Upfronts Q&A: Top Network Execs Reveal Their Thoughts on the TV Season

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Paul Lee, Nina Tassler | Photo Credits: Brian To/FilmMagic

As the broadcast networks (as well as major cable players USA, TNT and TBS) unveil their new TV shows this week, we asked their top programmers to reveal the challenges and successes of the TV season. We also had them describe their strategies this development season, among other questions. Here's what they had to say.

What were your main goals this development season?
Joe Earley, Fox chief operating officer: To transition away from the outdated traditional "pilot season" system. On the creative side, [we want] dramas, distinctive comedies and events that not only capture the imaginations of our viewers but also create appointment viewing. We need shows that make fans say "I can't wait to watch!"
Paul Lee, ABC Entertainment Group president: We wanted to expand our sophisticated, emotional brand and continue to create groundbreaking storytelling. We also wanted to focus on extraordinary voices and get the passion in those voices from the page to the screen. 
Chris McCumber, USA Network president: Bring new audiences to the network, in addition to maintaining our large and loyal fan base. Expanding into comedy and reality helped us accomplish this goal, and we plan to continue the momentum as we launch the next generation of USA original dramas in the third and fourth quarter: Satisfaction, Rush and Dig.
Jennifer Salke, NBC Entertainment president: We were really focused on building Monday and Tuesday nights and made some great strides on both fronts. We also wanted to get our event miniseries and limited series business going and are excited to premiere Rosemary's Baby on May 11. We also have Aquarius, our new limited series starring David Duchovny, and A.D.: Beyond the Bible and Heroes Reborn coming down the pike, as well as Emerald City and The Slap.
Nina Tassler, CBS Entertainment chairman: Same as every year. Deliver more hit shows that can reach the most amount of viewers.
Michael Wright, TNT/TBS/TCM president and head of programming: For TNT, the goal is to more aggressively grow and evolve the network brand, embracing the new digital platforms that allow more serialized, complex storytelling — and, in doing so, to be bolder with our choices. For TBS, we continue to develop and program comedies that can successfully use The Big Bang Theory as a springboard to success. 

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What was the biggest game changer (or disrupter) this TV season?
Earley (Fox): Viewing is evolving faster than measurement methodology, and that's creating a real strain. That may be one of the reasons that, on the creative front, we also saw that audiences are beginning to expect audacious moves with regular characters. It's not a game changer, but the stakes have been raised in terms of what a "shocking twist" is these days.
Lee (ABC): The increase in delayed viewing. The overnight ratings are no longer an accurate gauge of how well a show is doing; you have to wait for delayed numbers. And even then we can't be certain because we don't have accurate measurement on all platforms. 
McCumber (USA): Time shifting continues to be a disruption. As delayed viewing increasingly becomes the norm, it is more critical than ever for networks to monetize beyond C3.
Salke (NBC): It's difficult to launch a successful new drama — especially at 10 p.m. — and The Blacklist was a terrific performer for us. It started great and has been huge for us both in live viewing and it set a record in DVR viewing as well. The DVR numbers were off the charts.
Tassler (CBS): Time-shifted viewing continues to be a bigger force every year. Viewers are the schedulers.
Wright (TNT/TBS/TCM): It's not a new disruption, but the emergence of digital platforms and consumers' growing enthusiasm for on-demand viewing — and the many challenges and opportunities those things present — continue to be the defining issues of the day. 

What were you most proud of this TV season?
Earley (Fox): Sleepy Hollow. That show was a big swing, with a fantastically crazy premise, and everyone at both the show and the network really rallied to make it a hit. And we couldn't have been more thrilled that Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Andy Samberg won Golden Globes. 
Lee (ABC): It was great to see Scandal become a genre-defining hit. The Marvel integration between the movie and the television show was also a very exciting first for us. 
McCumber (USA): USA's first reality hit, Chrisley Knows Best. USA has always been known for its signature original dramas, so attracting a sizable audience and a ton of buzz to this unscripted series is a significant achievement. From day one, Todd Chrisley and his family have struck a chord with viewers, and we are excited to bring this series back for 12 more episodes.
Mark Pedowitz, The CW president: It is actually our most-watched season since 2010-11. Our new hit series The Originals, paired with Supernatural on a new night, doubled our ratings year-to-year on Tuesday nights. The 100, which premiered at midseason, was our most-watched series premiere of the season and was the most-watched show in its time period in almost four years. And Reign has boosted the audience in its time period on Thursday nights.
Salke (NBC): I'm most proud that The Blacklist has really become a bona fide hit. It's a game-changing show for us. I'm also really proud of our Tuesday night comedies that came out of the gate strong and have held up incredibly well. About a Boy has been a very solid performer and Growing Up Fisher has been steady.
Tassler (CBS): Creating big television events for multiple episodes of The Good Wife's amazing season.
Wright (TNT/TBS/TCM): We're most proud of the level of talent bringing their work to our networks and the shows they're creating for us. Additionally, we're extremely proud of our 2014 TNT summer line-up. It should be apparent to even casual viewers of the network that we're taking more chances and expanding our creative horizons. We love the scale and ambition of the shows. 

What shows are you bingeing on right now?
Earley (Fox): I'm actually not a big binger. I do have a ton of shows stacked on my DVR, but I'm not sure when I'll get to them. I actually just deleted some unwatched full seasons of cable shows from last year in order to make room on my DVR.
Lee (ABC): BBC America's Top Gear and Animal Planet's River Monsters.
McCumber (USA): BBC America's Broadchurch is brilliant and addictive.
Pedowitz (The CW): I've just started on season six of FX's Sons of Anarchy.
Salke (NBC): My husband sucked me into binge viewing Netflix's House of Cards and I'm really loving it.
Tassler (CBS): HBO's Veep.
Wright (TNT/TBS/TCM): Well I don't get to binge on it, because I watch every episode the minute it's available, but HBO's Game of Thrones is, to me, a masterpiece and an example of the very best of what television has to offer. 

How would you describe what it's like to host, on stage, a major network upfront presentation?
Lee (ABC): Surreal.
McCumber (USA): For the past few years, our talent has hosted USA's upfront. Way more entertaining than having me do it!
Pedowitz (The CW): It's like running a marathon. You're thrilled to accomplish it and equally as thrilled that it's over.
Tassler (CBS): Shopping for what to wear on stage is far more stressful than the actual presentation.
Wright (TNT/TBS/TCM): It's sort of a cross between presenting an oral dissertation to a room full of very demanding professors and being a game show host.

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