Canadian upfronts likely with end of strike

As news about the end of the US writers' strike spread this week, at least one broadcaster began planning an upfront.

CTV has told MiC that it intends to present an upfront this year. At press time, Global had yet to confirm or deny any similar plans. But if one net holds a party, it’s probably a safe bet the other will follow suit.

Homegrown shows green-lit by CTV in December, such as Flashpoint and The Listener, will begin production in the spring, and the sixth season of Canadian Idol is set to debut in June – so it may be reasonable to assume any upfront will include a big push for those shows, footage or no footage.

Which series are coming back when? CTV reports it is in constant contact with its US distribution partners, and the programming schedule will evolve over the next few months. With writers set to get back to work in the US, some media are reporting on shows in production, with official announcements expected as early as tomorrow (see a brief summary at the end of this story).

How are media strategists responding to the writers’ probable return to work? ‘I think we’ll hear a lot of good news for the next while, as production of existing fall shows gets back in gear and we get a delayed spring season, which will run into June,’ OMD Canada managing director Sherry O’Neil tells MiC. ‘This will interfere with the finale season we usually have clients build campaigns around in early May. However, fresh scripted programming will be well-received by mid-April, when we are all worn out from our Survivor and Idol runs. The finales will be delayed until early June and will have to compete against the NHL playoffs – not good news for CBC or the scripted series.’

In the meantime, CTV’s day-to-day conversations with clients continue, and daily updates are posted to The net has also instituted a weekly CTV Sales & Marketing Newsletter, which is sent out every Monday, advising buyers of changes to the sked.

O’Neil says she wasn’t surprised to hear that CTV intends to hold an upfront presentation. ‘We heard [NBC/Universal's] Jeff Zucker indicate at NATPE that they would be holding an upfront, even if it wasn’t a big party, for their customers to see the shows. It would certainly signal the beginning of the buying season.’

ZenithOptimedia president/CEO Sunni Boot says she knew it was likely CTV would follow suit if NBC indicated upfronts would happen. Is it small comfort that a Canadian upfront is likely? ‘Yes,’ says Boot, ‘but I’m hesitating, because with what the industry has gone through, they’ve worked twice as hard to maintain client ratings. It was just an awful lot of work on the part of Canadian networks and buyers.

‘The nightmare for us was that a campaign that would normally take 100 hours was now taking 300 hours,’ adds Boot. ‘It was a manpower issue. But with the exception of late night, we didn’t see wholesale declines of anything. The headlines in the press were ‘The sky is falling, the sky is falling.’ It wasn’t.’

The threat of losing the Academy Awards to a strike, as the industry lost the Golden Globes, is now non-existent. Agencies such as ZenithOptimedia, which have purchased time in this month’s Oscars, can now invest more heavily in the awards without the fear of cancellation, which Boot says they will likely do. She adds that the strike has been a good thing in that it has probably ‘weeded out the bad writers’ and will ultimately lead to better product from the studios.

And, Boot adds, events have finally made the industry question (yet again) whether glamorous upfront presentations in the spring are necessary anymore. ‘It’s kind of an antiquated way of doing business, where we declare this artificial timing and say, ‘OK, here’s the shotgun! Everybody go down and view those shows, assess those shows, figure it out for your clients and by X date commit your dollars.’ Increasingly, clients are saying no. Very few clients’ fiscal goes from September to August. But there is a good side to it. It does make clients sign off and pay attention to media investments.’

What’s the word on shows?

On Monday, ABC renewed Dirty Sexy Money, Private Practice, Pushing Daisies, Samantha Who?, Brothers & Sisters and Lost, while new eps are expected to hit the air before spring of Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy and Ugly Betty. Boston Legal could return to shooting as early as next week.

Reports indicate that CBS is moving forward with the CSI franchise, as well as NCIS, Numb3rs, Cold Case, Criminal Minds, Ghost Whisperer, Moonlight, Two and a Half Men and How I Met Your Mother. Shark and The Unit are on hold until the fall, while Swingtown, The New Adventures of Old Christine and Rules of Engagement are up in the air. Some CBS originals are possible by June.

Fox is set to air new eps of House into June, or August, but 24 won’t be back until January 2009. No new eps of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles or Canterbury’s Law are expected. NBC will likely go ahead with ER, Law & Order: SVU and Medium, while Heroes might not be back until late summer or early fall. Futures are in doubt for Bionic Woman, Journeyman and Friday Night Lights.

CW is gearing up to bring back Smallville, Gossip Girl (possibly by summer), One Tree Hill, Reaper and Supernatural.