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TV networks bet on reboots, spin-offs & military shows...will it work?

by Cameron Kell and Darby Maloney | The Frame

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The week of Upfronts is over, and there are so many new shows to look forward to. But did TV networks sell themselves well to advertisers? Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Get ready, because the Fall TV season is just around the corner.

While the on-going saga in D.C. played out on CNN this week, the broadcast networks were in New York City at their annual gathering with ad buyers known as the Upfronts. The networks put on songs and dance numbers and played trailers of new shows in hopes of generating buzz and selling ad time. The Frame spoke with two journalists to find out what's on offer for TV audiences and advertisers alike.

Jeanine Poggi is a media reporter at Ad Age, and Daniel Fienberg is a TV critic at The Hollywood Reporter.

To hear their full analysis click the blue play button at the top of the page. Below are a few highlights.

Interview Highlights

What were the networks promoting to ad buyers at this year's Upfronts?

Poggi: Stability and safety. They really took the opportunity to write home the idea that, with [broadcast] TV, you know who's watching and when they're watching, and there's a third party measuring all of that. All of the noise and concerns around digital advertising, with YouTube and questionable content there, and Facebook and its measurement system, the TV networks really took the opportunity to take a step back and remind advertisers that there is no ad fraud, there are no viewability issues — you know who's watching TV.

I'd imagine that ad buyers go into these events a little bit skeptical, because they know that the trends in ratings are not promising. How would you say that ad buyers were reacting to this year's Upfronts at the end of this week? Is it possible that minds were changed about the TV networks?

Poggi: I don't think so. I think that, for the most part, the takeaway was that things look like much of the same. Even if you just take one of the biggest trends in programming next season, it's all of these reboots. You have the "Will and Grace" revival, there's a "Roseanne" revival. The CW's bringing back "Dynasty," there are spinoffs of "Grey's Anatomy" and "The Big Bang Theory," and there's another "Bachelor" franchise and another "Dancing with the Stars" franchise.

It's just a lot of the same, which, for the TV networks, it's about playing upon safety and familiarity. But for the most part, buyers probably went into the week and walked away from the week feeling the same way.

There were a lot of spin-offs and reboots announced at the Upfronts this year. I want to know, who are those shows for? What's the audience for the return of "Roseanne"?

Fienberg: [laughs] I don't honestly have a clue, especially with certain ones. "Will and Grace" seemed to excite people, for whatever reason, but the reaction in the room to "Roseanne" was near-silence. It was kind of eerie, like the ad-buyers didn't care, they didn't know why they were there. Like, Why in 2017 are we supposed to be getting excited about "Roseanne"? I just don't get that at all.

ABC was justifying it as, Who would you want talking about the modern condition more than Roseanne? I periodically follow her on Twitter, and I'm not sure that she's actually the answer to that question. [laughs]

But does that mean that the networks are saying, right or wrong, that there's an audience they can get that doesn't include Millennials? We're going after people in their forties and fifties, because we know how to reach them and what they might be interested?

Fienberg: I think that's part of it, and there's also a lot of throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks. Do American audiences want all of these rah-rah military shows? There are a half-dozen of them, but I don't know. The networks think we do, but they thought we wanted time-travel shows last year. So who knows?

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