Upfront Week: NBCU Symphony Plays to Plethora of Viewers

NBC started its upfront presentation at Radio City Music Hall with a video featuring many of its stars, consuming cocktails at a pre-upfront party. The gathering included Kristen Bell and Ted Danson of The Good Place, Howie Mandel of America’s Got Talent, Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb of Today, Debra Messing of Will & Grace, and a malfunctioning slow cooker from This Is Us.

Sean Hayes, star of Will & Grace, aimed to get the sedate assembly going.

“It’s so great to be contractually obligated to be here,” he said.

Following a plug for Universal’s next Mamma Mia movie, the gang then did a spoof of “Here We Go Again” about the upfronts, with Messing on piano. One line: “It’s the upfronts party/Andy Cohen is tardy.”

Steve Burke, NBCUniversal CEO, then took the stage, acknowledging the “shameless self-promotion” for the Mamma Mia movie. He said “Here We Go Again” was a fitting theme for Upfront Week.

“We at NBCUniversal have never been more optimistic,” Burke said, talking up the corporation’s “symphony” approach to connecting with viewers.

After Burke stepped off stage, the gold medal-winning U.S. women’s hockey team stepped on, earning a standing ovation from the crowd.

The presentation talked up sports’ connection with viewers, a video showcasing the NFL, soccer and horse racing, among other sports. Telemundo has the 2018 World Cup and 2019 women’s World Cup.

The presentation then shifted to E!, with Giuliana Rancic talking up the People’s Choice Awards November 11, and Busy Phillips promoting her talk show Busy Tonight.

Next up was Syfy, with Christopher Meloni and Patton Oswalt of Happy. Trailers from Deadly Class and Nightflyers followed.

Telemundo followed, intro’d by a lively musical number. A trailer showed for drama Prisionero Numero Uno.

Andy Cohen, host of Watch What Happens Live, talked about what’s coming up at Bravo, including “big characters and noisy concepts.”

Project Runway, he said, is returning to Bravo following its run on Lifetime. “It’s returning to its original home at Bravo,” said Cohen.

Connie Britton and Eric Bana, stars of Dirty John, talked up their series, which premieres in the fall.

Oxygen was next. The Killing of Jessica Chambers was featured.

Then it was USA, which delivers unmatched scale, according to Mr. Robot star Christian Slater. Suits: Second City, Real Country and Treadstone had their trailers showed.

WWE’s Stephanie McMahon talked wrestling. She spoke about a social media movement to feature more female wrestlers, and noted how WWE responded by featuring “Divas” in Wrestlemania. Charlotte Flair, Nia Jax and Ronda Rousey then stepped on stage.

Pointing to the trio, McMahon said, “This is hope. This is WWE.”

News then got its moment to shine, with Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb and Megyn Kelly. “No one else has the same scope and the breadth of talent” that NBC does, said Holt, anchor of NBC Nightly News. He spoke about focusing “on the human side of news.”

Howie Mandel talked up Deal or No Deal on CNBC, before NBC got its turn an hour and ten minutes into the presentation.

Seth Meyers offered some comedy. NBC stands for “Nothing But Chicago,” he said.

Regarding NBC picking up Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “It feels a little bit like NBC is fox’s deadbeat friend,” he said. “Are you gonna finish that?”

Speaking of the live Jesus Christ Superstar, he said, “You know a network has some range when they have a black Jesus and Megyn Kelly.”

Meyers took a moment to credit the “shows not renewed, pilots not picked up, shows from the ‘90s not revived.”

Of This Is Us, he noted “an incredible rebranding for slow cookers.”

Eric McCormack and Debra Messing of Will & Grace then stepped on stage to introduce new comedies. McCormack thanked viewers for the “incredible response” to the show’s rebooting. Trailers from Abby’s and I Feel Bad were shown.

Andy Samberg, star of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, said he was in the midst of “an apology tour” after NBC picked up the show, since he’d cursed out the network’s execs when they passed on the show five years ago.

“My heart is just full of love and gratitude,” he said.

Alternative and reality then got their moment, with The Titan Games, Ellen’s Game of Games, World of Dance, America’s Got Talent and The Wall were among those getting showcased.

Got Talent champ Darci Lynn, a child ventriloquist, came out with a puppet of Simon Cowell, then introduced the real Simon. Cowell said he could not sell America’s Got Talent 14 years ago, and credited NBC for its belief in the show. “I really am eternally grateful,” he said.

He noted how families tend to watch America’s Got Talent together, a rarity in the modern age. Cowell also talked up the Champions edition of America’s Got Talent, which will start in January.

Meyers then took the stage with several buttons on his shirt unbuttoned, an homage to Cowell.

Next up was This Is Us, as the cast stepped on stage. “We so appreciate the incredible support from everyone in this room,” said Susan Kelechi Watson, who plays Beth Pearson.

The Good Girls cast then talked about the fall season’s dramas. Trailers showed for The Village, The Enemy Within, Manifest and New Amsterdam.

A video with Linda Yaccarino, NBC chairman of advertising and client partnerships, speaking to lawmakers on C-SPAN, then went down, before Yaccarino took the stage. “Nothing moves people--and product-- like television,” she said. “Because nothing pushes people through that purchase funnel like television.”

No company does television, she added, like NBCUniversal. She said NBCU is using A.I. to make advertising more contextually relevant, and talked up CFlight measurement.

“Thank you to everybody for embracing this new higher standard in the industry,” Yaccarino said.

A World of Dance routine, featuring plenty of pyro, lit up balls and Jennifer Lopez, concluded the presentation some two hours and 12 minutes after it started.

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.