UPDATED THROUGHOUT: First it was turmoil inside NBC’s fall scripted shows like Kath & Kim and My Own Worst Enemy. Now there’s trouble inside CBS’s primetime sked. I’m told that The Ex List‘s creator/showrunner Diane Ruggiero is exiting: some say she quit over creative differences, others say she was pushed to jump. In any case, executive producer Rick Eid will take over running the show. And CBS stock has been tumbling. Les Moonves this week told Wall Street what a lousy year it was for advertising, especially with the problems of U.S. automakers. But don’t cry for his beleaguered Big Media company yet: he predicted an ad turnaround in 2009.
Indeed, automotive marketers and movie studios are leading the way to help NBC sell out mid-80% of its 2009 Super Bowl XLIII ad inventory earlier than expected — including about a dozen or so advertisers who agreed to pay $3 million for a 30-second spot (as opposed to the $2.7 mil that Fox asked in 2008). And NBC claims to Ad Age it’ll set prices higher as the Tampa game date draws near. Talk about an obvious attempt to goose early ad buys. But here’s what I think is hilarious: NBC is using the Super Bowl to try and sell ad packages across its properties because NBC’s primetime is gonna stink up the joint this season.
Here’s why I know networks are preparing for the worst: because bosses like Les Moonves and Jeff Zucker keep telling business reporters that their companies are “so much more” than just primetime. As for CBS’ prospects, their sked looks better than NBC’s but far from great. CBS thinks I’m selling their fall line-up “a little short. The comedy Worst Week is easily the most critically acclaimed new comedy of the season; the Simon Baker drama The Mentalist, is getting good advance notices; and test audiences have been excited about Jerry Bruckheimer’s new drama Eleventh Hour, which the press will see for the first time next week.” Nice spin, but I still think the network entertainment team there is past its expiration date.
At troubled stepsister The CW, other media inexplicably haven’t fussed over the dramatic falloff of 90210‘s follow-up to its Tori Spelling-less opener — but I will. When 90210 can’t beat in its 2nd original airing what the old WB’s Gilmore Girls got in its reruns, it’s time for Moonves to fire UPN-turned-CW boss Dawn Ostroff.
And let’s not forget to look at Peter Liguori’s Fox: numbers for this week’s debut of the second season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles were lousy. And the network’s sitcoms got off to a slow start even against no competition. Fringe has generated some decent media reviews, but this looks like yet another fall that’s just dead air until American Idol starts up its 8th season. And two Fox midseason shows have shut down production because of script problems: Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse and Howard Gordon’s 24.
As for ABC, aside from executive roiling, and nasty Katherine Heigl, there shouldn’t be a major primetime headache because most of the new shows don’t even start until midseason. Unless you don’t count the showrunner musical chairs on ABC’s unwatchable Dirty Sexy Money. First, Josh Reims left last year. Then Dexter‘s Daniel Cerone sealed an overall deal with ABC Studios last fall and joined Dirty Sexy Money as showrunner right after the end of the writers’ strike in February. Then, in June, Cerone’s 3 already-shot episodes for the 2008-2009 season were canned (talk about an expensive decision), and he was replaced by Jon Harmon Feldman (whose Big Shots didn’t last very long on ABC but who worked with Dirty Sexy Money‘s exec producer Greg Berlanti on Dawson’s Creek). As part of the transition, Dirty Sexy Money moved up its hiatus to July, giving the show a chance to regroup. So that’s three showrunners in the show’s short lifetime. I would never have brought back the series in the first place: great cast, horrible storyline. ABC’s Anne Sweeney, Steve McPherson, and Mark Pedowitz should have put this dog out of its misery.