About

TelevisionWeek is supplementing its wall-to-wall news coverage of this year’s upfront TV advertising market with a staff blog bringing readers all the sights, sounds and flavors of the network presentations and parties.

Categories

Previous Months

Upfront


Fall TV Video Preview

May 21, 2007 3:49 PM

TVWeek.com is hosting clips from pilots of all the major networks new Fall shows, and even some of their Spring 2008 shows too.

The clips can be viewed individually, by network, or by their scheduled day of the week.

Go here to watch the clips, and then come back to the blog to discuss them.

CW's Big Surprise

May 18, 2007 1:31 AM

Live at the Upfronts

“Just keep moving! Put away your IDs!” shouts the guard.

Yes, of course, put away your IDs! No, you don’t need to check-in. C’mon, this The CW’s upfront, any hobo can go. If you printed out your confirmation email, or made a copy of somebody else’s or, hell, just waved a white piece of paper, that’s about all you needed to get into Madison Square Garden and see the network’s presentation to ad executives.

Inside, the Pussycat Dolls kicked things off with a performance of “Don’t Cha.” Everybody slags on the PCDs, mocks them for looking like, as one TVWeek staffer put it, “post-op trannies.” Everyone rolls their eyes at their CW reality show and simple pop songs. But you would think Rupert Murdoch was on stage announcing plans to cut his advertising rates 75 percent across his media empire as intensely as the Madison Avenue crowd watched those six girls dance.

The CW upfront was all about energy. High energy and pimping 18 to 34 demographics. The big surprise, however, was that the CW’s new shows looked pretty darn good (at least from the clips). Sitcom “Aliens in America” had a quick, witty “Malcolm In the Middle” vibe, but with more sweetness than you’d expect. “Reaper” was very Kevin Smith, mixing pop-culture slackers and the supernatural. The lazily titled “Online Nation” drew laughs for its user-generated clips. The mother-daughter beauty contest competitors in reality series “Crowned” seemed like actors in a Christopher Guest mockumentary.

Curiously, the least impressive show was The CW’s tentpole, “Gossip Girl,” which felt like a cookie cutter “The O.C.” in an Upper East Side setting, where impossibly snooty girls use excessively proper grammar.

At the conclusion of the show, a Pussycat Doll sung a new CW theme song, “Get Into It.” This is such a throwback to the upfront bygone days when the Big Three each had their own theme songs, that it’s almost retro-cool. The song, however, sent ad executives streaming for the exits, but that was also likely due to eagerness to avoid the cab line outside.

Oh, and everybody who went got a complimentary vomity-green CW tote bag that smelled like an inflatable life raft.

E-mail James Hibberd

CBS: Enter the Grown-Ups

May 17, 2007 11:53 PM

Live at the Upfronts

I’m going a little easy on the CBS upfront because affable CW publicist Paul Hewitt wrote the script. To be clear, Paul hasn’t given me any insight into his process, but I can’t imagine there’s a tougher writing gig than coming up with jokes for Les Moonves, not to mention incorporating the various agendas of dozens of networks executives into a live presentation for thousands of ad buyers.

The affair was low-key. No song and dance – even for the musical “Viva Laughlin.” Earlier, talking to Moonves at CBS HQ, the media titan confessed he was worried people would say they were doing “Cop Rock” (1990, Bochco, singing cops, disaster).

As a person with a terrible memory who, weirdly, vividly recalls watching the “Cop Rock” pilot in slack-jawed wonder, the feeling I had watching gamblers break into song during the “Viva” clip wasn’t entirely unlike the sensation of seeing officers strolling through the precinct singing “He’s guil-ty.”

Aside from “Viva,” there was also vampire detective drama “Moonlight” (so cheesy it just might work) and comedy “The Big Bang Theory” … I’m tempted to dismiss “Theory” as another lame parade of sitcom sex jokes, but I have a theory of my own: Smart sitcoms don’t work. Everybody in the media and entertainment industry loves “Arrested Development” and “The Office” and “30 Rock” … which is why they underperform. Because smart people (smart people working outside of media and entertainment, at least) don’t watch many sitcoms. “How I Met Your Mother” is by far the funniest and most clever CBS sitcom on Monday night, which is why it generally gets the lowest rating. So, by that theory, “Bang” could be a hit.

CBS also showed a trailer for “Swingtown,” which played like CBS discovering the ‘70s for the first time. There’s shots of joints, 8-track tapes, pool parties and Dylan references, each played like checking off a list of ‘70s touchstones. All the characters are dressed like they’re at a costume party rather than actually inhabiting the period.

During the show, there was an inspired recurring bit riffing off the great YouTube clip of endless David Caruso one-liners from “CSI: Miami.” Caruso gamely introducing each night of the CBS schedule with a new, cheesy quip. And it was also nice to see Entertainment President Nina Tassler getting her claws out to rip buzz-heavy competitors who actually get lower ratings than CBS’s shows, such as “Survivor” vs. “Ugly Betty.”

“We like ‘Betty’ but the truth is ‘Betty’ is uglier than you think,” Tassler said. “It’s rating have fallen 44 percent.”

E-mail James Hibberd

Katee Sackhoff's "Battlestar"/"Bionic" Future

May 16, 2007 7:22 PM

Live at the Upfronts

Even a bionic woman can’t be in two places at once, so how is “Battlestar Galactica” actress Katee Sackhoff going to manage her fourth season of “Battlestar” commitment with a “recurring guest role” in “Bionic Woman”? (Yes, I know I wrote earlier that I wasn’t going to spoil which “BSG” vets are recurring in “Bionic,” but it’s all over the Internet now anyway).

Angela Bromstad, president of NBC Universal Television Studio, which produces both “Battlestar” and “Bionic” tells it this way: Originally, Sackhoff’s bionic bad-girl character was scripted to get killed off by good-bionic lead Michelle Ryan in the pilot. Only problem was, as “BSG” viewers can attest, Sackhoff tends to absolutely steal the screen. Naturally, Bromstad didn’t quite put it that way. Oh, wait -- she did.

“[Sackhoff] absolutely steals the screen in ‘Bionic,’” Bromstad said, before adding: “Michelle is a little more ‘girl-next-door’ and plays that very well.”

Bromstad said details are still being figured out, but expressed confidence Sackhoff was going to continue in both series. “Bionic” and “BSG” are both shot in Vancouver, which eases the logistics. Plus, of course, the studio produces both shows.

“In theory she can do both because it’s the same company, there are just Guild rules you have to be able to agree on involving the number of guest-star episodes,” she said. “It’s still being figured out how much she would reoccur and what role she will play. We’ll work with ourselves to make it work.”

“Bionic” was considered a frontrunner for the coveted post-“Heroes” slot, which industry observers were surprised to see snatched up by time-travel drama “Journeyman.” “Bionic” instead will air Wednesdays at 9 p.m. -- normally a good time period, but this fall it will be up against “Grey’s Anatomy” spin-off “Private Practice.”

“Yeah, we’re disappointed,” Bromstad said. “At the same time, I think it shows the network’s confidence in the show [“Journeyman”]. It’s a bold confident move.”

E-mail James Hibberd

A Rather Early Look at “Bionic Woman”

May 16, 2007 3:33 PM

Live at the Upfronts

For “Bionic Woman,” NBC should read the book “Good to Great.” The pilot is good … it’s just not great … and for anything to survive next fall, it needs to be great … but all the elements are there for it to be great with a little extra effort. Got it? Good. Great.

The opening scene is terrific (some mild spoilers coming, for those who are sensitive). Armed soldiers marching down the hall a remote research facility. They storm past bloody corpses torn apart. They find a cowering woman responsible for the carnage, played by Katee Sackhoff (“Battlestar Galactica”) with her usual feral intensity. Sackhoff says she can’t control herself and asks the lead soldier if he loves her. He says he does, then he shoots her. Great stuff. Great sci-fi. Go geek TV.

Then the pilot downshifts to merely good with introduction of lead Michelle Ryan as Jamie Sommers. Her relationship with her angry/deaf teen sister feels forced. Her scientist boyfriend says there’s something special about her, but the audience needs a little help seeing it too.

You know NBC is going for an episodic, self-contained show because within about 15 minutes Sommers has had her accident (which is effective and startling) and received her bionic transplants. We’re then told she needs to “sing for her supper” by working for the mysterious government organization, which she’s understandably reluctant to do.

For fans of “Battlestar” (“Bionic” executive producer David Eick also produces “BSG”) there’s not one, but three “BSG” vets cast in the pilot, two of which appear to have recurring roles (wary of spoilers, I won’t say which). Needless to say, there’s a climactic rooftop battle that should please sci-fi fans.

Though many have compared “Bionic” to “Heroes,” they feel very different. “Heroes” is heavily serialized, “Bionic” is self-contained. “Heroes” is ensemble, “Bionic” is focused on Sommers. “Heroes” aims to be a living comic book, while “Bionic” embraces its 1970s spin-off roots. It’s not trying to reinvent the TV wheel, just give it a good spin.

E-mail James Hibberd

Univision Upfront

May 16, 2007 3:04 PM

Live at the Upfronts

OK, it's official: Univision had more fun at its upfront than the networks that preceded it. Was it Marc Anthony, backed up by a 12-piece-plus band, closing the presentation with three brass-heavy numbers? Was it Jennifer Lopez showing up to flack her new show "Como Ama una Mujer?" Was it the emcee, comedian Andrew Kennedy making fun of Anglos? Was it Univision's co-sales chiefs Dennis McCauley and Tom McGarrity doing wire work a la "The Matrix" (or was that "Mary Poppins?") above the stage?

Whatever it is, it worked. I don't seem to remember 90 percent of the audiences at ABC or NBC on their feet, attempting (in some cases, painfully) to salsa. COO Ray Rodriguez and new CEO (and former ad buyer) Joe Uva did their obligatory pitch, crediting their newish private-equity owners with seeing what all the ad buyers in the audience should see: That Univision viewers love their network more than other networks' viewers love them. It was a veiled engagement pitch that wasn't as animatronic as some of the other networks' executives' performances. Which made it somehow, well, more engaging.

Tassler Responds to the Press

May 16, 2007 1:00 PM

Live at the Upfronts

After talking reporters through its fall 2007 schedule Wednesday morning, CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler was asked by a male member of the press if she had awakened in a cold sweat any nights while drawing up a lineup that continues to take CBS further away from the old “Touched by an Angel” days and deeper into edgy territory.

Raucous laughter started rippling through the room at CBS’s Black Rock headquarters in New York even before the reporter was even able to put a question mark at the end of it.

“I wake up in a cold sweat for other reasons,” said Ms. Tassler.

No translation needed for Baby Boomer women.

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.

E-mail James Hibberd

A Rather Early Look at 'Pushing Daises'

May 15, 2007 7:00 PM

Live at the Upfronts

Some thoughts on the ABC upfront in a moment but first I want to gush about ABC’s new fall series “Pushing Daises,” whose pilot I watched on the plane.

The Warner Bros./ABC program looks like something dreamed up by Tim Burton in his “Beetlejuice” and “Edward Scissorhands” era, though its director Barry Sonnenfeld (“The Addams Family,” “Men in Black” and, most recently for ABC, “Notes From the Underbelly”) calling the shots. Snappy script by Bryan Fuller successfully blends morbid subject matter with smart-witty dialogue, while the high-definition Technicolor settings flirt with surrealism without ever pushing the whole show into an alienating fantasyland.

Plot centers on Ned, a baker (whose shop is named The Pie Hole … nice) who can bring the dead back to life with a mere touch, only with two key caveats: If he touches the person a second time, they die again – this time permanently. Yet if he doesn’t touch them a second time, and allows them to live more than one minute, another seemingly random person in close proximity dies instead.

Ned temporarily resurrects murder victims for a private detective, who notes “murders are much easier to solve when you can ask the victim who killed them.” Complications arise when Ned resurrects a murdered childhood friend, and lets her continue living beyond his usual one-minute literal deadline.

Naturally some will question whether the premise can sustain itself, and others will wonder if viewers will embrace the series in sufficient numbers. Don’t care. It’s great TV and takes a risk.

E-mail James Hibberd

Short and Sweet

May 15, 2007 6:31 PM

Live at the Upfronts

If brevity is the soul of wit, NBC’s short presentation brought a smile to many of the ad buyers getting warmed up for the upfront marathon.

Otherwise, NBC had little new humor for sale. In what some buyers said might be an unprecedented move, the network of “Cosby,” “Cheers,” and “Seinfeld” presented no new sitcoms. “Chuck,” their geeks-in-love/peril hour is more of a drama than the laughs caused by its upfront clips indicate, according to NBC insiders.

Buyers got a nervous laugh during NBC’s Olympics presentation, which boasted that the network would be presenting about six days worth of programming every day during the games. After being told how many events would be held in the morning in Beijing so the could be televised live here in the U.S., NBC’s taped presentation glitched, and repeated itself once, twice, then three times before getting all the way through.

Backstage, NBC Universal Sports and Olympics Chairman Dick Ebersol advised NBC Universal Sales President Mike Pilot to make light of the snafu. He did, but a better joke came from one wag who suggested that running tapes over and over again was how NBC planned to fill so many hours of coverage.

The best joke came from Jerry Seinfeld, who remarked on how much things have changed since his show went off the air. These days, the airwaves are full of people eating worms and one-legged dancers. “It’s like the industry packed up and joined the circus,” he said.

E-mail Jon Lafayette