Looking at the 2006 upfronts with 20/20 hindsight
So, it seems to be a good time to look back at our coverage of last year's upfronts, to see what was considered news, which shows became hits, which shows never aired, and which pilots looked promising but mostly ended up causing each network piles of money, bad press, and misery.
Click on the network name to see to our coverage of that network's 2006 upfront:
NBC: The big news from this upfront mainly dealt with what was new: The network decided to pick up both Studio 60 and 30 Rock, two shows about backstage life at SNL-like sketch shows. "Why would they pick up both?" was the hue and cry. The buzz that started at the upfront and lasted through the summer was that S60 was going to be the more successful of the two, due to the fact that Aaron Sorkin was the show's driving creative force.
We all know how that turned out; 30 Rock quickly shifted gears after the first version of the pilot, making it more of a generic workplace comedy that just happened to take place on a sketch show, while S60 kept going with the notion that the people working at their sketch show were doing very important work. 30 Rock is getting another season, while the remainder of S60's episodes will be burned off after sweeps.
More fun and games: Remember when S60 was going to be on Thursdays? That lasted about a week; after ABC moved Grey's Anatomy to Thursday, NBC scrambled and moved S60 to Monday and dropped Medium to mid-season. It all worked out well, didn't it? Other promising pilots introduced by the Peacock: Kidnapped, Raines, Andy Barker, P.I., 20 Good Years, The Black Donnelleys, and The Singles Table (which never saw the light of day). Shows that made it (or should make it, if there's any justice) to a second season: 30 Rock, Friday Night Lights, and, of course, Heroes.
ABC: The big news, of course, was the network moving its Sunday blockbuster Grey's Anatomy to Thursdays, opposite CSI. Other news: Lost was going to run without repeats; it was going to be replaced mid-season by a show called Day Break, which I called "a dramatic version of Groundhog Day," and network president Steve McPherson called "the best role that Taye Diggs has ever played." By the end of the season, Diggs was starring in the Kate Walsh spin-off from Grey's.
There was an interesting pilot called Let's Rob..., which got renamed The Knights of Prosperity and held back to January, where it aired to low ratings. It's now hanging by a thread; ABC may renew it because they like the show. Another interesting pilot was The Nine, which starred, among others, Tim Daly. By the end of the season, Daly was starring in the Kate Walsh spin-off from Grey's.
Other "promising" pilots: Six Degrees, Notes from the Underbelly, Big Day, In Case of Emergency, Help Me Help You, and The Traveler. Underbelly and Big Day got banished to mid-season when the network moved Betty the Ugly (soon to be renamed Ugly Betty) from Fridays to Thursdays; both aired with little fanfare and microscopic ratings. Emergency bowed mid-season and was pulled with one episode left, and The Traveler is ready to air during the all-important summer ratings period. The successes? Men In Trees, Betty, Brothers & Sisters.
CBS: They introduced the least number of pilots, given their already solid position at the top of the network heap. But there were still some issues with the pilots they did introduce:
Remember Waterfront? Yeah, didn't think so; that pilot, where Joe Pantoliano plays the mayor of Providence, got axed after a couple of episodes were made and the show never aired. 3 Lbs. did air, but got pulled after three episodes. Same thing happened to Smith, despite the presence of Ray Liotta, Virginia Madsen, and John Wells.
Jericho sounded like a pretty interesting premise -- a town isolated after a nuclear bomb blast -- and it started off well, but is now on the bubble after CBS put it on a Lost-style mid-season hiatus; the ratings were abysmal when it came back. The Class was introduced as a Monday at 8:30 entry. It was switched to 8 before the pilot aired, then back to 8:30 after a few episodes. Meanwhile, it had its season cut short, it's cast shaved down by one, and its format re-jiggered; it still may not return. Shark seems like a safe bet to come back, as does the mid-season replacement Rules of Engagement.
FOX: Wow. Talk about an 0-fer. Not one of the prime-time shows FOX introduced last spring got big ratings, unless they aired right after American Idol ('Til Death actually made the top ten in the weeks it aired after AI). Not every show is a sure bet to be cancelled, but it seems unlikely we're going to see The Winner or Celebrity Duets again. Standoff will get a second shot in the summer, but it also seems unlikely to return. Because of the post-Idol ratings, Death might get a reprieve. But Vanished, The Wedding Bells, Happy Hour, and Justice are all gone.
Remember Vanished? It was like Kidnapped, only with Ming-Na instead of Dana Delany. No one could tell the difference between the shows, and both were gone before Thanksgiving. Happy Hour... whoa. What a stinker. And The Wedding Bells didn't even have a pilot yet; FOX was relying on David E. Kelley to piece together two failed pilots (one of which was NBC's The Singles Table) into one coherent show. It was gone quickly. Another show, Mark Burnett and Steven Spielberg's movie competition show On The Lot, is scheduled to start airing on May 22.
Ironically, the show that's most likely to be renewed is Talkshow with Spike Feresten, which prompted a lot of people to scratch their heads and ask "Spike who?" after the show was announced. But it's a pretty decent little show, and it's on Saturdays at midnight on FOX. What else do they have?
The CW: The new network only introduced three shows: Runaway, Palm Springs, and The Game. Runaway was gone within a month. Palm Springs got renamed Hidden Palms, and it will finally see the light of day on May 30. The Game is on the bubble but has a shot.
Really, the big news here was the combining of The WB and UPN, with the promise that a bigger network with more resources will generate higher ratings. That wasn't the case; in fact ratings for many shows were lower than they were on their old networks. They also relied too much on old shows that were either dead -- 7th Heaven -- or on their last legs. By the end of the season, some of each networks' more venerable shows were either on their way out (Heaven, Gilmore Girls) or in danger of being cancelled (Veronica Mars).