May 15, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem


When the troops gather in New York the week before the Upfronts, just about every arm of the network is represented and gets to weigh in on the new shows and the schedule.  Each has its own vested interests:
DEVELOPMENT:  They nurtured the pilot from pitch to script, through multiple rewrites, casting, production and editing.  They know how hard or easy it was to work with the talent involved, and they have the clearest idea of the creative vision guiding the new shows.
CURRENT:  The guardians of shows once they get on the air.  On the existing shows, they have views about continuing strength and what next season would look like; on the pilots, they’re the ones who would have to shepherd a single hour or half-hour into 22 episodes in order to fill out the year. Along with Development, they’ll have something to say about any need for recasting, and which writers should join the original creator to staff the show.
SCHEDULING:  The gurus of the week, the keepers of programming knowledge.  What makes for an effective flow of series?  What shows work best in what slots and what nights? Working with everyone else, they come up with what will ultimately be the Fall schedule.
FINANCE:  The crunchers of numbers.  What rates can be charged for commercial time?  If (as is often the case) the network’s own studio is the producer, what’s the budget, and how much potential does the show have for lucrative foreign, cable, online streaming and homevideo sales?  Bottom line:  will the ink be red or black?
BUSINESS AFFAIRS:  You thought the deal for the new show was done before the pilot was shot. And you thought the existing show’s deal was set in stone.  But… maybe not.  Sometimes the show will only get on the air if the studio will accept a lower license fee.  Or fewer episodes.  Or agree to give up a share of those foreign and other sales.  With established shows, sometimes the deals for the stars and showrunners are expiring, and have to be renegotiated at an acceptable cost.  (Sometimes Charlie Sheen is insane and you need to lock in Ashton Kutcher before announcing the show will be back.)  The clock is ticking, can the new deals get done in time?
MARKETING:  A show only gets watched if viewers want to see it, so what’s the marketing “hook”?  A big star, a premise that can be summed up in less than 30 seconds, a distinctive look?  Or conversely, are promos going to be tough because the show’s concept is too weird, the cast too unknown or the fit with the rest of the night too unwieldy?
STATIONS:  They want shows their hometown viewers will want to watch.  In particular, they want a flow of programming that will bring viewers straight to their 11PM newscasts–that’s a huge profit center for them, and a network jeopardizes it at its own risk.  (For example, Jay Leno at 10PM)
PRESS & PUBLICITY:   Before viewers get the chance to watch the shows, the media will have months to spin their take on the schedule.  Press & Publicity does everything it can to make sure the buzz will be positive.  They want casts (especially stars) who they know are appealing and press-friendly.  More generally, the spin moves so quickly these days, Press & Publicity needs to know instantly what message the network is sending with its schedule–a lot of new shows means “Exciting Opportunities For New Talent,” while just a few changes means “Who Needs Change?  Stability Is the Most Important Thing.” 

RESEARCH:  So crucial we’ll deal with it separately:  click HERE.  

SALES:  The center of the universe.  What do advertisers want?  What will they pay for?  How much will they pay?  Remember, the entire Upfront only exists to present the schedule to advertisers; the public’s interest is really a side benefit.  The network’s shows are the merchandise that Sales brings to its buyers, and they’ve got strong opinions on what they can and can’t sell.
THE BRASS:  Not just the network Presidents, but those higher up:  every network these days is owned by a bigger corporate behemoth, and those guys have opinions too.  If they’re smart, they know to ultimately defer to the experts they’ve hired… but that’s if they’re smart.
During the course of the week, as the various divisions have weighed in with their particular spins, the number of people in the War Room starts to dwindle.  In the end, the core group is usually down to the network’s Presidents (creative and sales/business side) and Scheduling.
What’s it like in that Room?  Keep reading.     


Stay with SHOWBUZZDAILY all next week, as we give you the smartest and most informed analysis of the network schedules as they’re announced.

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."