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Buyers Find Nothing New for Fall Season

No buzz. That was the complaint from buyers and media representatives after the broadcast-network upfront presentations two weeks ago in New York City.

"The most amazing thing after six presentations was that almost nothing stuck out," said Paula Barra, associate director of communications insights at OMD.

Buyers and media reps were most impressed with CBS, Fox and The WB; NBC got a fair-to-middlin' review; ABC disappointed. UPN seemed to register low on the upfront Richter scale, but the advertising community seemed satisfied by the network's decision to fill Buffy's slot with comedies.

"The disaster was ABC. What were they thinking?" said one rep, noting that he would have preferred to see Karen Sisco
on Sundays at 8 p.m. ET instead of Wednesdays at 10 p.m. and Hope and Faith, starring Kelly Ripa and Faith Ford and a crowd favorite, on Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. instead of Fridays at 9 p.m.

If the advertising community was unimpressed by ABC's upfront presentation, they were shocked when the network announced the next week that five of The Practice's main stars, including Dylan McDermott, would be leaving the show.

"We ended up giving far more of The Practice's share to NBC's Lyon's Den
because of the cast changes," Barra said. "We originally had The Practice
winning the time slot."

Said ABC Entertainment Chairman Lloyd Braun, "We're getting The Practice
that David E. Kelley envisions. We knew when we renewed it that David had changes planned for the show, but it wasn't always fully appropriate to disclose them all."

Braun wouldn't say why ABC brought McDermott on stage during upfronts when a decision had not yet been made about the show's future.

Many buyers approved the idea of ABC's resurrecting its TGIF ("Thank God It's Funny," according to ABC entertainment execs) Friday-night comedy block, but many of them particularly disliked Back to Kansas, a show about a New York City man who marries into a big family from Kansas and finds himself reluctantly moving to the Midwest.

Out of the ABC comedies, media reps seemed most bullish on Hope and Faith
and I'm With Her, a Tuesday 8:30 p.m. sitcom based on writer Chris Henchy's marriage to Brooke Shields. But no one raved about either.

ABC's dramas all look tentative at best, and none of them received great time periods—particularly Karen Sisco
on Wednesdays at 10 p.m., Threat Matrix
on Thursdays at 8 p.m., and 10-8
on Sundays at 8 p.m.

NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker said prior to the upfront presentations that fixing Tuesday night was NBC's biggest priority, but, according to advertisers, NBC will still have a problem on its hands come fall. Buyers seemingly universally disliked Whoopi, and several wondered aloud about terrorist-related humor in the clip.

"We think what's great about that pilot is its return to the old Norman Lear-style of comedy, in which we talk about things that exist in our lives right now and not in some cookie-cutter Never Never Land," Zucker said in defense.

Besides lacking faith in Whoopi
on Tuesdays at 8 p.m., buyers also had doubts about Happy Family, starring John Larroquette and Christine Baranski, at 8:30 p.m. Frasier
is expected to stay in decline in its last year, especially without a strong lead-in, leaving Good Morning Miami
to fail in its new unprotected 9:30 p.m. slot.

Among the riskier moves analysts pointed out was NBC's switch of Law & Order: SVU from Friday 10 p.m. to Tuesday 10 p.m., where it will compete directly with ABC's NYPD Blue
and CBS's Judging Amy.

"Judging Amy
could still remain strong because she's the only alternative in that time slot," said Tom Decabia, executive vice president of PHD.

Buyers generally liked Fox's upfront, giving kudos to the net's scheduling choices.

"I thought Fox had the best schedule because they have more variety and they took more risks," said Stacey Lynn Koerner, executive vice president, director of global research integration, Initiative Media.

Others were less impressed. "When I watched the cut-down of Skin," said one rep, I said, 'Oh my God, they are making pornography boring.'"

Skin, executive-produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, is about a teenage couple and their warring fathers—one the head of a porn empire, the other a district attorney.

Both CBS and The WB's schedules got thumbs-up from buyers.

CBS made one really big change: moving King of Queens from Monday at 8 p.m. to Wednesdays at 9 p.m. Reactions about that move were mixed, but most analysts think Wednesdays could be CBS's only weak night.

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.