The NBCUniversal upfront presentation began with Kelly Clarkson taking the Radio City Music Hall stage, before Jimmy Fallon took his turn. Fallon, host of The Tonight Show, aimed a few zingers at Peacock and its subscription numbers, and CNN Plus as well. He said CNN Plus’s short tenure “made Quibi look good.”
Among the NBCU executives, CEO Jeff Shell raved about the NBCU “portfolio” of networks. “We think our real competitive advantage is the breadth and the strength of our programming and platform," he said. "We run [it] as just one business. We manage it as one business.. We promote it [as] one business with Symphony, and we sell it as one business."
Susan Rovner, NBCUniversal Television and Streaming chairman of entertainment content, sounded a similar note, stressing that the NBCU network collection gave producers a wide range of options for partnership. She noted how NBCU matched up great content with “the biggest, broadest and best audience imaginable.”
After a farewell to This Is Us, which signs off May 24, Shakira and Nick Jonas came out to talk up Dancing with Myself, which premieres May 31, and other unscripted shows. Jonas mentioned how the unscripted audience “never knows where it might take us.”
Blake Shelton, Carson Daly and Nikki Bella were next, also talking up unscripted shows, including The Voice and USA Network debutant Barmageddon. Shelton mentioned the latter featuring “the world’s greatest bar athletes. Barthletes.”
Daly spoke of “hard in-the-field research,” involving lots and lots of bars and beers, to find the best players in darts, ax throwing and other barroom pastimes.
“This show is truly made up of blood, sweat and beers,” said Bella.
The action happens at Shelton’s Nashville bar. Daly pours drinks and Bella hosts.
Ana Gasteyer, Nicole Byer, Mayan Lopez and Sarah Hyland spoke about the NBCU comedies. Gasteyer, star of American Auto, about a hapless automobile corporation, said, “I promise our show is not based on any of you car company execs out there.”
Byer is in Grand Crew. Lopez is in Lopez vs. Lopez with her father, George. Hyland is in Elizabeth Banks’ Pitch Perfect project.
Then it was Pete Davidson, creator of Bupkis on Peacock, where Edie Falco will play his mother. “I am here so that the media will finally start paying attention to me,” quipped Davidson.
He also took a poke at Peacock, with “so many great shows like MacGruber…and reruns of The Office.”
Cast members from the Law & Order franchise were out next to talk up dramas. Mariska Hargitay mentioned “the brilliant and visionary mind of Dick Wolf,” the man behind the Law & Order and Chicago franchises.
Quantum Leap and Peacock shows Last Light, with Matthew Fox and Joanne Froggatt, and A Friend of the Family, with Colin Hanks, got mentions.
Kate Del Castillo spoke about Telemundo dramas, including her own La Reina Del Sur and El Senor de los Cielos. The Bel Air cast talked up their Peacock drama.
Will Packer spoke about movies on Peacock, including his own youth choir comedy Praise This.
Lester Holt, anchor of NBC Nightly News, said he was headed to Buffalo to report on the race-motivated mass shooting after the presentation. The many giant news stories today “all remind us of the importance of journalism,” he said, adding that no other news organization “can serve as many news audiences” as NBC News, or is as focused on properly reflecting viewers in America.
Laverne Cox spoke about live events and specials, including a holiday movie from “the great and good Dolly Parton,” who spoke in a video segment.
“Traditions bring us closer, and no one does that better than NBC,” said Parton of the Thanksgiving Day parade, Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting, and other holiday content on NBC. Her film is Dolly Parton’s Mountain Magic Christmas.
A Bravo segment touting Bravocon October 14-16 was next, with Andy Cohen in the middle of the musical maelstrom, and Mike Tirico, Cris Collinsworth and Maria Taylor spoke about Sunday Night Football. Taylor said “appointment viewing is in short supply” these days.
Andres Cantor of Telemundo talked about the 2022 World Cup, and the women’s event a year later, both on Telemundo.
Seth Meyers then offered a tight five, quipping about how he got a call from the New York mayor, who explained that the city is out of wine with all the “Bravolebrities” in town.
He also took shots at the upfront tradition, noting how “you can lie through your teeth about how great everything is,” and said reboot-happy NBCU would get the This Is Us cast together in a few years for That Was Them.
Incisive as his upfront quips may have been, Meyers acknowledged that “Jimmy Kimmel will be far harsher tomorrow” at the ABC event.
Then it was Linda Yaccarino, chairman of global advertising & partnerships, who noted that we’re in “truly the biggest turning point in our industry,” with “massive transformations” in terms of how people watch TV, and how advertisers reach viewers.
“Advertising has always been a part of our DNA and our future,” she said. “We have built the future that we promised all of you.”
Yaccarino said NBCU served as “a giant wrecking ball” in knocking down the barriers to effective advertising that marketers complained about, setting the stage for Miley Cyrus to close things out with “Wrecking Ball.” ■
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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.