Scaled-Back TV Upfronts Go On With Fewer Stars, Programming Details

By Michael O'Connell April 30, 2008, 4:05 PM EDT

Ugly Betty cast members Mark Indelicato and America Ferrera introduced ABC's presentation last year with a musical number.

Photo: ABC/Donna Svennevik

The WGA strike put a kink in the TV networks’ plans for a traditional Upfront Week, but all five of the major players are going ahead with some sort of event during the week of May 12. Variety reported yesterday that this year’s festivities will be largely symbolic, with many executives and talent staying behind in Los Angeles to work on the pilots that haven’t yet been produced.  

cited industry insiders who think this year’s efforts are “smaller,” “slim pickings,” and “a shame.” This is all a far cry from the upfronts of yore, or even last year, when the cast of Ugly Betty opened the ABC presentation with a musical number.

Budgetary concerns are at the root of some of the scaling down, but much of the restrained plans have to do with the lack of clarity in the new programming. The strike pushed pilot development so far back that a lot of the new series being added to the schedules have yet to complete a full episode or, in some cases, film a single frame. ABC reportedly intends to avoid mentioning the shows that haven’t even delivered a proper pilot, and the CW plans to scrap a complete presentation for a smaller announcement at a cocktail party.

NBC has basically already staged its upfront. The network announced a full year's worth of programming earlier this month and has begun shopping its ad buys. In lieu of rehashing the already-established schedule in May, the network is getting ready for the “NBC Universal Experience,” a carnival of sorts at Rockefeller Center that planners are keeping tightly under wraps.  

Ben Silverman, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios, told Advertising Age in an interview published today that NBC's early blocking of programs allows it to focus on promotional elements and the digital arena.

Upfronts, whatever this year's incarnations may be, are less than two weeks away. NBC kicks off the festivities on Monday, May 12, ABC presents the next day, CBS shows that Wednesday, and both the CW and Fox hold court on May 15.

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