CTV's newly minted top executives, Kevin Crull and Phil King, came back from their first Los Angeles shopping spree with an armload of new shows for their 2011-12 lineup, including everything from a grown-up version of Glee ( Smash); Simon Cowell's hit The X-Factor; Pan Am, a Mad Men-era drama set in the skies; and hyped new sitcom Whitney, featuring American stand-up comic Whitney Cummings.
As he unveiled the 16 new programs for the upcoming year's schedule, King explained that their strategy was twofold. "We had to pick up some incremental programming to build our rebranded station CTV Two (formerly A Channel). So we deliberately bought a lot of shows. And second, comedy was important to us and has been enjoying a resurgence," added King, the former head of TSN who took over as president of CTV programming and sports in early April.
"Sometimes sitcoms take a year or two to catch on, but we're very cognizant of the fact that today's rookie shows may be tomorrow's hits. So we looked for shows - like The Big Bang Theory - that had legs and unique storylines. We're not in the same position as some of our competitors who are reloading a bit more."
Six new dramas were added to the CTV/CTV Two mix, including the buzzed-about musical drama set on Broadway, Smash, from Steven Spielberg. The No. 1-rated network also picked up four comedies, including Free Agents with Hank Azaria, the buddy romp Man Up, NBC's new sitcom on modern love, Whitney, and Up All Night, with Christina Applegate and Will Arnett.
The sheer heft of CTV's new programming slate, which includes Anderson Cooper's weekly daytime talk show, did not shock ad buyer Lauren Richards, chief executive officer of Media Experts, who expected CTV to buy more than its needs - just as it has done in the past.
"It's smart to hedge your bets. And when you're in a position like CTV is (as most-watched network), you don't want to expose cracks in your armour and allow a competitor to pick up a hot new show, which could result in your program dominance beginning to slide."
Richards said that Smash, starring Debra Messing, Christian Borle and Anjelica Houston, is clearly aimed at the music-loving, older demographic who "want a smarter, more sophisticated" version of Glee. She called The X-Factor, scheduled to kick off primetime at 8 p.m. on Wednesday nights, a ratings "no-brainer" that follows in CTV's reality-series pattern of American Idol and Dancing with the Stars.
CTV's fall lineup is also laden with girl-power drama, including a remake of the 1976 hit show Charlie's Angels; Pan Am with Christina Ricci as a stewardess on a 1963 luxury airliner; The Protector, starring Ally Walker as an LAPD detective and single mom; and Unforgettable, featuring Poppy Montgomery as a New York cop who has an uncanny and unnerving ability to remember everything. It will air Tuesday at 10 p.m.
"We went to the L.A. buys knowing we had to beef up Tuesdays," King said. (Global's Glee runs Tuesdays at 8 p.m.) "We knew we had to pull up our socks and frankly, find another hit for that night. We think Unforgettable, with Poppy (from Without a Trace) is it."
King said he is particularly bullish on their midseason picks, including G.C.B, a drama from Powerhouse producer Darren Star; the aforementioned Smash; and Missing, with Ashley Judd on a mission to find her teenage son who mysteriously disappeared on a trip to Rome. "These three could be our biggest shows," said King, who is following a recent programming trend in the United States to hold back promising shows for midseason. "It's a smart strategy that makes sense because it allows them to get away from all the noise," he adds.
"I think people have realized that if you launch 30 new shows the first week of September, it's very hard for them to fight against each other. If you put them in more slowly than has been done in the past - at a time when new shows might no longer be around - it opens up the schedule, and gives these shows a chance to breathe.
"It's also a practical reality for networks. You only have so much marketing budget, and you can't market 30 shows effectively. You're better off doing five in the fall, and five in January."
CTV will add the Brothers Grimm-inspired drama Grimm (a spooky supernatural show that is also part police procedural) to its Friday lineup at 8 p.m. Once Upon a Time is another fairy-tale-like program, set in modern times, that will air Sundays at 7 p.m. Pan Am will wrap Sunday nights at 10.