One day into the annual week where television’s biggest networks reveal their future programming plans and it was clear what the buzzword was going to be: Eventize.
No matter whether it’s a word or not, broadcasters talked frequently about their desire to create big events that viewers need to watch immediately for fear of being left out of the cultural conversation.
Networks are adjusting to the changed world of how people watch their programs: hours or weeks later on DVR, online or on-demand. But the industry’s financial structure hasn’t caught up yet, so viewers who watch when a program is first aired — once the only way to watch — are considered more valuable.
That’s why Fox is putting on a live production of “Grease” and NBC is remaking “The Music Man.” Fox is re-creating an Evel Knievel motorcycle jump. ABC touts its Oscars telecast and other awards shows. NBC locked up Olympics rights through 2032, and CBS won a bidding war to show NFL football on Thursday night.
Sports usually gets little or no attention in network sales pitches to advertisers. Not this year. ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox all gave sports a starring role. Why? Very few people DVR sports events.
ABC made the point explicit with a message on a wide video screen: “Your DVR can’t handle live.”
“We’re obsessed with trying to eventize everything we can — even episodes of our scripted shows,” said Robert Greenblatt, NBC’s entertainment chief.
“It’s about the urgency to view,” said Fox’s Kevin Reilly.
A grand finale won’t be enough for CBS’ outgoing comedy “Two and a Half Men.” The network wants a season’s worth of special episodes. David Letterman’s retirement will be a “yearlong celebration of Dave.” CBS producers have been told to push the envelope, said Nina Tassler, entertainment president, like the surprise death of Will Gardner on a March episode of “The Good Wife.”
“It’s important to keep your fans engaged,” Tassler said. “You keep eventizing your entire season.”
Women in charge
Women are in charge and they’re tough in some upcoming shows. When a CIA agent (Katherine Heigl) promises a president (Alfre Woodard) some violent retribution for a wrong in NBC’s “State of Affairs,” the president replies, “That’s my girl.”
Tea Leoni, portraying a secretary of state, takes on White House aides in CBS’ “Madam Secretary.” Maggie Q beats up bad guys in CBS’ “Stalker,” and Debra Messing is a police detective who counts to three and shoots on two on NBC’s “The Mysteries of Laura.”
This being television, advertisers were also shown clips of Heigl, Messing and Kate Walsh (NBC’s “Bad Judge”) in their underwear.
New network shows often ape successful formulas, sometimes distressingly so. Every once in a while, an executive takes a wild swing that makes you wonder, “What’s that show doing here?” They’ll either succeed or fail spectacularly.
There were two this year. Composer Alan Menken works on ABC’s “Galavant,” a medieval musical that keeps the memory of Monty Python alive. The CW’s “Jane the Virgin” is a sweet dramedy that feels completely out of place in a lineup of vampires, zombies and supernatural beings. But it had hands-down the funniest scene in all the clip reels unspooled over the past week.
If your mom made you throw away comic books, she may have stunted a career in Hollywood. Comics were again a fertile ground for development. NBC is bringing the Hellraiser character to life in a drama. A youthful Batman is featured in “Gotham,” Fox’s high-profile new drama. Similarly, the CW is pinning its biggest hopes on “The Flash.” ABC renewed the bubble series “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and is adding the comic drama “Marvel’s Agent Carter.”
Jimmy Kimmel is a one-man truth squad each year at ABC’s schedule presentation, puncturing the promises of network salesmen, and was particularly sharp this year. He spared no one, not even his bosses, and may have effectively killed a lackluster new ABC comedy “Selfie” with a single barb.
He also zeroed in on ABC entertainment chief Paul Lee’s boast that ABC was No. 1 — in brand identification or some metric. In the Nielsen ratings, ABC is No. 3.
“The ABC I work at is not No. 1,” Kimmel said. “In fact, we might have to crash on your couch for a while.”
He reminds advertisers the majority of new shows presented to them as surefire hits won’t last more than a year. “Don’t get attached to our new shows,” he said. “It’s like adopting a kitten with cancer.”
With the extra attention paid to sports at the broadcast networks, it was interesting to see ESPN de-emphasize fun and games. The network’s presentation played up coverage of stories involving Jason Collins, Michael Sam, Donald Sterling and the Boston marathon bombing in an attempt to broaden appeal.
“Sports is our conversation, our social currency,” said ESPN sales chief Ed Erhardt. “ESPN is always on at the center of culture.”
Which of the following lines was NOT uttered at a network presentation last week:
A) “A lot of people called ‘Battlestar Galactica’ one of the best shows ever.”
B) “This series is ‘Game of Thrones’ meets ‘The Borgias’ meets ‘The Bible.’”
C) “We have two hours of bloody, sexy drama.”
D) “Some of our new shows will disappear before you even realize they’re on the air.”
If you answered anything other than D, then you have something to learn about the atmosphere of hype and hope that accompanies this week every year.