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TV Networks Offer Advertisers Plenty Of New Shows


Broadcast and cable networks are in New York this week presenting their fall schedules, giving TV fans everywhere hope that the new crop of shows might be better than the last. At this annual gathering, the networks sell commercial time to advertisers in advance or upfront - about $9 billion worth in past years. Kim Masters, an editor-at-large for The Hollywood Reporter, has been covering the upfronts all this week.

Good morning.

KIM MASTERS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And among the network presentations, let's start with NBC, which has really been struggling in the ratings for the last several years.

MASTERS: Yes. NBC went first. And you have to picture, these are big venues filled with advertisers. And NBC has been struggling. It's been bought by Comcast, the cable giant. It has a new chairman, whose name is Bob Greenblatt. He used to run Showtime. There is more hope around Bob Greenblatt that he will somehow save this network.

He did roll out a lot of new shows. I think the one that is clearly closest to his heart is called "Smash." It has Debra Messing and apparently a breakout performance by Katharine McPhee, who was a contestant on "American Idol" a few years ago. It's behind the scenes on a Broadway show. Steven Spielberg is involved. And it's not coming until midseason, but obviously Bob Greenblatt loves this show.

MONTAGNE: So after seeing the NBC presentation, you switched gears and you went to a very successful network's presentation - Fox.

MASTERS: I'll tell you. It was such a contrast, Renee, on Monday. First, NBC kind of doing its best to sell a lot of new shows with a lot of uncertainty. And then Fox just comes powering out with all of its stars - with "House," with "Glee."

And of course it has a couple of huge new things coming onto its network in the fall. "X Factor," which brings Simon Cowell back with Paula Abdul, his old partner from "American Idol." This show has been a giant hit in other countries, and it feels like - they call "American Idol" Death Star. And this could be Death Star II.

It's also looking to add comedies, as are all the networks. And some new stuff. But they don't have a lot of real estate, because they've got a lot of hits.

MONTAGNE: And in the other direction, I gather ABC is having to introduce a lot of new shows this fall.

MASTERS: They are throwing a pile of new shows onto the schedule too, to try and find the hit.

And they have a very soapy sort of - they call it pure candy. They're doing "Charlie's Angels." They're going to have a show called "Good Christian Belles," which was not the original title. You'll have to think about what the B stood for originally. This is based on a series of books that are very popular.

And then they're trying to get the guys in with a little comedy. They are bringing Tim Allen back. He hasn't been on a series since "Home Improvement," which was a very big performer in the day. And he's back again.

And they've got a little group of comedies about, it seems like, men who are terrified about losing their masculine identity. That seemed to be one of the subthemes of this year's pilot season.

MONTAGNE: OK. So ABC. Now, let's move on to the number one network, CBS.

MASTERS: The big story there is, of course, they have found a replacement for Charlie Sheen - Ashton Kutcher. They are going to reboot "Two and a Half Men." That is the number one sitcom on television. That is a huge valuable property for CBS and Warner Brothers, which produces it.

MONTAGNE: And finally - and of course this is all important at these upfronts -spending on television ads fell off when the economy was at its worst a few years back. Is it turning around?

MASTERS: Absolutely. The networks are, I think, feeling very hopeful. You know, it's just sort of counterintuitive. The TV audience, the broadcast audience, is continuing to fragment. You know, there's a lot of other stuff to do in the digital era. But TV still aggregates those eyeballs. TV broadcast is still the big tent. So they're thinking they could go to $10 billion this year in ad sales, and that's a lot of business.

MONTAGNE: Kim, thanks very much.

MASTERS: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Kim Masters is speaking to us from our New York bureau. She hosts THE BUSINESS on member station KCRW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.