Upfront mysteries explained

May 20, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Upfront week invariably produces questions that go well beyond, “How many days before that puppy can be multiplayed or multiplexed?”
Electronic Media has the answers-in some cases.
So what’s the real scoop behind ABC passing on “The Corsairs,” the audacious, bigger-than-life “Dallas”-type prime-time soap by legendary TV scribe Larry Gelbart (“M*A*S*H,” “Caesar’s Hour”)?
Susan Lyne, talking about the pilot episode, titled “Rosebud, My Ass,” in EM last month: “I think we’re very ripe for a big prime-time soap, and this one is particularly rich. Larry is such an extraordinary writer. It was very entertaining on page. But the amazing thing is the layers of emotion and humor and just plain smarts that came through during the first reading of the script. It’s a revelation working with him.”
Ms. Lyne, talking to EM last week about why the show isn’t on ABC’s schedule this fall and isn’t slated as a midseason replacement: “We had an embarrassment of riches, and unfortunately the show did not make it.”
Our sources tell us that Ms. Lyne liked the pilot, starring John Larroquette as a media baron, but that ABC’s real-life media baron, Michael Eisner, thought it was too smart, too adult. Another barrier the show faced is that prime-time soaps notoriously don’t repeat well, which makes it hard to recoup the money the series would have cost. But if the show had become a hit, that would have been less of a liability. Other sources said Mr. Eisner was also uncomfortable that the show was about a media baron-which is, of course, what Touchstone/ABC asked Mr. Gelbart to write about.
Rosebud, my ass, indeed.
Did Bob Holmes survive producing three upfronts-for NBC, Telemundo and Pax-in three days?
Barely. And thank you for asking. On Friday, Mr. Holmes was feeling as if he had qualified for a Guinness record and was looking forward to going home to Los Angeles, where he planned to sleep all weekend.
“I haven’t been this tired ever,” said Mr. Holmes, who produced the red-carpet arrivals for NBC’s 75th anniversary special May 5 and then went right into “18-, 19- and 20-hour days” working with two crews.
Mr. Holmes, an independent producer who is kept more than busy producing live events for NBC, had nine stage managers assigned to the production numbers that got NBC’s show off to a fast start. “We only had the chance to rehearse two or three times,” Mr. Holmes said. “It was an unbelievable challenge.”
Now that Fox has two, count ’em, two certifiable Kings of Comedy-Bernie Mac and Cedric the Entertainer-on its bench, why wouldn’t at least one of them be the designated joker at the all-important upfront? In other words, why did Fox’s Television Entertainment Group President Sandy Grushow and Fox’s most valuable producer David E. Kelley get to tell jokes badly?
Ummmmmm, because they can?
But why didn’t anyone at least lay down a ground rule that unless one can pull off a Moonves joke (Mr. Grushow) or a departed-Kennedy joke (Mr. Kelley), one shouldn’t tell said jokes?
Ummmmmm, because they can’t?
Please settle an office debate that was ignited when Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman, who got two muscular hugs from “24” star Kiefer Sutherland on stage, turned to the upfront audience, grinned, did a gleeful thumbs-up gesture and said, “Job perk.” Could a male executive have gotten away with that comment?
That’s an interesting question, because a man in a similar position of power probably wouldn’t be able to make the same gesture without thinking twice, even thrice, that he probably was leaving himself wide open to misinterpretation. On the other hand, this is Kiefer Sutherland we’re talking about, and what woman in that auditorium wasn’t imagining herself in a position attendant with similar perks? Still, we’re thinking that the hugs without the comment would be the best of all possible choices-and worlds-for a powerful person of either gender.#