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Upfronts 2019: US networks chart stable lineups ahead of fall season

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Upfronts 2019: US networks chart stable lineups ahead of fall season

Although ad-supported video-on-demand streaming packages played prevalent roles during many of the programmers' presentations during upfront week, linear schedule stability was also at the forefront of their pitches to advertisers.

The upfronts are a series of events where network executives pitch new TV lineups to advertising buyers.

During Walt Disney Co.'s May 14 pre-upfront press event, ABC Entertainment President Karey Burke noted that the company’s long-term strategy is to "stay the course," as ABC (US) is adding only three new scripted series during the upcoming fall season, its lowest number in years.

It is a plan the other broadcasters are largely enacting for the 2019-2020 TV season.

Burke said in this era of peak TV — with some 500 original scripted shows across linear, premium cable and streaming services — it has become more difficult for network series to break through without the proper marketing support. Without the necessary backing, it is hard to avoid series churn, she said.

Three a key

Three is a significant number at FOX (US), NBC (US), The CW (US) and CBS (US). At its inaugural upfront as part of Fox Corp., FOX presented a lineup heavy on sports with "Thursday Night Football," college football on Saturday night and the World Series, plus World Wrestling Entertainment Inc.'s "SmackDown Live!" on Friday. It also has four new comedies and six dramas, but only three new shows will premiere this fall.

NBC, poised to be the winner of September-to-May TV season for the fifth time in six years among adults 18 to 49, is keeping five of its seven nights intact this fall. Underscoring its own version of stability, NBC placed a three-season order for top drama "This Is Us."

For its part, The CW has three rookie entrants and 14 returning series.

CBS, the most-watched network for 11 consecutive seasons, has eight new shows in its arsenal. Five will debut in the fall, three on Thursday night, no longer home to "The Big Bang Theory," which ended its 12-season run May 16. Monday will be home to a pair of CBS newcomers this fall.

While something can be said for scheduling continuity, viewership continues to wane in the face of subscription video-on-demand offerings from streaming leader Netflix Inc. and Amazon.com Inc.'s Prime Video, as well as delayed viewing through TV Everywhere authenticated vehicles and other platforms.

Through May 8, ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC averaged a 1.1 rating or 1.44 million adults 18 to 49, the demographic targeted by most advertisers, in prime time. The four-network C3 average was 1.57 million adults 18 to 49, a gain of only 130,000 viewers over live same-day averages. C3 is the measure of commercials watched both live and within three days of DVR playback. It remains the metric under which most of prime-time advertising is bought and sold.

CBS, whose primary target is adults 25-54 set, averaged a 1.7 and 2.1 million of those viewers demo, tying NBC for first in those measures.

Spinoffs sail

Last upfront, reboots took center stage, with new versions of CBS' "Magnum P.I." and The CW's "Charmed" and "Roswell, New Mexico." All three of those were renewed, a fate not shared by the second turn for Candice Bergen's "Murphy Brown" on CBS.

During this round of upfront presentations, the networks instead turned to spinoffs: "Katy Keene," veering from The CW's "Riverdale"; "mixed-ish" will serve as a prequel to ABC's "black-ish"; "FBI: Most Wanted" will air on CBS; and FOX will take its "9-1-1- franchise" to Austin, Texas with "9-1-1: Lone Star."

With "The Big Bang Theory" concluding its 279-episode run, CBS is entrusting its prequel, "Young Sheldon," to lead off Thursday night in the slot occupied by its progenitor, which was linear TV's top comedy.

Grappling gains

Wrestling opened upfront week and remained a presence throughout. WWE Superstar John Cena attempted to help the "Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon in an update to Apple Inc.'s iconic "1984" commercial in a video that started NBCUniversal Media LLC's presentation, which also showcased retired WWE Divas, the Bella Twins. "Raw" remains the Monday night anchor for USA (US).

Later that day, Cena appeared along with Ronda Rousey, WWE Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon and her husband Paul "Triple H" Levesque at FOX's upfront, trumpeting the arrival of "SmackDown Live!" as the network’s new 52-week Friday night franchise, starting Oct. 4.

AT&T Inc.'s WarnerMedia, meanwhile, pinned a deal with the All-Elite Wrestling circuit, encompassing weekly shows on TNT (US), as well as streaming content through B/R Live and pay-per-view events.

Goodbyes

In addition to CBS upfront attendees getting a chance to say bid farewell to the "Big Bang" cast and series creator Chuck Lorre, media buyers and planners at the Disney event cheered Steve Levitan and members of "Modern Family" ahead of the Emmy-winning sitcom's final season. The CW also brought out the stars of "Supernatural," which will end its 15-season run.

Another notable goodbye during the upcoming season: FOX's "Empire," the hip-hop soap and one-time cultural cynosure, will complete its original run with a sixth campaign.