- Cliff Lipson/CBS
The broadcast networks just wrapped one of the most chaotic weeks for television viewers, but also one of the most telling.
In addition to announcing which shows have met their end, the networks presented their new series for the 2016-2017 seasons this week in an annual event known as upfronts. At upfronts, the networks put on a glitzy show for advertisers and spin a web of statistics in order to entice companies to spend their commercial dollars.
At upfronts, you can see trends begin to form and a glimpse into what challenges the industry is facing.
Here are six things we learned about the TV networks from upfronts:
Reboots, remakes, and spin-offs are still going strong.
- Richard Foreman/FOX
If y0u thought last year’s crop of shows was packed with reboots, remakes, and spin-offs, wait until you see this year’s list. TV series based on movies, like “Lethal Weapon, ” “Frequency,” and “The Exorcist,” are a big part of the upcoming class.
At the core of this strategy is fear. Networks are afraid to try new things. And when a title or concept was successful in another form – such as a movie, book, or comic book – businesses feel more comfortable with the decision, because they believe they arrive with built-in audiences.
It’s a solid theory, but not foolproof. Looking back on this year alone, the fallen copycat shows include Fox’s “Minority Report” and CBS’s “Limitless” and “Rush Hour.”
The bottom line is more important than ever.
- ABC/Nicole Wilder
This year, we saw networks cutting the cord on shows that, in the past, have had some immunity to cancellation because they were created as part of longtime or important partnerships.
We saw it over and over again at ABC. The network canceled “The Muppets,” which comes from ABC’s owner, Disney, and “Agent Carter,” from sister company Marvel, which still has “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” at the network. It also got rid of cult show “Nashville,” which comes from the network’s own production studio.
Then over at CBS, we saw the network unload “Supergirl,” the expensive but solid-rated DC Comics show, on sister network CW. Arguably, “Supergirl” should have gone to the more youthful network to begin with, especially since it already had three other DC series.
What does this tell us about the state of the TV industry? First, networks have an eye on the bottom line now more than ever. And second, there must be a lot of talented show creators out there if networks are willing to get rid of some established players.
The surprising history show trend is here.
- Qantrell Colbert/FOX
There are no fewer than six new shows that deal with time travel or are set in the past. They range from comedic takes like Fox’s “Making History” to action-adventure like NBC’s “Timeless” and drama like CW’s remake of the movie “Frequency.”
It’s unclear why the networks are turning to history for show ideas, except maybe for the success of shows like FX’s “The People v. O.J. Simpson” and Hulu’s JFK drama “11.22.63.” Or even the huge success of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” which has a very medieval atmosphere.
Comedic male leads make their return to broadcast TV.
- Darren Michaels/CBS
There are several new comedies headed up by funnymen of TV’s past. CBS, for example, picked up “Friends” star Matt LeBlanc on “Man With a Plan,” “King of Queens” actor Kevin James on “Kevin Can Wait,” and “Community” star Joel McHale on “The Great Indoors.”
Over at NBC, 70-year-old John Lithgow returns to comedic series TV with “Trial & Error,” and Marlon Wayans gets a family comedy called, well, “Marlon.” Ted Danson joins Kristen Bell on the afterlife comedy “The Good Place.”
The rise of the super-producers.
- Robert Voets/CBS
The networks are relying on an increasingly small pool of producers. The media has dubbed them the “super-producers.” You may not have heard their names, but you likely have watched one of their shows.
Shonda Rhimes, for example, has an entire night on ABC dedicated to her shows. And ABC just added her “Romeo and Juliet” sequel “Still Star-Crossed.”
Over at NBC, Chicago is becoming a very popular city. Producer Dick Wolf just added “Chicago Justice” to his stable of shows, which already had “Chicago PD,” “Chicago Fire,” and “Chicago Med.”
But possibly the most super of all producers is Greg Berlanti. He has at least five shows on the air on two networks, with countless others waiting in the wings. He’s behind all the DC Comics shows on The CW, including the recently transplanted “Supergirl.”
It’s war with online video.
- Frank Micelotte/FOX
Online video platforms threw down the gauntlet, and the networks fought back this week.
According to a Google study commissioned by YouTube, the video platform attracts more viewers in the age group most attractive to advertisers, 18- to 49-year-olds, than the top 10 TV shows.
In response, the networks sent both their executives and their stars off to battle the belief that digital properties reach more people than TV.
In a video featuring “Family Guy” cocreator Seth MacFarlane, his message was cut off by a “skip ad” prompt as on YouTube.
ABC’s late-night show host Jimmy Kimmel complained, “There’s too many [upfronts], it’s crazy. Do Crackle, and Vox, and Vevo really need to have upfronts? These aren’t networks: These are sound effects when Batman punches a bad guy.”
The execs responded with throwing out more statistics, such as the NBC ad chief’s claim that the average person spends 7 times more time watching TV versus being on Facebook and 15 times more hours watching TV than they do watching YouTube videos.
Fox also touted that 28% of its viewers watch via on demand, which doesn’t allow you to fast-forward commercials.
All of the networks emphasized that the root of all this online video is the content, and that no one produces better quality content than broadcast TV.