Broadcasters think sports and live specials will be must-see TV

.@latimes Broadcasters plan 'event' projects to get people to watch TV live

TV executives spoke a strange language in New York this week.

"We are eventizing our entertainment slate," Fox Entertainment Chairman Kevin Reilly told media buyers at the network's annual "upfront" presentation, where it formally presented the fall schedule to advertisers. Reilly was just following on the heels of NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt, who boasted how his network was "obsessed with trying to eventize everything."

No, "eventizing" is not a dance craze but rather the latest corporate buzzword. And puzzling as it may be — "That's not a word!," sputtered "Bones" show runner Hart Hanson when The Times asked about eventizing — all the weird coinage means is that the brass wants dazzling projects that will hopefully get people to watch TV live — or at least within the three-day window for DVR viewing that advertisers will currently pay for. It's all about creating an "urgency to view," as Reilly put it.

Sports, specials and year-round premieres? Those things are absolutely in.

Repeats, midseason replacements and burned-off episodes of failed series? Out, out like 2013.

The ultimate goal is to stand out in a world cluttered with cable hits ("The Walking Dead"), online series ("House of Cards") and countless YouTube video shorts.

Broadcasters know they have to raise their game or risk obsolescence. "By creating an event, it will hopefully get more viewers involved in a show and then encourage them to make comments on social media to attract more viewers," said Brad Adgate, an analyst for ad firm Horizon Media.

The stakes are high. Many analysts and executives foresee a tepid upfront ad market, where the bulk of TV commercial time is sold in advance, starting right after the schedules are unfurled. Last year about $8.5 billion changed hands — and most projections are for a flat performance this year.

None of this means a wholesale retreat from the scripted series that have been the networks' bread-and-butter for 60 years. NBC, back on top this season in the critical 18 to 49 demographic, according to Nielsen, after a miserable string of seasons at the bottom, is relying on some familiar faces to supply new hit shows. Among others, there is the whodunit "The Mysteries of Laura," with Debra Messing of "Will & Grace" fame. .

In a bold nod to eventizing, the network will offer another live performance of a Broadway favorite later this year with "Peter Pan," which follows last year's surprise hit "The Sound of Music." The network also announced it will strike up the band for a live production of the classic "The Music Man."

But far more attention was devoted to a returning show: "The Blacklist," which was the top new drama in its freshman season. The James Spader crime thriller — which has aired on Mondays — will replace the long-struggling NBC comedy block in the 9 p.m. Thursday hour starting in February.

As the No. 1 new show this season, "The Blacklist" was ready for a promotion — and indeed NBC is giving it the plum post-Super Bowl slot to ensure the maximum number of viewers are exposed to it. But now regular episodes will get sandwiched between "Biggest Loser" — a reality contest now creaky with age — and "Parenthood," a ratings-challenged family drama entering its last season. "Blacklist's" performance in that spot may test how much traditional TV scheduling still matters in an age when most viewers can record whatever they want for later.

Speaking of Thursday, CBS — the most-watched network, although its audience has long skewed older than many advertisers would prefer — will experiment with putting NFL games there in the fall, thus delaying the launch of some fall series.

It's a risky move, given that the football rights cost $250 million and the games will delay the launch of CBS' regular Thursday shows — including the final season of the sitcom "Two and a Half Men" — by six weeks. But in a world of eventization, sports have become key. Just look at NBC, where Sunday night football games consistently rank No. 1 throughout the fall. Perhaps best of all: The early season delay means the scripted shows can air without repeats once they start.

"Sports is really a bright spot in television right now," said Catherine Warburton, chief investment officer of the media agency Assembly and a former Fox Sports executive. "When it comes to live viewing of television, sports is where it's at. Ninety-seven percent of all sports is viewed live."

For new fare, CBS ordered the Sunday political drama "Madam Secretary" (which NBC will counter on Mondays with its "Scandal"-esque "State of Affairs" with Katherine Heigl) and the spinoff "CSI: Cyber." The latter will be paired Sundays with "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," which is losing its key Thursday berth for the first time since 2001.

But CBS executives surprised the industry — and contradicted early media accounts — by passing on "How I Met Your Dad," a supposed shoo-in as a spinoff to "How I Met Your Mother." CBS Entertainment Chairman Nina Tassler said she was "heartsick" after realizing "HIMYD" wasn't gelling creatively.

For Fox, which used to build its upfront presentations around "American Idol," the game has changed. "Idol's" ratings are but a meager echo of what they once were, so the network will dramatically scale back the singing show's hours starting in January. Instead, Reilly and his crew are placing perhaps some of the boldest bets on new shows. That includes "Gotham," a "Batman" prequel that will be paired on Mondays with "Sleepy Hollow" — a mix of historical fantasy and crime thriller that became Fox's buzziest new show last fall.

Fox also has "Utopia," a "Survivor"-like social experiment that films 15 people trying to build their own idyllic society in a remote region. Reilly characterized it as the network's biggest bet in reality TV in years.

As for last-place ABC, it is continuing its effort to rebrand itself as the Shonda Rhimes Network.

Thursdays will be given over entirely to Rhimes, the writer-producer behind the new legal drama "How to Get Away With Murder," starring Viola Davis of "The Help" fame. The show will join two other returning Rhimes originals, "Grey's Anatomy" and "Scandal."

Lacking the high-rated NFL games seen on its sister network ESPN and dogged by sagging ratings for "Dancing With the Stars," ABC needs the biggest boost from new series of any network. Its hopes rest on a diversity strategy that ABC Entertainment Group chief Paul Lee said will "reflect the changed face of America." Examples include "Black-ish," a sitcom about a black family starring Laurence Fishburne that will run right after ABC's sitcom smash "Modern Family," and "Cristela," starring the Latina comic Cristela Alonzo.

Whether the American viewer will consider all of this sufficiently event-ized remains to be seen. No matter what the day's buzzword is, the TV business still operates on a widely understood word that has been around for a long time: hits.

As Adgate wryly noted: "What a network considers an event and what a viewer considers an event may be different."

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