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TV Networks Count On Reborn Old Shows To Bring In Ad Dollars

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Much advertising money is at stake as TV executives offer up there new lineups this week. In this ritual, called the upfronts, networks display new shows. To be more precise, they try to convince advertisers they can get just the right audience to watch and deliver that audience to the advertisers. Kim Masters of the Hollywood Reporter and host of KCRW's The Business spoke with Renee Montagne.

RENEE MONTAGNE, BYLINE: Good morning.

KIM MASTERS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Could you briefly remind us how important the upfronts are?

MASTERS: Yeah, this is more or less $9 billion worth of advertising that is bought on the strength of these presentations. They take place at big venues like Radio City Music Hall or Lincoln Center, and these venues are completely full with people who could buy advertising. Of course that is the lifeblood of the big broadcast networks.

MONTAGNE: Something maybe special this year is that the old is now new again.

MASTERS: Yeah, the networks, or obviously the broadcast networks, like CBS and NBC, are competing with the streaming services, you know, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon. All of these places are creating original programming to complete with the networks as well as cable. So the networks want to breakthrough, and how do they do that? They want something that would be recognizable, so things are coming back. NBC has a show called "Heroes Reborn." You might remember they had a series called "Heroes." Now it's reborn. Fox is bringing back "The X-Files." ABC will have "The Muppets." They say it's not your grandmother's "Muppets." They're doing kind of a docu-series, kind of like "The Office," where they talk to the camera, and it's a satirical thing. CBS will have "Supergirl." They're going to do movies, you know. Fox will have "Minority Report," you might remember was a movie with Tom Cruise. It won't have Tom Cruise, but it's the same thing. CBS will have a show "Rush Hour," again a movie. So stuff that you might say I kind of may know what that is; I want to check it out.

MONTAGNE: Something that people kind of might know even without quite knowing all the names is that many of these shows and series, behind them are significant producers, very important producers, and their power is on display.

MASTERS: Yes. I mean, each network really has one. NBC has Dick Wolf. He is programming "Chicago Fire," "Chicago PD," "Chicago Medical" and "SVU" - "Law & Order: SVU." That's four hours of NBC's prime-time schedule. Shonda Rhimes of course hugely important. You know, they joked at the ABC presentation that Shonda is paying for this shindig where they fly in all the stars, you know, and all the expense. She is paying for it with - you know, she still has "Grey's Anatomy." She has "Scandal." She has "How To Get Away With Murder" and a new one called "The Catch." So TGIT is their thing - thank goodness it's Thursday - with her shows, and she is programming, again, four hours of ABC's schedule. Ryan Murphy on Fox, he had "Glee," "American Horror," a new one called "Scream Queens," and Chuck Lorre on CBS. These are very important people in the network world.

MONTAGNE: And this year, digital streaming services are clearly changing the game in terms of both shows and advertising. How so?

MASTERS: Well, it's just the competition is so great, and people are getting very used to watching what they want, when they want. So the idea of the old-school broadcast network with a schedule, like this is what our Thursday night looks like, people record these things, you know and watch when they want to. CBS, for example, has started its own what they call over-the-top streaming service because they see the future, and that is changing the game completely. The old model of advertising, buying ads, is going away. But it's still vibrant, and the networks do still attract the most sizable audiences out there. And, as far as we know, you know, Netflix doesn't reveal numbers and neither does Amazon.

MONTAGNE: Kim, thanks very much.

MASTERS: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: That's Kim Masters talking to us about this year's upfronts. She hosts the program The Business on member station KCRW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.