Monday, May 18, 2009

The 2009 Upfronts

And so it begins.

The past couple of weeks of observing network moves is difficult to explain in a way that can be understood by the mass of people who just see what has been renewed and cancelled on the computer or in their local newspaper (support your local newspaper even if it is a crappy one!). For people, especially amateurs like me who try to get dialled in to what the networks are doing, who follow such things the period leading up to the network upfronts can best be described by a Canadian who has some knowledge of hockey. There's an even in hockey called the "Trade Deadline." Trades between teams have to be made before the deadline or the players can't play for their new teams in the playoffs. The days leading up to the deadline are filled with rumours of trades, and the sports networks here go to the effort of having special broadcasting teams available to break into programming with "breaking trade news," not to mention recaps at the end of the day, which sometimes run for hours depending on how interesting the trades that are consummated are. That's what the past week or two has been like for the person who follows TV as a hobby. There have been rumours, analysis, semi-official statements, more analysis, official renewals and cancellations, still more analysis, and of course analysis of the analysis. And now the big day – week rather – is here; the trade deadline, Christmas, the last week of the baseball schedule, however you want to describe it. And the funny thing is that, as much as we who watch such things want to inflate the importance of the Upfront announcements, the fact is that what the networks announce this week has the permanence of something written not in stone but in beach sand – and beach sand at low tide at that. We invest these Upfront announcements with an importance, but even before a single show of the schedules announced this week airs the five network schedule that comes out of this week will be massaged, tweaked, modified and mangled so that those of us who invest this process with some sort of importance will be unable to reconcile what actually goes on the air with what the networks have told us would happen. How many times has FOX told us that Bones would move to Fridays at the mid-season point? At least two and possibly three times. How many times has it actually moved there? None. As a wise man once said, "no battle plan survives the first shot." In TV one is probably justified in saying that no schedule survives to fire the first shot.

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