The Network Upfront Presentations, Part 2

May 20, 2010

In my blog yesterday I wrote that I thought the broadcast networks need to share their upfront presentations with their viewers. They can either just broadcast the presentations or publicize how to watch them being streamed on the internet, or as I had fun doing yesterday, invent an even more compelling way to present them.

Besides some comments left on the blog that it was a stupid idea, one commenter, Doug, said that it was not a good idea because the networks often move a show’s timeslot after it’s announced in May and before its fall premiere. Since a number of programs are moved around even after their premieres, I don’t think that’s a reason not to share with the viewing public the upfront presentations as a way to get people excited about shows that are upcoming.

In fact, when I was a kid one or two of the networks actually had on-air campaigns for viewers to send in requests to receive a booklet about all about the shows coming in the fall. I very excitedly did that, and couldn’t wait for the new season to begin.

Today I want to share evaluations of this week’s upfront presentations from several perspectives. I interviewed a TV critic, a media planner and a top media agency executive who spent much of his career as a buyer, to get their reactions to the presentations. Since the presentations by the CW and Univision are later today (Thursday, May 20th), they were not included. (ESPN was also not included because not everyone interviewed had seen the presentation Tuesday morning.)

To get honest evaluations I told those I interviewed that I would not identify them by name.

First up, the high-ranking media agency executive who has primarily been a buyer most of his career. One of his primary responsibilities this week is to shepherd a few top executives of some marketers who spend a lot of money advertising on TV from upfront to upfront.

That being his priority, he ranked the NBC presentation the best, and CBS’ the most lacking. Why? Because NBC’s presentation at the New York Hilton was the easiest to keep his group together, seating-wise, while his group had the most trouble staying together at CBS’s presentation at Carnegie Hall.

Another factor he feels strongly about is that the networks should spend very little time on returning shows, and should make sure one of their visual aids used at the beginning of the presentation is a scheduling chart of some sort so both he and his clients are crystal clear at the outset about what new shows were being scheduled where.

He also likes the energy of a live presentation and prefers that both he and his clients see the presentations in-person.

By contrast, consider the young media planner I spoke to. While she was very aware of her professional responsibilities of seeing what new shows were being offered and where they fit on the schedule, it was clear from how her face lit up when discussing certain shows and stars clearly targeted to appeal to her age group that that’s what got her excited about the presentations.

She was also much enamored with the networking aspect of the upfront parties, and getting together with her friends and colleagues at other media agencies. She liked the Fox upfront the best, and some of the upcoming shows she saw at the Turner upfront for TBS and TNT.

The TV critic I spoke with was unequivocal. The best presentations were CBS, Turner and Fox. He didn’t really care for NBC, especially, he noted, the monotone speaking style of emcee Angela Bromstad. Nor did he care for ABC’s presentation. Perhaps not coincidentally, judging from the clips, he said he was least impressed with the upcoming shows of NBC and ABC.

As a journalist whose background is primarily as a reporter and not a critic, I thought the most polished presentation was that by CBS. I appreciated the fast-pace of the ABC effort. My favorite moment was the cast of “Glee” singing at the Fox upfront. Alec Baldwin had me in stitches at NBC’s upfront. Conan O’Brien at Turner was another hightlight, and I loved Kyra Sedgwick’s classy remarks about her show on TNT. Unfortunately, some of the other banter by the stars of the TBS/TNT shows was excruciating to sit through.

Of course the primary purpose of the upfront presentations is to introduce the new shows and fall schedules. On the scheduling side, the most buzz from those I spoke to was CBS’ move of “The Big Bang Theory” to Thursday. And most of those people thought it will be a smart move.

Judging the new programs is clearly problematic until one sees the pilots. It’s tough to truly evaluate them just off a short clip.

That  being said, “Friends with Benefits,” slated for midseason on NBC, looked fun to me. Many readers of this blog know that my favorite show on TV, “24,” is going off the air, and in the clips I saw I really didn’t see a potential substitute. And I know many of my friends who are into “Lost,” will be scrutinizing the fall line-ups as well when they debut.#

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