Upfronts 2011: Affiliates Guardedly Optimistic About NBC Upfront Presentation

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Those on the affiliate side spoke optimistically about the new programs NBC presented at the annual upfront pow wow in Manhattan May 16.

More importantly, NBC affiliates said they're impressed by the new leadership at NBC following the Comcast-NBCUniversal marriage, and the long-term strategy put forth by the new executives.

"We saw a plan," says Brian Lawlor, chairman of the NBC affiliates board. "We saw a long-term strategy designed to return the network to its heyday."

The standout show among a quick poll of affiliates appeared to be the Glee-ish musical Smash. Multiple affiliates voiced their satisfaction with performance program The Voice's booming start, and said NBC was looking at a strong mid-season next year, when The Voice is paired with Smash, and 30 Rock returns following Tina Fey's pregnancy. They saluted NBC for not rushing either music show into the fall season, which they felt spoke to the network's long-term commitment to primetime success.

Others were intrigued by the dark dramas Grimm and The Playboy Club, the latter with its Don Draper-esque lothario leading man and bevy of Hefnerian beauties, while comedies such as Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea and Up All Night got honorable mentions too.

The affiliates met with network management after the presentation, during which NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke emphasized how much broadcasting means to him. NBC Broadcasting Chairman Ted Harbert said the word he wants to leave in affiliates' minds is "commitment."
"We've got a commitment to winning," Harbert told B&C. "It's the right thing to do for the company." 

In his presentation, entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt said his main priorities are comedies, Thursday nights, the 10 p.m. hour, and making sure the network gets the most out of The Voice.

Of course, NBC affiliates know that hot upfront presentations have little to do with primetime success. Optimism was running high at this point last year, but the 2010 rookie class is woefully under-represented on the schedule these days. The affiliates' favorite debutantes from last fall, including The Event and Chase, are not returning. Several affiliates spoke last year about how they believed 2010-2011 would be a major turnaround for NBC prime, but that did not materialize.

But reinvigorated faith in network leadership, including Burke, Harbert and Greenblatt, was apparent among affiliates.

"We're all very excited about the management team," says Jordan Wertlieb, executive vice president of Hearst TV, a major owner of NBC affiliates. "Clearly they've attracted high level producers and talent to NBC, such as Steven Spielberg and Christina Applegate and Ron Howard. They're bringing the best and brightest back to NBC."

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.