Open Mic

A Wakeup Call for the Broadcast Networks About Your Upfront Presentations

Chuck Ross Posted May 19, 2010 at 5:43 AM

While many of us in this Twitterized, FiOSed, Facebooked, Comcastic world have noticed that we’re a decade or so into the 21st Century, it appears that the broadcast networks have not.

Hey, even old fogies realize that we’re living in the world of “The Jetsons,” not “The Flintstones.”

I’m talking about the upfront presentations this week.

Where’s the pizzazz? The zing? Even advertisers need the zest. And I thought this was supposed to be the dawning of the golden age of the consumer, when he and she is supposed to be able to get his or her media when and where he or she wants it. When it comes to the upfront presentations, where are the viewers--many of them fans, if not fanatics, of some or many TV shows?

Weren’t the broadcast networks paying attention one Thursday night a few weeks ago when a most non-traditional program on cable was the one of the highest-rated programs of the night?

I’m speaking of the NFL draft. Shown in primetime for the first time, it was a huge success for the two networks that cablecast it, ESPN and the NFL Network.

OK, so that’s sports fanatics. What’s that got to do with the broadcast network upfront presentations?

Well, Mr. and Ms. Broadcast Network Control Freak, why not reveal the new fall schedule in a somewhat similar manner? Like the Emmys, the show would rotate from network each season, or perhaps be shown on multiple networks. And, of course, it would be live, and streamed over the Internet as well. Highlights would be uploaded as they happened to YouTube, Hulu and myriad other sites.

Time for the show.

On stage is a giant scheduling grid, empty at first. Dawn Ostroff of the CW bounces on stage to reveal the first show, Monday at 8 p.m. It’s…“Melrose Place.” But wait, hadn't the trades said that show was canceled? Yes, Dawn says, but, in fact, we hadn’t canceled it. Fooled ya!

Next up is Angela Bromstad, who says, “Can I ask Jack McCoy, to come up here and join me?” Laughter. Sam Waterston bounces on stage and reveals NBC’s 8 p.m. offering for Monday: the original “Law & Order.” But wait, hadn't the trades said that was canceled? Yes, Angela says, but, in fact, we hadn’t canceled it. Fooled ya!

Now it’s Steve McPherson’s turn. No, wait, it’s really J.J. Abrams walking onstage. The general public doesn’t know what either guy looks like, but it’s a good inside joke for those of us in the industry. Abrams reveals that ABC’s 8 p.m. offerering on Monday is “Undercovers.” But when he shows the short clip, it’s an old episode of “Alias” with caricatures of Brad and Angelina awkwardly affixed to some of the actor's faces. But wait, hadn’t the trades said this new retread was gonna be on NBC? Yes, J.J. says. Fooled ya!

Kevin Reilly is next, revealing Fox’s 8 p.m. entry, and it’s a stunner. It’s a game show: “Even a 5th Grader Can Figure Out When to Take the Offer From the Man Upstairs and Not Keep Playing Round after Round after Round Because, For Cryin’ Out Loud, the Suitcase You Picked Does NOT Have the Million Dollars in It.”

Finally, Nina Tassler, takes the stage. She explains how CBS is all about comedy on Mondays so at 8 p.m. they are presenting the comedy crime procedural--from Jerry Bruckheimer--“Murder She Wrote,” with Betty White playing a ditzy version of the beloved character first played by the younger Angela Lansbury.

As the oohs and aahs of the studio audience fill the air, our host, Al Michaels, tells us to stay tuned for round two after a short commercial break, adding that we’ll also be seeing Jimmy Kimmel’s commentary about the proceedings, as well as analysis by TV network executive Jack Donaghy. And if you’re on Twitter, Michaels adds, you can follow Paula Abdul’s incomprehensible observations.#