Editorial: Fooled Again

We've come to look forward to Jimmy Kimmel's monologues at ABC's upfront presentations, where the late-night host serves as roast-master for network TV as a whole and his own network's lineup in particular. But this year's bit at New York's Lincoln Center was especially painful. Truth hurts.

After telling advertisers that ABC would likely cancel 90%—“maybe more!”—of the new shows it was trotting out, Kimmel said, “Every year we lie to you, and every year you come back for more.”

It's a reality that has been on a lot of minds lately, and one that this publication took up last week on its cover. We challenged networks to restore the faith of advertisers, the media and viewers after a season that produced just one breakout hit in CBS's The Mentalist.

Still, those of us who live on the glass-half-full side of life could pick out enough glimmers of hope in upfront week to conclude that the broadcast networks may be moving in a promising direction, programming-wise, this coming season.

Clearly hopeful about the May 19 premiere of its new scripted musical comedy Glee, Fox kicked things off Monday (traditionally NBC's day) with a—pardon the pun—gleeful presentation. Former movie guy Peter Rice—previously seen with an Oscar statue for a certain Best Picture award—was smooth in his TV introduction, though even this fall will be too soon to judge if the new Fox Broadcasting chief will reign as a slumdog or a millionaire.

Coming off a miserable season, ABC presented a faith-restoring set of clips on Tuesday. Three of its four new comedies played well in the room (sorry, Kelsey Grammer), particularly the screening of the entire Modern Family pilot, which drew huge laughs virtually from start to finish.

NBC released its schedule that same day, though ad execs and media had already seen many of its new projects in previous meetings (for the second year, NBC did not hold a traditional upfront presentation). And while it's easy to say there is no place to go but up for the downtrodden network, much of NBC's new development has been lauded as a return to the sensibility that once put it on top.

On Wednesday, CBS continued to operate from a position of strength, as long as the metric is ratings. Sticking to what works, the network unveiled a few new shows that were right in the CBS wheelhouse, and astutely moved The Mentalist to Thursdays at 10, which should propel it to greater things. And The CW on Thursday put forth another set of shows directly in line with its youth-targeting brand, which it flogs furiously in an effort at long-term stability.

For pessimists, there were plenty of troubling signs, of course. At first glance, and yet again, there was an overall lack of big risks or apparent game-changers. But even after one high-ranking network executive at an upfront event welcomed a B&C staffer to “the annual rite of dancing merrily around as Rome burns around us,” we're still hopeful. And as Kimmel said, we'll be back for more next year.