The networks are about to go into overdrive. As the current television season comes to a close in May, the networks are already looking to the next season. May is the power month for the television industry. They want strong ratings at the season's end, while making deals to buy next season or new pilots. This is widely done with little more than educated guessing. This May has a few more factors to consider than last year.
ABC, even though doing well with Lost and Desperate Housewives, has lost Monday Night Football which leaves a lot of air time to fill. All the networks face the creation of CW from the UPN/WB combo. And all the networks must face that they have hit shows that are entering their sixth or seventh season and may not be as interesting as they once were (American Idol).
But the biggest new factor for networks and advertisers is internet television.
Other concerns to be broached by advertisers include the impact of TiVo and other new technologies. Will downloads of primetime shows be embraced by viewers in significant numbers? And what will the spread of programming to portable gizmos do to advertising rates? As webcasts become more prevalent, the speculation surrounding the upfront can only become more complicated.
Most of the networks are combating this by betting on star power. Several pilots include the return of television stars like Courtney Cox, Calista Flockhart and Heather Locklear. Other pilots are hoping well known movie stars like James Woods and Ving Rhames will be the ticket to a hit series.
But actors aren't the only big names involved in next season’s TV lineup.
Behind the cameras, television is experiencing the Jerry Bruckheimer effect: Feature film directors will make the leap to the small screen in record numbers for fall '06. Spike Lee tops the list of movie directors freelancing in TV. He will direct the James Woods vehicle titled Shark, about a Los Angeles attorney-to-the-stars who quits his lucrative job to become a prosecutor. Lee is hardly alone. Directors Jon Avnet, Peter Berg, Joe Carnahan, Callie Khouri, James Mangold, Barry Sonnenfeld, Tim Story, Andy Tennant and Simon West have pilots in the works for various networks.