MBPT Spotlight: Media Buyers Balk at Labeling Any Freshman NBC, Fox Series Potential Hits

NBC and Fox showcased a lot of new programming for the 2015-16 prime season at their respective upfront presentations on Monday, but media buyers were reticent to single out any potential hits or even series the might be somewhat successful.

One exec from a mega spending broadcast ad buying media agency said, “Nothing jumped out at me,” adding that all the networks have an incredible amount of pressure to have more than just a few of these new shows succeed during the coming season. “I’ve never seen the ratings situation this bad, with broadcast TV viewers continuing to leave all the networks in such large numbers,” he added.

Other media agency execs said even if a new series offers some initial potential based on its premise and star power, the time period it is placed in has become so much more significant to its chances for success.

For example, several buyers said the new Fox John Stamos comedy Grandfathered looks like it could draw a sizable audience, but it is premiering in the same time period as NBC’s The Voice and CBS’s NCIS, two of the most-watched veteran broadcast primetime series, even though each also lost a large chunk of viewers this season.

“If it can’t lure viewers away from The Voice and NCIS, where is the audience for that show going to come from? Cable, which is also losing viewers?” one buyer questioned.

That said, media buyers did give both networks praise for bringing a heavy load of new programming and for trying some gimmicks aimed at drawing more viewers next season.

NBC will air returning comedy Undateable live each Friday night at 8 this fall, harkening back to earlier broadcast days when comedy half hours aired before live studio audiences. But media buyers said that is not going to allow NBC to charge more for commercial time and wondered how many more viewers would tune in to see a live series telecast, or even care.

They said this is not a one-time, live, major special TV event, but a weekly series that did not do overwhelmingly well in the rating this season. And not only is it on a Friday night, TV’s second-lowest viewing night, but it also targets a younger audience that is not necessary home on that night.

One buyer quipped, “Maybe some viewers will tune in to see if the actors make any gaffes in their lines, so they can have some fun on social media.”

Speaking of specials, both NBC and Fox announced that they would each be presenting a live, three-hour musical during the season — The Wiz by NBC on Thursday night Dec. 3 and Grease by Fox on Sunday, Jan. 31.

More than one buyer believes Grease will have broader audience appeal and could draw the largest non-sports and non-awards show audience in primetime next season. Sadly for Fox, it will be a one-time event.

In addition to its live airing of Undateable on Friday nights, NBC will also offer up something else a bit different for broadcast networks — the return of a primetime variety show. This one will be titled The Best Time Ever With Neil Patrick Harris.

It will be a short run, through November, and air on Tuesday nights at 10. The show will include stunts, skits, musical numbers, audience interaction and giveways and is based on the British series Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway.

Clearly NBC is trying to capitalize on Harris’ popularity as past host of the Academy Awards, Emmy Awards and the Tony Awards, and from his audience following on the longrunnng CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother. Buyers, however, see it more as a summer series than a regular season one, and say if it is to succeed, it will need to attract a younger demo.

Both NBC and Fox have a lot riding on their new programming as both attempt to turn their primetime ratings around.

This season Fox is averaging just 4.4 million viewers per night based on its regularly scheduled programming, according to Nielsen data. That’s down about 12% from last season. While Fox just a few years ago was the 18-49 demo leader among the broadcast networks, this season it is in fourth place, averaging a 1.5 rating, down about 10% from last season.

NBC is averaging about 7.4 million viewers, down just 3% and a 2.0 18-49 demo rating, also down about 3%. However, the NBC “regular season” viewer numbers include its large audience from Sunday Night Football and another sizable audience that watches the two weeknight editions of The Voice. Take those numbers away and NBC’s audience numbers for its entertainment programming does not look nearly as good.

One buyer commented, “The only show from last fall that NBC is bringing back is The Mysteries  of Laura, and it is only averaging a 1.1 in the 18-49 demo,” he said. Several networks have cancelled series with higher demo ratings than that.

NBC is going to enter the 2015-16 primetime season with just two comedies on its schedule — returning Undateable and freshman sitcom People Are Talking. That led Brad Adgate, senior VP of research at Horizon Media, to tweet that in 1997 NBC opened the season with 18 comedies compared to just two for next season.

However, NBC has not fared well with new comedies over the past few seasons and while it has a handful ready to introduce next mid-season, it will open the fall with four new dramas. After successfully launched The Blacklist out of the Monday night edition of The Voice two years ago, NBC will premiere new drama Blindspot in that time period. From Greg Berlanti, who also executive produces Arrow and The Flash on The CW and The Mysteries of Laura on NBC, Blindspot is about a Jane Doe discovered naked in Times Square with no memory of who she is or how she got there. But one of the tattoos is the name of an FBI agent and each tattoo on her body is a crime they need to solve to find out her identity.

Other fall dramas include Heartbreaker, a medical series about a female heart transplant surgeon; The Player, starring Wesley Snipes as a former military operative turned security expert based in Las Vegas; and Heroes Reborn, a reboot of the original NBC series Heroes, about normal folks who learn to harness their extraordinary abilities.

NBC is doing its best to schedule these new dramas in likely time periods for success. In addition to leading Blindspot out of The Voice on Monday, Heartbreaker with a strong, female lead, follows The Voice, which has a sizable female audience, on Tuesday night. And NBC is surrounding The Blacklist on Thursday night a 9, with Heroes Reborn as its 8 p.m. lead-in and The Player as its 10 p.m. lead-out. The only problem is that these three series have strong male audience appeal and will be going head-to-head with Thursday Night NFL football telecasts on CBS during fourth quarter.

NBC is also saving some of its star power for mid-season, which has left some media buyers scratching their heads, wondering if some of a network's potentially bigger draws shouldn’t be premiered at the start of the season.

NBC is holding the new Dick Wolf drama Chicago Med for a mid-season premiere, along with Shades of Blue, starring Jennifer Lopez as a New York detective and single mother, although J Lo’s commitment to Fox’s American Idol may be the reason for that as production has been delayed.

Also in the pantry for mid-season are several comedies, including one starring Eva Longoria (Hot & Bothered), another starring America Ferrara (Superstore) and an updated remake of Coach with its original star Craig T. Nelson.

Meanwhile, Fox’s viewership took a larger drop than NBC’s this season. The decline in viewership would have been deeper if its freshman drama Empire didn’t click. Empire averaged a 5.0 in the 18-49 demo and 12.7 million views and was a legitimate hit. However, during its upfront presentation, Fox was touting its other two returning freshman series from this season, Gotham and The Last Man on Earth as hits, and both were far from it.

Gotham started out strong, but finished the season averaging a 1.8 18-49 demo and just above 5 million viewers, while Last Man averaged a 1.6 in the demo and 3.9 million viewers, hardly hits.

Fox is going to try to bolster its ratings by returning The X-Files to primetime, but that won’t be until January, and it will only be a limited six-episode run. Fox will premiere it with a special telecast on Sunday night, Jan. 24 leading out of the NFC Championship Game before it moves to its regular Monday night time period the following night.

Fox is also planning some special stunts surrounding the final season of American Idol, but is not ready to offer specifics. While Idol has been steadily on a downslide in viewership over the past several seasons, media buyers point out that the singing competition series is still the network’s second most-watched show averaging more than 9 million viewers this season and an 18-49 demo rating still above a 2.0.

But that’s not a problem Fox will have to address until the 2016-17 season. Still the network needs to groom some new series to fill up the two hours each week that Idol currently airs.

On Monday next season, Fox will pair up a new drama series — Minority Report, based on the 2002 Tom Cruise movie about trying to stop crimes before they happen — with returning Gotham.

The network’s biggest gamble will be on Tuesday. Unlike NBC, which is foregoing the introduction of new comedies in the fall, Fox will premiere an entire night of new comedy on Tuesday.

Fox will open the night with Grandfathered, starring John Stamos as a lifelong bachelor who finds out he’s not only a father, but also a grandfather, when his son and granddaughter come to live with him. Leading out of Grandfathered will be The Grinder, starring Rob Lowe as a TV lawyer who moves back with his real-life lawyer brother, played by Fred Savage, after his series is canceled.

The third new Fox comedy of the night is the hour-long Scream Queens from executive producer Ryan Murphy and stars Emma Roberts, Jamie Lee Curtis, Lea Michele and Oliver Hudson. Scream Queens is based around a sorority house where murders start happening and at the end of the season the killer is revealed. During the season, Ariana Grande and Nick Jonas will guest star.

Media buyers like the two half hours although they wonder how well they will do against the other network series in the hour, but there was not much buyer enthusiasm about ScreamQueens. Most buyers believe the show would be a better fit on Fox sister cable network FX.

Empire returns for a second season and an 18-episode run on Wednesday night at 9, and Fox is leading a new drama into it — Rosewood. The series stars Morris Chestnut as a private pathologist who works with a female detective (played by Jaina Lee Oritz) on the Miami police to help solve murder cases. Buyers believe this series could be another sleeper hit for Fox, particularly drawing in a similar large black and Hispanic audience that came in for Empire last season.