW

There was a lot of positive broadcast news coming out of the pitches last week, but there were also many warning signs too.

At a time when every network attempts to present itself as the best multi-platform performer, it was concerning to see so many looking to the future while focused on the past.

There were so many reboots in the lineups this year. While the idea of bringing back "Rosanne" or "Dynasty" may be appealing to viewers of a certain age, will the millennials advertisers want to reach care or even recognize those old broadcast hits?

I'm reminded of past failed reboot attempts of shows like "Beverly Hills, 90210" and "Melrose Place" on The CW and more recently "Dallas" on TNT. Does The CW think nostalgia will be enough to carry the new "Dynasty"? Why even bother? The breakout success of NBC's "This is Us" should be proof enough that original concepts when done well can lead network performance.

While I, too, am curious to see the gang on "Will & Grace" reunite, I am also not foolish enough to believe this will mark the return of "Must See TV." Consider that bold claim the most outlandish of anything the networks touted all week. You need the goods to support that brand statement, and NBC just does not have that next season, especially in this sitcom. If the bit Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally did at NBC's presentation is any indication, and I heard minimal laughter in the room, I would not expect much.

Then there was what was arguably the most sought-after new series clip of the entire week, "Star Trek: Discovery," which would have a larger reach if it was on CBS rather than streamer CBS All Access. While the broadcast nets were also busy promoting their can't-miss digital strategies (it's upfront week and everything, of course, is "perfect"), we still have no clue if anyone watched "Big Brother" on CBS All Access last fall (or "The Good Wife" spin-off "The Good Fight," for that matter). And I have not heard all that much about additional subscribers signing up. So, the potential value of these digital outlets is still unclear.

By the numbers, we will see 19 new network series this fall: 12 dramas, six comedies and one combination of the two, "The Orville," created by Seth Macfarlane on Fox. CBS has six new series, followed by ABC with five, NBC and Fox with three, and The CW with two. Midseason, meanwhile, will feature another 24 series arrivals (11 dramas, six comedies and seven non-scripted series), which brings the total to an estimated 43 new freshman shows on the nets in 2017-18. Comparably, the numbers are similar to this season. 

CBS, as always, has the best schedule, evidence of years of wise planning. But the newbie standouts, dramas "SEAL Team" and "S.W.A.T.," will by no means lower the network's already older audience skew. And pushing back "NCIS: Los Angeles" and "Madam Secretary" by one hour on Sunday in place of upcoming "Wisdom of the Crowd" on Sunday is, I think, the worst programming strategy this fall. "Wisdom of the Crowd" is my pick for the first new series cancellation. 

ABC put the original cast from "Roseanne" front and center at its upfront presentation, seating them on an oversized couch alongside signage announcing,  "Coming in October 2018." If this eight-episode revival of "Roseanne" will not be on for another 17 months, why is the network already bombarding viewers with promotional spots?

While I don't think ABC's "Marvel's Inhumans" will generate all that much live interest airing on Friday (out of retooled "Once Upon a Time," which should have been canceled), I do think it will measure in DVR usage. And I do believe the network's strategy of moving "Shark Tank" to Sunday is nothing more than filler until "American Idol" returns in March 2018. By that point, "Shark Tank" will end up back on Friday.

NBC's boldest move, no doubt, is shipping "This Is Us" to Thursday, which should have no trouble offering solid lead-in support to upcoming "Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Brothers." And I admire the net for moving returning dramas "Blindspot" and "Taken" on Friday in an attempt to siphon older viewers away from CBS. But the net's sitcom presence is still lacking and once "Sunday Night Football" concludes so might NBC's fourth-quarter dominance in adults 18-49.

Fox, as expected, has many soft spots through the week. But aforementioned "The Orville" does look unique, and the pairing of dramas "Empire" and "Star" on Wednesday, both from Lee Daniels, cannot hurt. While not an expected hit via the traditional ratings, I also think Marvel's upcoming "The Gifted" on Monday will be a big hit socially for Fox. I can already foresee a large presence at all the Comic-Con gatherings.

Finally, while upcoming "Black Lightning" on The CW is no surprise, what I do like about the network's fall line-up is that it dared to introduce two new dramas without a superhero, the military-themed "Valor" on Monday and "Dynasty" on Wednesday. And, to someone like me, scheduling "Dynasty" in the Wednesday 9 p.m. hour is a welcome nod to its original ABC time slot. But will the target audience The CW really wants notice? 

When all is said and done, it is the established returns that will likely carry the marketplace next season—the "NCIS" franchise, "Dancing with the Stars," "The Voice," "Empire" and "The Flash." Many of these "can't miss" new series will probably be forgotten by this time next year.

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