Hillary Atkin

A Look Back at the 2016 TV Upfronts

May 25, 2016

It’s been a week since the 2016 TV upfronts drew to a close and the music — and the spoofs — of “Hamilton” are still ringing in our ears. The smash hit Broadway show was omnipresent during the week of May 16 with cast members performing at a number of network presentations, including some unexpected ones, like ESPN.

Amid all the talk of catering to millennials, who have surpassed baby boomers as the nation’s largest demographic, here’s a chronological snapshot of what went down during the whirlwind week in New York and some upcoming programs that caught our attention:


The Presentation: For the first time, NBCU combined its broadcast and cable properties into one mega upfront at Radio City Music Hall, which Steve Burke said saves media buyers tons of taxi money schlepping to various events. Things got off to a rollicking start with Jimmy Fallon parading down the aisle of the vaunted venue dressed in period costume as Alexander Hamilton and singing a tune as he took the stage. Telemundo, Bravo, USA, Syfy and E! programs were part of the two-hour mix that formerly spotlighted only NBC shows. Seth Meyers joked that the last time he’d been part of it the event, it was held at the greatly disliked Javits Center. “The usual trajectory is from there to the men’s room at Penn Station, but now we’re back at Radio City,” he noted. Telemundo, which formerly held its own event, put on a private concert that night at the Hammerstein Ballroom with an hour-long Jennifer Lopez show featuring four costume changes and many of her greatest hits. And of course, shirtless male dancers.

The Programs: First and foremost, the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro for which Burke boasted “17 straight days during Olympics, and if you add up CBS, ABC and Fox ratings, and triple them, our ratings will beat that.” The time-travel drama series “Timeless” lands the Monday 10 p.m. timeslot behind “The Voice,” which will feature two female coaches, Miley Cyrus and Alicia Keys, alongside Adam Levine and Blake Shelton. Dick Wolf expands his “Chicago” series to four with “Chicago Justice.” Comedies “Superstore” and “The Good Place” seek to revive comedy on the Peacock Net on Thursday nights. “The New Celebrity Apprentice” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger — not to be confused with the old one featuring Donald Trump — debuts after the presidential election. The Kardashians may hit Cuba next season on E!, which will also put Mariah Carey front and center in a new reality series. “Mr. Robot” promises an even more sinister Season 2 on USA. Syfy debuts the new Dennis Haysbert starrer “Incorporated.”


The Presentation: The network returned to its usual home, the Beacon Theater, where outside, men dressed in orange jumpsuits handed out pretzels and cupcakes to mark the return of “Prison Break.” With the pounding beat of the iconic “24” theme interspersed throughout, Gary Newman and Dana Walden presented the network’s fall and midseason slate. A featured performance by the stars of “Empire” filled the entertainment bill. “Let’s see the cast of ‘NCIS’ do that,” Newman remarked. Afterwards, attendees decamped to Central Park’s Wollman Rink where the attractions included a NatGeo multi-cam photo booth, specialty cocktails, multiple food stations and a cookies and ice cream bar, photo opportunities with cast members and a DJ set from Terry Crews.

The Programs: “24: Legacy,” whose preview clip got a huge response from the crowd, will feature “Homeland’s” Miranda Otto as the head of the revived CTU and co-stars Jimmy Smits and Corey Hawkins. “The Simpsons” will hit a landmark, its 600th episode. Remakes of movie blasts from the past “Lethal Weapon” and “The Exorcist” will hit the small screen — along with a two-hour telefilm re-imagining “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” starring Laverne Cox. “Son of Zorn,” a live action/animated comedy toplined by Jason Sudeikis, will debut in the 2016-17 season, as will “Star,” featuring Queen Latifah, Benjamin Bratt and Lenny Kravitz, and “Pitch,” about a female Major League Baseball pitcher. Sports fans can also look forward to Super Bowl LI and the ’16 World Series.


The Presentation: A surprise at the Minskoff Theater for the sports network’s early-morning upfront — a performance by ”Hamilton” Grammy Award-winning and Tony Award-nominated artists Daveed Diggs and Leslie Odom Jr., who opened and closed the presentation with an original performance written and created exclusively for the event. Also adding to the excitement, Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard, who took the stage with “SportsCenter” host Scott Van Pelt. Other star athletes making an appearance, Brett Favre and Chris Paul, along with anchors and analysts including Kenny Mayne, Jessica Mendoza, Stephen A. Smith, Jon Gruden and Michael Smith.

The Programs: “O.J.: Made in America,” a six-hour documentary series, debuts next month. Plus, the next installment in the Emmy Award-winning “30 for 30”series, “Doc & Darryl,” in which directors Judd Apatow (“Trainwreck,” “This Is 40”) and Michael Bonfiglio (“You Don’t Know Bo”) will explore the lives and careers of former New York Mets superstars, the young flame thrower Dwight “Doc” Gooden and feared power hitter Darryl Strawberry.


The Presentation: Dispensing with any “Hamilton” connection that so enamored the other networks, Univision opened its presentation at the Lyric Theatre with a performance by the band that won music competition show “La Banda,” CNCO, and closed with a number from another Broadway hit, the Gloria Estefan musical “On Your Feet!” In between, Executive VP Advertising Sales Steve Mandala touted expanded content options in sports, drama, comedy and music as well as expanding the network’s reach to non-Hispanics. He said the network’s traditional novelas will be faster-paced and reflect more real-life scenarios.

The Programs: In a first, Univision will air the first season of a Netflix original, “Narcos,” tracing the life of drug lord Pablo Escobar, leading up to the launch of its second season on Netflix. Under a similar “reverse syndication” deal, the network’s cable channel UniMás will air the first season of another Netflix series, “Club de Cuervos.” Expanded offerings on the comedy side include a series on Fusion based on the parody site The Onion. Saturday night soccer will be added to the Univision Deportes lineup.


The Presentation: It is traditional that Jimmy Kimmel takes the stage at Lincoln Center to poke fun at his own network — and at all the others — and this year was no exception. More on that in a moment. But it was “Quantico” star Priyanka Chopra who dominated the afternoon, opening the presentation with a Bollywood dance number and closing it similarly. It was Channing Dungey’s first upfront as entertainment president, a job she took only three months ago, replacing Paul Lee. Kimmel alluded to that during his 10-minute skewer-fest when he said, “This is kind of our family reunion every year. Where’s Uncle Paul? Oh that’s right, I forgot. … I hate to see anyone, especially a British person, lose his dental plan.” As for the industry’s obsession with reaching millennials, he had this to say: “Are we really going to let the vaping, SnapChatting, music-stealing little f—–s determine how we do business?” In conclusion, Kimmel said, after lambasting Fox’s Newman and Walden, Schwarzenegger and CBS’s Leslie Moonves, “2016 is still an exciting time in broadcast television. In the same way 1937 was an exciting time to be on the Hindenburg.”

The Programs: Big buzz around Kiefer Sutherland in “Designated Survivor,” a new drama in which he plays a Cabinet member who becomes the president of the United States after a terrorist attack. It does not look to be a reprise of his infamous role in “24” as Jack Bauer. Anthology series “American Crime” will return despite low ratings. “When We Rise” chronicles the history of the LGBT rights movement. “Dirty Dancing” will be remade as a three-hour musical event. And there’s a talking animal show, “Downward Dog.” Woof, woof.


The Presentation: Anderson Cooper and Conan O’Brien opened it up by sharing the stage at the theater at Madison Square Garden, both admitting something they have in common — they are two of the palest men on TV. They’re joined by Charles Barkley. Their repartee includes fake sponsors like Mr. Scholl’s foot pads. CNN’s Jake Tapper and Dana Bash then review their performance. Kevin Reilly, in his second upfront for the company, says O’Brien is doing his best work, except for that morning. More humor comes from “Full Frontal” star Samantha Bee, who calls the current election season “a fucking gift from heaven.” And then there are short stand-up sets from Adam Conover and Billy Eichner. Later in the evening, Adult Swim and truTV held separate soirées for network execs and media buyers, reveling into the wee hours.

The Programs: “Downton Abbey’s” Michelle Dockery brandishes a gun and an American accent in ”Good Behavior.” “The Alienist” promises to be marquee programming, according to Reilly. “Will” features a brash, young William Shakespeare entering the raucous London theater scene of the 16th century, told in a contemporary style with a modern soundtrack.

NCM Media Networks

The Presentation: Inside the AMC Loews Lincoln Square, popcorn-munching attendees got sneak peeks at some of 2016’s upcoming blockbusters while executives of National CineMedia touted the power of advertising to the millennial audience on the big screen. NCM’s “First Look” preshow, screened before feature films on more than 20,000 screens nationally, reaches more than 700 million moviegoers annually. This was the company’s fifth upfront.

The Programs: Guest saw trailers of highly anticipated films including Walt Disney Studios’ “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the sorcerer supreme, “Bad Moms,” a new comedy from the writers of “The Hangover,” and “Rings,” the third installment in Paramount’s popular horror series. There were also clips of two animated tales, “Finding Dory” and “Moana,” the story of an adventurous teenager on a daring mission to save her people.


The Presentation: In this competitive week, just as it does in the ratings, CBS came out on top at Carnegie Hall with the biggest and the best “Hamilton” offering, including an exclusive: Lin-Manuel Miranda — on video. He talked about the show’s CBS connection, with the soundtrack being on CBS Records, and the Tony Awards — with the show scoring a record 16 nominations – set to air on CBS June 12. More than a dozen cast members performed, joined by James Corden, who also did a special upfront edition of his “Carpool Karaoke” with network sales president Jo Ann Ross. Leslie Moonves was the confident master of ceremonies, noting how he had been the butt of jokes at other networks, including being pictured as Les Luthor at Fox and dissed by Kimmel at ABC. “Keep the jokes coming, other guys,” he said, while touting, “Ours was the best ‘Hamilton.’” Afterwards, CBS gave the week’s best party by taking over the lobby of the Plaza Hotel and its downstairs gourmet food court, which featured everything from sushi and pizza to oysters, shrimp, and macarons, cookies and fine chocolates. Amidst all the hubbub, cast members of new shows posed for pictures as waiters served specialty cocktails and champagne.

The Programs: CBS’s new streaming service, All Access, will be the home of the recently announced spinoff of “The Good Wife,” as well as Bryan Fuller’s upcoming “Star Trek” reboot. Kevin James is back on network TV with “Kevin Can Wait.” Matt LeBlanc stars in “Man with a Plan.” Dermot Mulroney toplines “Pure Genius.” “Bull” is inspired by Dr. Phil McGraw’s days as a jury consultant. A remake of “Training Day” stars Bill Paxton in the Denzel Washington role with Justin Cornwell playing his recruit.


The Presentation: Despite its default position of becoming the last official event — due to the NBCU consolidation leaving the last night of upfronts wide open — the CW kept to a tight one-hour format from 11 a.m. until noon at New York City Center, a theater on 55th Street. After two opening numbers by Fitz and the Tantrums and introduction of the Golden Globe Award-winning “first ladies” of the CW, Rachel Bloom and Gina Rodriguez, Mark Pedowitz presented the network slate, while touting the network audience’s 50/50 male-female split.

The Programs: The big news, “Supergirl” is moving to the CW from CBS, joining other DC superhero shows “The Flash,” “Arrow” and “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.” Also returning are “The Vampire Diaries,” “Supernatural,” “Jane the Virgin” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” The new “No Tomorrow” is a clever comedy about achieving goals on your bucket list. “Frequency” is a remake of the 2000 film that starred Jim Caviezel and Dennis Quaid. Premiering at midseason, “Riverdale” is a subversive take on small-town life based on the characters in Archie comics. Betty and Veronica, get ready to be the new “Gossip Girls.”

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