Upfront Week is over, the live events happening at New York’s posh midtown theaters–and a giant basketball facility down on the Lower East Side–for the first time in a few years, with Covid cancelling the shindigs in 2020 and 2021. The last time the broadcast networks shared their fall programming, those networks, including ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, had center stage. This time, they shared the bill with their streaming siblings. The CBS upfront presentation is now the Paramount one, ABC is now Disney, and NBC is now NBCUniversal.
“We’re going to keep things pretty simple–by only talking about one network,” said Rob Tuck, The CW executive VP of national sales, at the network’s May 19 event.
Stephen Colbert, host of The Late Show on CBS, had some fun with his parent company’s name changes over the years, from CBS to ViacomCBS to Paramount, and “next week, whatever Elon Musk renames us.”
So did James Corden at the same event. “Whatever name they give us next week, I will absolutely love it,” the Late Late Show host said.
Despite the shift to focus on streamer Paramount Plus, it was a broadcast staple–60 Minutes–that provided the theme for the Paramount upfront show. Correspondents Scott Pelley, Lesley Stahl and Bill Whitaker were featured in various segments.
“You may ask, why make 60 Minutes the theme for this year’s upfront?” asked Jo Ann Ross, president and chief advertising revenue officer, ViacomCBS. “60 Minutes has informed America with bravery, style and sophistication” for 54 seasons.
While Paramount’s show had the correspondent talent, among other TV and music boldface names, no event boasted more star power than Disney’s. Ryan Seacrest kicked things off at the Disney upfront presentation, at Basketball City on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Steve Martin, Dwayne Johnson, various Kardashians, a couple Mannings and Ellen Pompeo, among many others, followed, including CEO Bob Chapek.
Jimmy Kimmel’s upfront hit job is an annual highlight, but the Jimmy Kimmel Live! host was remote due to Covid. About Chapek’s appearance, he said, “A Disney CEO has never spoken at the upfront before. Now we know why.”
Kimmel also had some shots for his broadcast competition. NBC announced it had a few ‘80s reboots on its new schedule. “Quantum Leap and Night Court? That’s not a fall schedule,” said Kimmel. “Those are the tapes you find in your dead uncle’s VCR.”
Kimmel also blasted Fox for its upfront presentation at Skylight on Vesey in Lower Manhattan, which was pre-recorded until the very end, giving the event the feel of the Zoom meetings we’ve come to know all too well. “After two years of telling everyone Covid is a hoax, they trick you into taking an Uber to watch a tape,” said Kimmel.
The networks broke some news at the events. For NBC, it’s a Dolly Parton Christmas movie. For Fox, it’s a new Gordon Ramsay show. For ABC, it’s XFL games. CBS featured new dramas Fire Country and So Help Me Todd, among others, and The CW shared an initiative focused on mental health that is a partnership with the U.S. surgeon general. Univision, for its part, has a new Jorge Ramos show, and Warner Bros. Discovery hinted at merging HBO Max and Discovery Plus.
Charlie Collier, Fox Entertainment CEO, showed his face at the very end of the Fox event, and brought out Susan Sarandon and Trace Adkins, stars of new country drama Monarch. Adkins performed a song before everyone hit the bar.
With respect to Trace, as well as Sebastian Yatra at the TelevisaUnivision show, Kelly Clarkson and Miley Cyrus at NBCU and Jennifer Hudson at Warner Bros. Discovery, the musical highlight of the week probably belonged to Stevie Wonder, who kicked off the CW event. Some in the audience were plenty surprised when Wonder worked some “CW is the way!” lines into “Superstition”, the audience singing along.
The CW’s show came in at an hour. Early on in the Paramount gala, Ross said an hour was the goal, sticking with the 60 Minutes theme. Sixty-something minutes after it began, Corden came out, with Drew Barrymore to follow, along with a performance by LeAnn Rimes and Mickey Guyton. “It’s ten past 5,” he said, “so the 60 minutes thing didn’t work out, did it?”
Finally, Ross came out to sum things up for Paramount. Any complaints about the show, she said, can be sent to Corden–who leaves the late, late show next year.
Streaming networks pick up more viewers every day, but they still need the advertisers that have long turned up at Radio City and Carnegie Hall in mid May. “Advertising has always been a part of our DNA and our future,” said Linda Yaccarino, NBCU chairman of global advertising & partnerships. “We have built the future that we promised all of you.” ■
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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.