June 24, 2011


More articles by »
Written by: Mitch Salem
Tags: , , ,

>As the fall premiere dates roll out, we are reporting each network’s plan as they are announced (see CW and FOX dates).  Behind the scenes a game of chicken is played.  No one really wants to go first, but deadlines loom that force the networks to get their premiere strategies into the open.  

First, the TCA (Television Critics Association) meets twice a year in Los Angeles in January and July to hear from each network.  Over a one- or two-day period, each broadcast network presents its new shows with panels featuring producers and stars, an executive panel usually featuring the network’s West Coast chief, and lavish parties in the evening.  (Cable networks present their wares within a day, usually with groups of owned networks on the same day.)  The executive panel usually begins with a flurry of announcements, notably the premiere dates and launch strategies for the new schedule.  (For a brief overview of the upcoming summer TCA schedule, check out Variety.)

Second, local stations need the premiere dates so they can sell their local primetime inventory during the early summer.
This premiere date announcement also presents the opportunity to tweak (or overhaul) the basic primetime schedule announced at the Upfront presentations in May.  For example, a network that announced Monday of Upfront week might want to react to schedules that were announced later in the week.  Or weaker networks (like ABC or NBC) might want to react to stronger network schedules (like FOX’s or CBS’s) once they have a complete view of the upcoming landscape and once they have seen the competition’s pilots.  If a network chooses to adjust its lineup, it generally has one shot in the summer to make the change — otherwise, multiple changes will make it look even weaker and indecisive. 
So the TCA press tour is the natural place to announce fall schedule changes, if any, and the premiere dates for each series, if they could be held that long.  The national and local press are gathered in one place, and the network leadership is readily available to spin the changes most effectively.  This year CW decided to get its premiere dates out early, and FOX, as the #1 network, soon followed.  Given their lead in the ratings, they are less likely to play with their strategy and tinker with the dates.  Right now, affiliates will begin to pressure the other networks to make their premiere dates public.  Ideally, the other networks would like to wait until the TCA in late July to maximize their time perfecting their schedules and launches, but that would give FOX stations too much of an advantage in the local marketplace.  

The game of chicken then takes place to see who will announce next.  It will probably be CBS, the #2 network, although NBC is often eager to please its beleaguered stations by announcing sooner rather than later.  Whoever goes next will trigger very quick announcements by the remaining two broadcasters.  And finally, all the premiere dates will be out and fairly locked for the fall season.  The countdown to premiere week is then in full swing.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."