May 19, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Upfront week invariably produces questions that go well beyond “How many episodes of this puppy have you picked up?” TelevisionWeek has the answers … in some cases.
Crime-driven dramas will be big next fall. Sitcoms are going to be everywhere. What other genres are going to be big?
Inspired-by-the-life-of programming is the new reality genre sprouting all over the place next fall.
At The WB alone, there are three inspired-by series on the fall schedule: All About the Andersons, a semiautobiographical comedy about star Anthony Anderson’s life as an aspiring actor and a single father; Like Family, an autobiographical comedy about a mixed-race, two-family household from Dan Fogelman; and Run of the House, Betsy Thomas’s comedy about a teenager whose older siblings become surrogate parents because their real parents are globetrotters.
On ABC, is Chris Henchy’s comedy inspired by his courtship and married life with Brooke Shields, who has been a star since childhood.
On UPN, there is All of Us, a comedy inspired by Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s life.
On NBC is Miss Match, starring Alicia Silverstone as a divorce lawyer-matchmaker very loosely inspired by the existence in New York of a woman who juggles those two roles.
There has been buzz about the controversial and adult nature of Coupling, the NBC comedy developed from the British hit of the same name. Is that show going to be the raciest offering this fall?
Clips screened at the upfront raise the question of whether NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker might have been cleverly laying on the “Coupling will be controversial” talk to divert attention from a jaw-dropping racy scene from the Las Vegas pilot. That 9 p.m. Monday drama stars James Caan as the head of a high-powered Vegas security team. In the most suggestive scene of any shown all week, Mr. Caan’s father figure walks in on his daughter while she is test driving his newest hunky hire in bed. Sitting upright and effectively naked, the daughter (played by Molly Sims) does not miss a beat as she looks over her shoulder and grins: “Hi, Daddy.”
What were the most unpredictable insider jokes made during the upfront presentations?
That’s an easy question. The most out-of-left-field joke was The Tonight Show’s Jay Leno invoking the name of Scott Sassa (the former NBC West Coast president who became a floating NBC executive in May 2002, six months after Mr. Zucker was named NBC Entertainment president without visible portfolio), as part of a joke about `taking people who know what they are doing and putting them in jobs where they don’t know what they are doing.”
Most elaborate was the “Godmama” video spoof introducing Joann Ross in her first upfront appearance as president of CBS ad sales. She was cast as a woman willing to knock off her predecessor, Joe Abruzzese, because he was giving away spots. “Now I know how to get to Carnegie Hall,” said Ms. Ross, the first woman to hold her title at a broadcast network.
Please settle an argument between my friend and me. My friend says The WB “suits” must draw straws to decide who of its talent take so long to respond to their cue that at first it’s comical, then it’s annoying and then it’s scary as you imagine all the reasons cute young things might not have arrived at the ballroom in a major Manhattan hotel.
It’s true that some WB executives think it helps win over an audience as they watch WB programmer Jordan Levin vamp until the actor or actress finally bursts breathlessly onto the stage.
But you are right. This annual appearance is born of coincidence. While the advertisers, the press and AOL Time Warner brass gather in the ballroom of the Sheraton New York and Towers-in which they will sit hip-to-hip on back-breaking uncomfortable chairs-the WB talent is in a holding room one floor up, whiling away the time giving interviews and checking out the newbies joining The WB family. It’s understandable they can get caught up in either activity and not hear the faint sounds drifting up the escalator or the big bass boom of WB theme songs forcing someone to go fetch them.
Why aren’t all those people who leave upfronts before the programs are over afraid they’ll miss something?
Most of them probably think they are avoiding something-like the second and third songs in a set by Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi and the Have Love Will Travel Revue at ABC’s otherwise most-entertaining-in-years show. Or CBS Chairman Les Moonves’ 15th declaration of what CBS stands for.
But, there also is the chance that they will miss the surprise appearance by Jennifer Lopez, looking all pretty and almost matronly in a knee-length cocktail dress, to make a short and gracious speech about her production deal as Telemundo’s upfront is wrapping up at New York’s Beacon Theatre. The audience saw no sign of Ben Affleck, but there was no sign anyone was disappointed by that.