Hillary Atkin

Wrapping Up Television’s Recent Upfront Presentations

May 23, 2017

Despite the intense focus on new ways of doing business in the digital era, the broadcast networks clearly have a case of Everything Old Is New Again.

From reboots of “Roseanne” to “Dynasty,” “Will & Grace” to “S.W.A.T.,” and of course, “American Idol,” that was the key takeaway from the week of television upfronts held at venues across New York City.

Historically, NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, Univision and the CW showcase their upcoming programming — and try to one-up each other with their presentations and parties — in order to score large pieces of the upfront advertising pie from audiences of media buyers and advertising executives. ESPN, Telemundo, Turner and NCM Media Networks also held their upfronts during the week of May 15.

Another theme this year was the safety of advertising on television — as opposed to online — with the guarantee that on TV, the danger of ads appearing next to objectionable content is nil.

Here are some of the highlights from the presentations:


This was the second year in a row that the media giant combined all of its networks including NBC, Syfy, Bravo, E!, USA, Telemundo, Oxygen and CNBC into one big, splashy presentation at Radio City Music Hall. Previously, Telemundo and the cable nets had separate gigs on different days, enabling more focus on their respective programming.

Jennifer Hudson, recently named as a new coach on “The Voice,” got the party started with a medley of songs from “Dreamgirls,” the 2006 film for which she won an Oscar.

The new “Will & Grace” got a full-on trailer treatment before the original cast including Debra Messing, Sean Hayes, Megan Mullally and Eric McCormack came out on stage to charm the audience with their schtick.

But it was hard to rival the excitement generated in the crowd as Kim and Khloe Kardashian presented a preview of “Life of Kylie,” a reality skein on E! starring their younger sister.

More star power was in evidence as Jennifer Lopez introduced new drama series, including “The Brave” and the highly anticipated “Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders,” starring Edie Falco as defense attorney Leslie Abramson.

Also in the true crime genre: USA’s “Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G.,” a series about the unsolved murders of the 1990s icons of East Coast and West Coast rap, Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur.

The NBC News team including Lester Holt, Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie welcomed their new cohort, Megyn Kelly, who touted her upcoming morning and evening shows.

No NBC presentation would be complete without showering its hit “This is Us” with praise, including a taped fan testimonial during which members of the cast surprised them in the middle of their spiels about the multigenerational, multiethnic drama.

“Imagine doing that with less popular shows, like ‘Emerald City.’ This is … other shows,” said Seth Meyers, when the “Late Night” host took the stage to lampoon nearly everything that was being promoted. “The upfronts have been fake news from the very beginning.”

“What’s great about today is it’s not just about NBC,” Meyers added. “It’s about an entire family of channels. NBCUniversal is home to the Golf Channel and Bravo, the two channels most often watched in different rooms of the same house.”


On stage at the Beacon Theater, emcee duties were ably handled by newbee Joe Marchese, who had been promoted into the position of president of advertising revenue just three days earlier. Fox opened with a strong suit, its powerhouse sports lineup of NFL, the World Series and college football’s Big Ten.

Alex Rodriguez was trotted out as the newest member of the Fox Sports team, where he’ll be an MLB analyst. (And, yes, it was mentioned that he was dating Jennifer Lopez.) “I wish Fox paid as good as the Yankees,” he said, as the crowd gave him a warm welcome.

Seth MacFarlane came out to sing — and to promote his new show, “The Orville,” a comedy set on a spaceship, which will air after “Gotham” on Thursday nights. He then introduced Fox Network Group Chairs Dana Walden and Gary Newman as “the only two people at the network not being sued.”

Even more laughs should be expected in “Ghosted,” with Craig Robinson and Adam Scott, a comedy set in the unlikely world of paranormal investigation.

Fans of Lee Daniels’ work will appreciate a one-two punch, his “Star” being paired with “Empire” on Wednesday nights.

Looking for love? Andy Cohen hosts a reboot of classic dating show “Love Connection.”


Jimmy Kimmel’s absence was sorely missed as he stayed home in L.A. caring for his newborn son Billy, but his presence was deeply felt during the presentation at Lincoln Center, where it was confirmed he will host the Oscars again next year.

Lea Michele kicked things off by performing “Anything Is Possible.” She’ll co-star in the new comedy “The Mayor” as chief of staff to unlikely mayoral race winner Brandon Michael Hall’s character.

The Alphabet Net’s theme was “Defining Moments,” and the first one came when Anthony Anderson introduced president of Disney-ABC Television Group Ben Sherwood as “the whitest person in America.”

Sherwood noted that ABC was the first network to present an upfront, in 1962, an era when Zenith had just introduced its first color television set and “Ben Casey” had a 29 rating.

“We are bringing Ben back,” Sherwood said jokingly, alluding to the other networks’ “bring-backs.” But that was before the audience was roiled by the announcement that “Roseanne” is coming back, with all the original sitcom cast, including, of course, Roseanne — alongside Sara Gilbert, Laurie Metcalf and John Goodman.

Unlike many other “announcements” made on upfront stages, this one had actually not been revealed in advance. The revival of “Roseanne” comes two decades after the Conner family said goodbye at the close of a nine-year run.

“We’ve got a lot more to say — 20 years’ worth,” Roseanne noted.

Other big news was confirmed by Entertainment President Channing Dungey, that Katy Perry will be joining “American Idol” as a judge. Dungey touted ABC’s other strong reality shows “Dancing with the Stars” and “The Bachelor,” both of which will spawn spinoffs next season, “DWTS Junior” and “The Bachelor Winter Games.”

With “Scandal” heading into its final season, fans of Shondaland can also look forward to “For the People,” a legal drama set in New York District Court, and a “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff, which will revolve around Seattle firefighters.


Samantha Bee, who hosted the recent “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner,” riffed on the success of that outing to the crowd filling the theater at Madison Square Garden.

“I promised to be nonpartisan,” the host of “Full Frontal” began. “But we got something here. Now we can do ‘Not Game of Thrones,’ ‘Not the Senate Intelligence Committee Hearings,’ ‘Not the City TBA Water Crisis’ — and next up, ‘Not the Upfronts.’”

Kevin Reilly, president of TBS and TNT and chief creative officer for Turner Entertainment, then sang Bee’s praises. “She’s a ball of fire — and kittens,” he said, before announcing that Tracy Morgan, Daniel Radcliffe and Owen Wilson are all coming to TBS, along with James Corden’s “Drop the Mic.”

“They have Quiznos backstage here, whereas Les [Moonves] has jumbo shrimp,” Corden noted, alluding to his “Late Late Show” home network of CBS. “What am I doing here?”

The comedy continued on stage with the unlikely trio of Anderson Cooper, Conan O’Brien and Shaquille O’Neal, after a taped segment with Tom Brady and O’Brien. “He sure is pretty,” O’Brien remarked about the New England Patriots quarterback. “Rick Fox is my guy,” O’Neill retorted. “We should double date,” O’Brien said, before turning to Cooper and asking, ”Do you want in on some of this action?”

CNN showcased upcoming specials about the Kennedys, the Pope and Patty Hearst, while TNT touted “Claws,” a series set in a nail salon, “Will,” a drama about a young William Shakespeare, and “The Alienist,” based on the hit book about the search for a serial killer in late 19th century New York.


New late-night leader Stephen Colbert, who last year was relegated to a supporting role, came out dancing on stage at Carnegie Hall, the Eye’s longtime home for its upfront.

“The Late Show” host thanked Donald Trump, mentioned CBS’s “hot new star, [former FBI Director] James Comey,” and noted the stage had been home to the New York Philharmonic, the Beatles and now, “Moonves: The Musical.”

He introduced Moonves as his Soul Cycle emergency contact.

Chairman of the Board, President and CEO of CBS Corporation Moonves launched into his own monologue. “Who would’ve guessed that a year ago, Colbert would be number one and Bill O’Reilly would be doing a podcast in his underwear,” he said. “Like ‘American Idol,’ the coveted demo of 18-49 is outdated. In a fragmented world, the CBS Corporation brings people together with great content, with a total audience larger than it was in 2000.”

Jermaine Fowler, star of “Superior Donuts,” followed with a bit garnering even more laughter from the packed house. “With shows like ‘The Amazing Race,’ ‘Code Black’ and ‘Big Brother,’ you’d think there’d be even more black people on this network,” he said.

Among CBS’s new shows, outings from Jeremy Piven as a tech innovator solving his daughter’s disappearance with crowdsourcing in “Wisdom of the Crowd,” Bobby Moynihan, who’s leaving “SNL” for the sitcom “Me, Myself & I,” and David Boreanaz in “SEAL Team,” co-starring Jessica Paré of “Mad Men” fame.

But perhaps the brightest spotlight was on “Young Sheldon,” the 1989-set spinoff of “The Big Bang Theory” focusing on an adorable, insanely precocious and super-nerdy 9-year-old Sheldon Cooper (Iain Armitage) growing up in East Texas, with VOs from Jim Parsons.

The CW

The band Muse kicked things off with a performance of its new single “Dig Down,” which will become the CW’s theme song this fall, before the proceedings were handed over to network President Mark Pedowitz.

He touted the network’s Superhero Crossover Week and four new shows including “Black Lightning” and “Valor” before introducing Gina Rodriguez, star of “Jane the Virgin,” who talked about diversity and inclusion.

“I’m an artist and see the world through that lens,” she said. “Television has the power to bring someone into your living room whom you may not have known before. Mark Pedowitz wants to help heal the world one character at a time.”

Among those characters will be the actors starring in the reboot of “Dynasty,” run by Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage of “The O.C.” and “Gossip Girl” renown.

“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” cast members Rachel Bloom and Vincent Rodriguez III performed a song with the refrain “no problems anymore,” after which Pedowitz promised: “If you buy the CW, you’ll never have problems again.”


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