NBC's reason to strut
The Peacock Network may have something to be proud of: according to a report, it will air 3 of the 4 most anticipated new fall shows.
By Paul R. La Monica, CNNMoney.com senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The ratings nightmare that NBC has found itself in for the past few years may finally come to an end this fall.

According to a report by Brandimensions, a research firm that measures consumer opinion based on online buzz from blogs, message boards and other Internet sources, the Peacock Network has three of the four most anticipated new shows: "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," "Heroes" and "30 Rock."

Bloggers and other Internet users have high hopes for several new NBC shows this fall, including "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip."

"Studio 60," a drama about what goes on behind the scenes at a sketch comedy show by far received the most favorable buzz. NBC is betting heavily on the show, which was created by "The West Wing" scribe Aaron Sorkin and stars former "Friends" cast member Matthew Perry.

The network originally decided at its upfront presentation in mid-May to put "Studio 60" on Thursday nights at 9 p.m. ET, a spot that would place it against CBS's powerhouse "CSI". But later in May, NBC switched the time slot to Monday at 10 p.m. ET after ABC announced that it was moving its big hit "Grey's Anatomy" to Thursdays at 9.

Michael Coristine, an entertainment analyst at Brandimensions, said the time slot move already appears to be paying dividends. According to the report, one blogger wrote before NBC moved "Studio 60" to Mondays that although the show looked interesting, "NBC is practically committing suicide" by sticking it against "CSI" and "Grey's Anatomy."

"There was a greater sense in mid-May that the time slot for 'Studio 60' would be a detractor. Based on comments now that's no longer the case and NBC appears to have made an excellent move to give this show a chance. It would have been lost in the shuffle," Coristine said.

NBC: Out of the hole?

NBC finished in fourth place with the key 18-49 year old demographic that advertisers crave for the second consecutive year and is sorely in need of new hits.

According to media buyers, NBC was able to rake in about $1.9 billion in this year's upfront commercial buying period, about the same as it did last year. But that figure is down from $2.9 billion in upfront ad sales from two years ago.

In addition, because of NBC's continued ratings woes, buyers said that the network was forced to lower prices and instead sold more ad inventory.

So the fact that NBC, which is owned by General Electric (Charts), could have three breakout hits is obviously a good sign.

"Heroes," which was the second most anticipated new show, airs in the 9 PM Monday slot before "Studio 60." "30 Rock," a comedy about what goes on behind the scenes at a comedy sketch show (sound familiar?), stars "Saturday Night Live"'s Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin, and ranked as the fourth most eagerly awaited new show.

NBC also has another "new" show on its schedule that should attract big audiences and advertisers as well: the return of National Football League games. NBC will air games on Sunday nights.

NBC wasn't the only network to receive positive attention, though. Other shows that generated a large amount of favorable buzz were CBS's nuclear apocalypse-themed drama "Jericho," which was the third most anticipated new show, ABC's "Six Degrees" and "Betty the Ugly" and Fox's "Vanished."

CBS (Charts) and Fox, which is owned by News Corp (Charts)., have the least at stake with new shows since both are returning many big hits from last year and did not have that many holes to fill in their schedule.

Walt Disney's (Charts) ABC is in a bit of a pickle, though. The network has several bona fide monster hits coming back, such as "Desperate Housewives," "Grey's Anatomy" and "Lost."

But it is also launching the most new shows of any network: nine. And, according to the Brandimensions report, four of ABC's new shows were among the six receiving the least amount of favorable sentiment.

"Any time a network throws that many shows at the wall, it's fair to assume that not all of them would resonate with audiences," said Coristine.

Pros bet on different horses

So will the blogosphere be an accurate predictor of ratings success? The buzz from average consumers differs greatly from big media buying agencies.

In a fall preview report issued by Carat USA last month, the firm said that, based on a preliminary look at the upcoming TV season, three new shows that had a good chance of being renewed for 2007-2008 are CBS's "Shark" and "The Class" and Fox's "'Til Death."

But according to the Brandimensions report, only "Shark," which stars James Woods as an irascible attorney - think "House" but as a lawyer - and will air on Thursdays after "CSI" was getting a lot of positive attention. It was the ninth most anticipated new show of the season. "The Class" ranked 20th, and "'Til Death" was 21st out of 26 new shows.

John Rash, senior vice president and director of broadcast negotiations with Campbell Mithun, a Minneapolis-based media buying firm owned by ad agency Interpublic, said he also thought that "Shark" and "The Class" would be hits, as would CBS's heist drama "Smith."

But he added that the online viewers appear to be right about "Studio 60." He thinks that will be a hit as well.

Shari Anne Brill, vice president and director of programming with Carat USA, said that her firm will release a full list of shows that it thinks will be this fall's hits within the next few weeks. But she said she's not sure that "Studio 60" will be one of them.

"I'm very strong on 'Studio 60' but based on my initial talks with people who aren't in the business, I'm wondering if it's a little insidery. It may be a niche show," she said. "The trick is to pick shows that I think will have mass appeal."

And Rash said that, overall, there is a big difference between preseason hype and actual success.

"There is a relationship between buzz and success but it's not ironclad. 'Father of the Pride' had a tremendous amount of buzz a few years ago but failed miserably," he said, referring to the computer-animated show from NBC in 2004 that was a critical and ratings flop.


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