Upfronts week kicked off with two of the four major networks wining and dining advertisers in New York, L.A., and other hubs for the people who spend crazy amounts of money buying commercial time on TV.
First off wasNBC’s upfront presentation Monday morning. The upfronts are intensely covered in the entertainment media and ho-hummed everywhere else, but NBC’s event actually made national news today. That’s because Donald Trump
used the occasion to inform advertisers and the world — in that order — that he would not be running for President of the United States.
For sheer drama, the Trump announcement ranked somewhere below Johnny Carson’s bombshell at the 1991 NBC upfront that the upcoming season would be his last, but somewhere above the decision by then-NBC chiefJeff Zucker
to air the entire pilot episode of “Joey” at the 2004 upfront.
Unlike “Joey,” though, there was never any doubt regarding the future of Trump’s supposed presidential bid. The only question was when he would officially end the charade of pretending to run. Waiting two weeks forthe stink of the White House Correspondents Association annual dinner
to wear off was as good as any.
Otherwise, the big story coming out of the New York Hilton was that NBC was no longer selling off its possessions and checking out two-bedroom villas in retirement communities. NBC had decided that it wanted to be a Real Network again, and it was back. It rolled out a dozen scripted comedies and dramas, and while none promised to be groundbreaking, it was nice to see the not-so-long-ago king of network prime time at least making an attempt to get back in the game.
AsBrian Stelter noted while live-blogging the NBC upfront, the network’s new entertainment chief, Robert Greenblatt
, told advertisers in his short opening remarks that “my mission is to rebuild NBC,” that the network was on “the road to recovery” but that a “turnaround may take years.”
The Greenblatt resume is an impressive one, and built around critically-acclaimed, Emmy-winning, attention-grabbing scripted fare:“Weeds,” “Dexter,” “The Tudors,” “The L Word,”
etc. But I hardly need mention that none of these shows, with the possible exception of “The Tudors,” would stand a chance of airing on network TV.
As I suspected, Greenblatt’s first choices for the NBC fall schedule were overly cautious, as though he weren’t entirely comfortable yet programming for a network where Mary-Louise Parker would be told to keep her top on and to wash her mouth out with soap. (By Kathy Bates, no less.)
A quick rundown of some of the shows rolled out to advertisers for the 2011-12 season on NBC:The Playboy Club
“The Playboy Club” reminded my colleagueJames Poniewozik
less of “Mad Men” than of the old NBC show “Las Vegas.” I disagree on the reference (I think it’s more like the old NBC show “American Dreams,” especially the Ike-and-Tina retro music number in the clip above), but I get his point. “Las Vegas” was about plot — conventional, one-hour TV drama story plot — and “Mad Men” was about character. “The Playboy Club” can’t possibly be about character, because the characters we see in the sizzle reel are thinner than Twiggy’s nightie.Prime Suspect
With NBC easing out of the “Law Order” business — only “SVU” will be on the schedule come fall — something had to takes its place. Why not an Americanized version of one of the most acclaimed British cop dramas of the past 15 years?
Especially now that TNT’s “The Closer” has shown that audiences won’t run away from a show with a slightly older-than-TV-normal female lead, “Prime Suspect” looks less like a winner than a can’t-lose. If this were CBS, the bar would be higher, but Greenblatt will take what he can get.
Some of the other offerings shown to NBC advertisers today, and my reactions.“Smash”
The title is wishful thinking.“Grimm”
I hate pun titles. One reporter said that “Grimm” may be on the schedule because it reminded Greenblatt of “The X-Files.”“Awake”
I’ll leave the “awake” jokes to you. All I’ll say is that the only thing missing from this is Jeff Goldblum.“Whitney” and “Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea”
Quick: What’s the ONE THING that’s REALLY working for NBC these days? Comedies with laugh tracks, am I right?Reality: Super-size them
Another conservative move by NBC is its decision to devote six hours of prime weekly real estate next season to just three reality shows. “The Biggest Loser” already runs two hours on Tuesdays; come September it will be joined by a two-hour “The Sing-Off” on Mondays, which will give way to the second season of “The Voice” in January, at which time “Celebrity Apprentice” will return Sundays, also in a super-sized edition.
In my mind, loading up with two-hour reality shows adds only a thin layer of respectability to what is otherwise a schedule padding scheme Jeff Zucker might have dreamed up. It is three-fifths of the way to Zucker’s grand scheme for “The Jay Leno Show,” which you may recall involved taking five hours of prime time away from scripted shows and giving it over to a talk-show host.
But perhaps Greenblatt is just making the best of what he’s got while waiting for another year of development to pay off. Take for instance the news about NBC’s current venue for its upfront presentation, the New York Hilton. Not to harsh on what is undoubtedly one of Midtown’s finest hotels, but the cramped, sweaty ballroom at the Hilton was used for years by what we in the business call weblets. The WB held its upfront here pretty much every year, and its successor the CW has played here too.
NBC used to play Radio City Music Hall and other places worthy of a Major Player in network TV, before suddenly announcing it would not do an upfront presentation, then having a change of heart and deciding to do it cheaper at the Hilton. But Greenblatt, who made a joke about the carpet during Monday’s upfront, apparently wants to check out of the Hilton,according to a report this afternoon by Ben Grossman
So if choice of where to put on your song-and-dance and open bar for advertisers is a sign of network ambition, well, NBC is back. Still, it might help if Greenblatt can figure out a way to create another hit show like ... um, whatever the last hit NBC show was.Fox’s turn
The network leader in shows most attractive to the viewers most attractive to advertisers had an upfront presentation that exemplified corporate Hollywood: celebrity-laden, irrationally confident and so dazzling you had no idea of whether the product was any good or not.
Jane Lynch, the star of “Glee,” kicked things off with a scripted monologue that was well received (though as I think about it now, wasn’t very good). Then came a Fox tradition: the parade of stars. While an announcer calls out their names, the stars of Fox shows new and old enter the stage and then exit the stage. In between they wave and are handed their diplomas. Seriously, I think the point of this exercise is to alert advertisers which celebrities are going to be at the after-party and available for pictures and autographs.
It was during this perp walk that Zooey Deschanel came out in a poofy red skirt. She didn’t say a thing, but was so doggoned cute, advertisers would be forgiven for not having any idea if her show was worth watching. (Here’s the clip
from her show, “New Girl,” about a recently dumped woman who moves in with three dudes.)
Likewise, later on when Fox announced it had picked up the Kiefer Sutherland paranormal show “Touch” for midseason, instead of a sizzle reel, we got Kiefer telling us what the show would be like. And I wanted to watch it — not the show, but more of Kiefertalking
about the show.
No presidential news was made at the Fox upfront, but the sizzle reels for the shows evoked various reactions as I watched them:
- “Napoleon Dynamite” (clip). Just because Fox doesn’t own MTV doesn’t mean it can’t bring back “Beavis And Butt-Head,” by another name.
- “I Hate My Teenage Daughter” (clip). Other than the interracial twist, this is like almost every dysfunctional “family” comedy to air on Fox since ... well, since “Married ... With Children.”
- “Allen Gregory” (clip). Other than the fact it’s not from “Family Guy”-“Cleveland Show”-“American Dad” creator Seth MacFarlane, this is like every Fox cartoon to come along in the past decade. Which is why you underestimate it at your peril. Fox learned from “Family Guy” to let these shows find a little time to find their audience.
- “Alcatraz” (clip). I was disappointed to learn that Jorge Garcia would not be one of the 302 inmates from Alcatraz Prison who suddenly vanished in 1963 — around the time the famed island penitentiary actually did close. Instead, as you’ll see in the clip, he’s one of the people trying to get to the bottom of the mystery behind the mass vanishing of the prisoners. I’m sure I’ll tune in anyway, just for him.
- “Terra Nova” (clip not yet available). I know everyone is super-psyched to see the first episode, which will no doubt drop at this summer’s Comic-Con, but from the five-minute sizzle reel I saw, “Terra Nova” seems like a couple of reheated ideas thrown together into a Friday school-lunch casserole. People from the future escape into the past (Caprica), only it’s the really, really prehistoric past (Jurassic Park), but other than the dinos it’s actually ... normal? One of the reasons “Lost” captured the country’s imagination is that no one saw it coming. Fox is playing it safe ordering this series from a former Fox executive and Steven Spielberg. We all see it coming. But unlike with “The X Factor,” I have my doubts that many people will actually want to watch.