Unlocking the Mysteries of Networks’ Upfront Week

May 23, 2005  •  Post A Comment

The networks’ upfront week is an annual exercise in information overload after which unanswered questions inevitably linger. Following are TelevisionWeek’s answers to some of the more pressing mysteries.

Q: Where will the next hit comedy come from?

A: Judging by audience reactions to jokes in the scripted skits that have become staples of upfront presentations, the solution to prime-time’s sitcom crisis is to hire the upfront writers-except, perhaps, whoever wrote the sequence in which “The Office’s” Steve Carell ran screaming down the aisle at NBC’s presentation and climbed over VIPs to cuddle briefly with and plant a kiss smack on the lips of NBC Universal Chairman Bob Wright. We’re still trying to translate the expression on Suzanne Wright’s face.

Q: Who or what seen at the upfront is likely to keep standards departments ever vigilant?

A: In NBC’s life-after-being-fat sitcom “Thick and Thin,” a character declares “I’m so fat I can’t see my cooch.”

“Will & Grace’s” Debra Messing did her bit at the NBC upfront by uttering the S-word.

The repartee, written and delivered by “Will & Grace” executive producers Max Mutchnick and David Kohan, who are joining The WB family with their delivery of “Twins,” was not at all what is expected from The WB. One of those naughty boys dissed a WB signature show: “`Smallville’? I don’t think so. How ’bout `Hung Like a Horseville’?” When Melanie Griffith, who plays the “Twins” mom, took her bow on stage, she said: “I would totally watch `Hung Like a Horseville.”‘

Fran Drescher, who stars in The WB’s “Living With Fran,” informed the upfront crowd, “In June I will be celebrating five years of wellness from uterine cancer,” and then shouted: “Just remember, ladies, do your Kliegel exercises.” We know what Kegel exercises are, but we’re not sure which body part benefits from “Kliegel” clenches.

Q: In 2002 ABC started weeknights with comedies, a strategy it called “Happy Hour.” Anything like that coming in the 2005-2006 season?

A: Look for the “Sappy Hour” at 8 p.m. on Fridays, when NBC plans to grant “Three Wishes” in a different town each week with a reality series and CBS has cast the aptly named Jennifer Love Hewitt as a “Ghost Whisperer” who sees dead people to a more peaceful afterlife. For midseason, ABC has an appointment with “The Miracle Workers,” a reality show in which a medical dream team prescribes cutting-edge medicine and hope for people in dire shape. ABC Entertainment President Stephen McPherson said of “Wishes”: “Oprah should be offended. They’re just stealing her concept.”

Q: Much has been made of CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves’ having so much fun at the expense of NBC and NBC Universal Television Group President Jeffrey Zucker. Did the other networks just stand quietly by?

A: Um, no. ABC Entertainment President Stephen McPherson clearly has been quietly sharpening his stick. His assessment of NBC’s optimism that, despite having fallen from first to fourth place in one season, it is only one hit away from a turnaround? “That’s the equivalent of, `My retirement plan is to play the lottery.”‘

2005-06 Network Fall Schedule