Upfronts: Fox up next in empty network ritual

One of the oldest rituals of network TV, the upfronts, takes place this week as the broadcast networks unveil their new fall lineups and try to sell them to advertisers in New York.

It used to be a big, big deal, because this is where the business of network television was really done, with the broadcasters showing advertisers the cream of their new crop of prime-time series.


But network TV isn't what it used to be, and it is fascinating, mostly in a cultural sense, to see the aging industry re-eancting the annual ritual with little or none of of the passion and excitement it used to generate. The same steps are being danced, but the magic is mostly gone.

NBC went first on Sunday, and if you want to get excited about an American remake of the sublime Brit crime drama, "Prime Suspect," good for you. No Helen Mirren, of course. And when was the last time an American remake of an edgy and socially-relevant Brit drama proved to be anything but a downer.

Or how about a series set in the 1960s and celebrating Hugh Hefner's Playboy club?

The only series on the NBC schedule that seems at all interesting is "Smash," a drama about the staging of a Broadway musical. Credit "Glee" for getting this one the air, as NBC tries for its own musical drama. But guess what, it doesn't premiere until midseason.

Here's a teaser for "The Playboy Club." And it is all about the tease, isn't it, with a series like this?

Fox goes Monday, and the only energy here involves Simon' Cowell's "The X Factor," but we know all about this music competition already, don't we, because Fox and Cowell have been flogging the tabloid websites for months.

Tuesday, comes ABC, and Wednesday comes CBS. The biggest news on CBS does not involve any new series. The one series generating any interest in "Two and a Half Men," with the news last week that Ashton Kutcher will replace Charlie Sheen.

Maybe this one fact says all that needs to be said about all the network comedies, dramas and reality TV shows these days: This season, for the first time in history, the most popular prime-time network series was neither a sitcom nor a drama nor a reality TV series. It was NBC's Sunday Night Football.

As for the dozens of new series introduced on each network last fall, fewer than one-third will make it to a second season.


Can you name one new network series from last fall that you are still watching? Go ahead, I dare you.

But seriously, here's a question that matters: Are you watching less prime-time network TV than you used to? If so, what is filling the void? Netflix? Cable? More sports? Online and social media?

I don't think a remake of "Prime Suspect" or a little bit of Playboy flesh is really going to compete with that, do you?