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James Hibberd



ABC Brings the Pain

May 15, 2007 9:33 PM

Live at the Upfronts

As an upfront virgin, I had hoped the New York network presentations would live up to their reputation of grandiose excess. NBC fell short of that yesterday, seeming more like a Television Critics Association presentation with better lighting.

ABC’s upfront however … there was singing and dancing (and not by Steve McPherson) and stars and The Fray and confetti and plasma TV giveways.

The festivities started off a bit sluggish, with a stiff introduction by Disney Media Networks President Anne Sweeney, who’s always struck me as secretly being a Disney animatronic. Like somebody from a network president version of “Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln.”

Head of sales Mike Shaw was next, who passionately drilled home that ABC has the most affluent viewers who watch more commercials than any other network (later, Jimmy Kimmel rather perfectly mocks this by noting ABC viewers are therefore too dumb to hit the fast-forward button).

Then came a rather impressive Broadway-style song-and-dance number with the cast of “Ugly Betty.” Madison Avenue executives nodded approvingly.

Soon after, the audience was bombarded with high-emotion clips from ABC's current vanguard of dramas. Every one of them had characters either hugging, laughing, kissing or crying. Suddenly, The Fray popped out of the stage and started performing their hit “How to Save a Life.” While they played, there were even more hugging-laughing-kissing-crying clips. The Fray hit their emotional, heart-jerking chorus, and the advertising executive next to me -- I swear this is true -- literally wiped tears of out his eyes. This is what happens, I realized, when a network doesn’t have any comedies. By the end of the damn thing, I was practically ready to buy a 30-second spot on “Brothers and Sisters."

Next, clips of ABC’s new shows. Already gushed about the “Pushing Daisies” pilot (below). Keep in mind, the rest are purely based off a few well-edited clips: “Sam I Am” looked very good. “Carpoolers” was a tad goofy. NBC’s “Lipstick Jungle” seemed a bit more fun than ABC’s “Cashmere Mafia,” but it was a tough call from the clip. Perhaps it was the edit, but “Dirty Sexy Money” seemed a bit all over the place and confusing. The “Private Practice” clip looked a lot better than the actual two-hour backdoor pilot that aired earlier this month. “Women’s Murder Club” looked very Friday night. “Eli Stone,” I didn’t respond to the concept on paper (lawyer gets a brain tumor, finds religion), but the clip drew me in. “Big Shots” has that odd feeling of a show about men written for women (like “Nip/Tuck”), with guys who are womanizing rascals but you’re supposed to love them anyway. “Miss/Guided” had a pretty funny clip.

Then there’s “Cavemen.” Unsure what to write about this one. Some of the jokes were clever, but I just stared at the screen, my mouth hanging slightly open, watching the guys in the makeup, a bit removed from the whole thing.

And still there was more. Kimmel came out and did upfront humor: “’National Bingo Night’ – a show for people who find ‘Deal or No Deal’ too complicated … ‘Law & Order’ is moving to cable, now NBC itself might be moving to cable” …

The festivities concluded with a live game of bingo promoting ABC’s upcoming “National Bingo Night.” I’m told the simulcast cameras panned to the crowd showing a sea of deadpan faces at the start of this, but the room cheered up once they were told a 50” plasma TV goes to the winner. When it was over, thick clouds of confetti and a marching band came down the isles. Now that’s an upfront.

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