NBC couldn't catch a break at last week's broadcast upfront presentations, where the fourth-place network took some shots from late-night hosts Jimmy Kimmel, Craig Ferguson…and NBC's own Conan O'Brien.
Although it had already announced its 52-week schedule at its so-called "InFront" presentation back in April, NBC staged a carnivalesque multimedia spectacle dubbed "The NBC Universal Experience" at 30 Rock—and used its traditional Monday lead-off role to preempt any criticism from its rivals by beating them to the punch.
Speaking at a reception in the ice rink at Rockefeller Plaza, O'Brien began by promising "the true NBC Universal experience" to the assembled advertisers and executives.
"Tonight, half of you will be let go," he said, waving cheerfully. (Video from the event is available at www.broadcastingcable.com/upfronts.)
"Now my role here at this event traditionally is to poke fun at the network," he continued. "Yes, it's true that NBC's ratings have dropped a little bit during the last couple of years. But we are optimistic, we are looking forward and we are gonna bounce back 'cause we are in this thing to win it!"
A moment later, he added, "By the way, that last section was written by Hillary Clinton."
Riffing on the network's penchant for product integration, O'Brien announced several new series titles, including "My Name Is Earl Grey Lipton Tea" and the new Law & Order spinoff "Crate & Barrel."
As for NBC's vaunted 52-week schedule, he explained, "We did this because we're tired of coming in fourth only 36 weeks a year."
ABC's Kimmel used his customary upfront performance to skewer his own network as well. But he appeared to have a more fun slicing up NBC.
In his Lincoln Center standup act, Kimmel said NBC called its event an "InFront" because "they'll be just in front of The CW."
While ABC staged a very traditional and modest presentation that dispensed with a lavish party, NBC chose to throw a party because, Kimmel explained, "I have a feeling they needed a drink."
And noting the number of shows the network has bought from Reveille (now ShineReveille)—the outfit formerly owned by one of NBC Entertainment's co-presidents—Kimmel suggested that, if it wanted to change its luck, NBC "may even need to get outside Ben Silverman's production company."
Even a dig at his own network contained another backhand for its struggling rival.
On ABC's decision to pick up Scrubs after it was jettisoned by NBC, Kimmel said it's "always a good idea to borrow shows from the last-place network."
Ferguson Holds Back
By comparison, Ferguson went easy on NBC.
At CBS' Carnegie Hall presentation, the Late, Late Show host began with a riff on how clean and welcoming New York City has become in recent years. Even a homeless man congratulated him on beating O'Brien's Late Night in household ratings last month.
"I said, 'How do you know that?'" Ferguson recounted. "Turns out he was president of NBC."
But he also winged ABC when he noted that all the New Yorkers who "used to be loud and pushy and annoying" have moved on: "They're hosting The View."
And after a pitch for CBS Radio by Adam Corolla, Ferguson wondered aloud why the former Man Show co-host was permitted on stage.
"Isn't he Jimmy Kimmel's best friend?" he asked. "Anyone have a problem with this?"
But Ferguson may have crossed a line when he mocked the omnipotent Oprah Winfrey.
After a bizarre pitch for CBS Television Distribution from Rachael Ray—who likened Oprah to the meat in the CBS syndication sandwich—Ferguson began to intone Oprah's name as if in a state of spiritual ecstasy before stage-whispering: "She could have us all killed."
It was a good run, Craig. We'll miss you.
With Ben Grossman
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