Broadcast Nets Hustle to Avoid Being Upfront Weak

WHY THIS MATTERS: There were hits and misses as the big networks put their best feet forward during Upfront Week.

And just like that, another Upfront Week has come and gone. Presentations were made, deals were discussed, and hors d’oeuvres — and a thousand new show trailers — were consumed.

What stood out as the broadcast networks showed their stuff from the stages of baroque Manhattan theaters? Two standing ovations, for one. The U.S. women’s hockey team, which won the gold in Korea, turned up at the NBC presentation at Radio City Music Hall, and a standing O ensued.

A few days later, CBS Corp. chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves strolled on stage at Carnegie Hall. It had been a rough week for Moonves, battling with Shari Redstone of National Amusements over the future of CBS.

“So how’s your week been?” Moonves said, as the crowd rose to its feet.

The Good Stuff

First, the moments we enjoyed. Stephen Colbert, host of The Late Show on CBS, had some fun at his network’s expense. “CBS has some of the most exciting legal dramas,” said Colbert. “And some great TV shows.”

Anchors don’t really have that Voice of God anymore, but Neil deGrasse Tyson does. Yes, that was deGrasse Tyson, heard on the loudspeaker just before the Fox upfront, the Cosmos host telling the Beacon gathering to take their seats — and hold onto their tickets for the party after.

Gary Newman and Dana Walden, chairmen and CEOs of Fox Television Group, repeated the phrase “New Fox” a number of times as they presented. New Fox is a whole lot better than another phrase kicking around to represent the slimmed down, post-Disney acquisition Fox: the stub. Even deGrasse Tyson talking about the stub isn’t likely to make that sound any better.

The band Thirty Seconds to Mars did a fine job kicking off the The CW upfront show at New York City Center. It’s a tough gig for rock bands — you’re on at 11 a.m., and you play two songs. The group’s singer is Jared Leto, who starred in My So-Called Life.

Leto acknowledged the challenging setting. “If you wanna get a little crazy, it’s up to you,” he told the crowd. “But I know you have your suits on.”

Jokes about NBC’s Chicago shows never get old. Seth Meyers, host of Late Night, started it off at the NBCU presentation. NBC, he said, stands for “Nothing But Chicago.”

Jimmy Kimmel, host of Jimmy Kimmel Live on ABC, also took a jab at the Dick Wolf shows at the ABC upfront presentation at Lincoln Center. “Chica-Go to another f---ing city already!” he said, making the point that Denver, for one, has a bunch of firefighters that might make for a promising series.

Kimmel is always a breath of fresh air as he tears apart the upfronts. Of Monday’s proceedings, he said, “NBC gave you jazz hands,” perhaps a reference to NBC’s World of Dance performance, “and Fox gave you JAZ Pods,” commercial breaks with fewer ads.

Ben Sherwood, co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney/ABC Television Group, also got laughs when he told the crowd they’re in luck if they’re playing a drinking game based on how many times ABC execs say Roseanne. “You’re welcome,” he added.

The Not So Good Stuff"La

The lesser highlights of the week included Tim Allen, star of Last Man Standing, doing standup at the Fox event. Said The NewYork Times, “He did a standup routine to absolute silence. You could hear the shopping carts rolling down the aisles at Fairway across the street.”

Another weak stab at comedy is having talent recite industry jargon with a straight face. We saw this trite ploy at most of the presentations, while CBS did it twice. John Malkovich was in a video where he was forced to do the CBS upfront show after losing a poker game with Moonves. “What the f--- is addressable TV?” he wondered.

Malkovich later spoke with Kelly Kahl, CBS entertainment president, and Thom Sherman, senior executive VP of programming. He mentioned “walled gardens” and the “advertising ecosystem.”

“No one talks like this,” Malkovich said.

Later, Stephen Colbert brought up virtual MVPDs. “Does anyone know what that means?” he said.

And we’re not big fans of those really long upfront presentations. For the record, NBCU’s ran two hours and 12 minutes, ABC’s was an hour and 50 minutes, CBS and Fox were 90 minutes, and The CW was a lean 50 minutes — including the Thirty Seconds to Mars set.

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.