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May 21, 2010

Analysis: 2010 upfronts

Upfronts_blogBy Kim Masters

The upfronts are like an ancient mating ritual filled with hope and fear. The advertisers are nervous grooms; the new programs are the veiled brides who might turn out to be strong and beautiful but probably are neither.

Still, there is the need to propagate the broadcast species. And despite the challenges facing the big networks in this increasingly fragmented world, the prevailing wisdom at this week's upfronts was that this will be a better year than last. How much better is not clear.

"We've seen a very strong scatter market, and the economic news, while still a little bit mixed, is generally pretty good," Fox president of sales Jon Nesvig said. "We know there's going to be more money in the upfront."

Looking at the big picture, advertisers seemed relieved to find the networks -- especially NBC -- throwing so much spaghetti at the wall. (Comcast executives Brian Roberts and Steve Burke were in the room during the NBC presentation, and wouldn't everyone love to know what they thought? They weren't telling.)

Media Link chairman Michael Kassan observed that the upfront presentations were noticeably streamlined with fewer charts and graphs, but the networks showed they are willing to spend in pursuit of strong programming. "I think it was convincing," he said. "TV events still draw big eyeballs."

On a less positive note, advertisers seemed to feel that much of what was on offer didn't look especially fresh or tempting. "I haven't seen a lot of stuff that makes my head spin," one media buyer said. Another speculated that after CBS took big, unsuccessful risks with such shows as "Viva Laughlin" and "Swingtown" a couple of seasons ago, the networks grew more inclined to "clone what they've got" that works.

Certainly there was a proliferation of police procedurals, doctor shows and legal dramas on the menus. Jimmy Kimmel made the point in his biting routine during the ABC presentation: "I think (ABC Entertainment president) Steve McPherson said it best when he said we're looking at shows that break the mold and then introduced a new medical drama from Shonda Rhimes."

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