Singing in NYC: Fox and NBC upfronts

Helena Shelton

Helena Shelton is EVP trading and accountability at PHD Canada. She has been blogging for Playback‘s sister publication Media in Canada from the NYC Upfronts.

NBC

It’s May in New York City and all around media buyers are checking out what the US networks have for the 2011/12 TV season. My “upfront buddy” [PHD Canada's president] Fred Forster and I slogged through the rain to get to the Hilton for the NBC presentation. This year there is a large contingent of Canucks in town, a sure sign that things are good economically.

Inside, the band Roots from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon was playing. They were great, made me want to head out to a smoky night club and… Oh wait, I’m here to witness the new NBC TV schedule.

The presentation began with [Saturday Night Live's] Seth Meyers – very funny – followed by senior NBC executives (who made no claims that they were #1 at anything) and then Fallon, who sang a welcome song to NBC’s new owner, Comcast. Finally there was Christina Aguilera and Ce Lo Green from The Voice, who gave a great performance. The big announcement came from Donald Trump who said (to cheers from the audience) that he would not be running for president, but would be back for another season of Celebrity Apprentice, all is well in the world.

Let the new show clips begin!

The Playboy Club, which NBC described as tame compared to Jersey Shore, is a ‘60s-era drama set in Chicago with playboy bunnies, sex and the mob. It looked a lot like Mad Men. Prime Suspect, starring Maria Bello (ER), is a remake of a British detective series and focuses on a female detective who has to face a boys-club attitude at work. Grimm, on the other hand, was a completely different take on a cop show, featuring an officer who sees fairy tale monsters committing crimes in the real world. Opinion on this one seemed pretty split – you either liked it or you didn’t. I liked it.

NBC also introduced three new comedies. Whitney starring the comic Whitney Cummings, is a typical relationship comedy. The clip for this show was good, and it will run right after The Office, so it may do well. The second, Up All Night, stars Christina Applegate and Will Arnett as new parents who have not given up their childless ways. Good cast, but it didn’t draw huge laughs. However Free Agent, about the weirdness of office life after a one-night stand, had the room and my upfront buddy and I laughing out loud.

For the mid-season, they presented Awake, a very complicated drama about a man (actor Jason Isaacs) whose wife and son die in a car crash and who now lives in two different realities, one where his wife is alive and the other where his son is alive.

Judging by how much time they gave to presenting Smash by Stephen Spielberg, NBC has big hopes for this. Already called “Glee for adults,” this is a scripted singing show about the making of a Broadway star.

The Firm, the continuation of the Grisham novel and written by Grisham, had no clip available. Three more comedies slated for the mid-season, Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea, Bent and BFF did not draw big laughs from the room.

Add to all of that, sports (including the NFL), news and the 2012 Olympics and you have a full two-hour presentation. By then it was 1 p.m. and the room emptied quickly. Fred and I watched Christina Aguilera head for the party room with her boyfriend – she had great shoes!

FOX

Three hours later and we were in our seats in the Beacon Theatre for the Fox presentation. This was a big show with big stars and lots of singing. This is the #1 network and it felt like a #1 network. Jane Lynch as Glee‘s Sue Sylvester got the show – and the room – going with jabs at Fox executives.

With lots of successful returning shows, Fox did not need many new ones. I Hate My Teenage Daughter starring Jaime Pressly and Katie Finneran is about two moms who grew up as nerds and now each have a daughter who is the cool and cold girl they never were. We didn’t find it that funny.

Terra Nova was Fox’s sci-fi show for the season. The concept: earth in 2149 is unsustainable for people so we send people back in time to live when the earth was healthy and the dinosaurs roamed. Very Jurassic Park.

The New Girl, starring Zoey Deschanel is about a girl who moves in with three guys after she splits with her boyfriend. This comedy was very funny and even had my upfront buddy Fred laughing out loud, a sure sign of ratings success.

Allen Gregory, an animated comedy slated for Sunday night in what Fox calls their “animation domination” grid, is about a pretentious seven-year-old genius (voiced by Superbad‘s Jonah Hill) who is sent back to kindergarten after being home-schooled for most of his life. The cultural phenomenon, Napoleon Dynamite is another animation planned for the mid-season with entire cast from the 2004 movie. This one is about cult appeal and is one you have to know and love to laugh at.

Alcatraz, from J.J. Abrams, is a drama about prisoners who disappear from Alcatraz and are now re-appearing in 2011 and committing crimes. Well shot and the audience seemed to like it. Touch, starring Kiefer Sutherland, is very spiritual and focuses on a man with an autistic son who, using math, predicts the connections and contacts that we believe randomly occur between people. Two more mid-season shows, Family Album and Little in Common, are both about families and did not get much, if any, audience reaction.

Like NBC, Fox also had a big announcement, but nothing as serious as a presidential candidacy – they have been working in secret on a remake of The Flintstones! (It’s being revived by Seth McFarlane, creator of Family Guy.) Sadly, there were no clips available. Later that night at dinner with our fellow Canucks, we decided that the remake would likely be more contemporary and probably would have Fred and Wilma having sex, something we just could not bear to see!

The show was over with an appearance from Simon Cowell, singers from Glee, singers from American Idol and dancers from So You Think You Can Dance.

The day can be summed up with the theme “singing.” There was so much singing, Fred spent the rest of the evening humming show tunes while I was wondering how much singing there could possibly be tomorrow at the ABC presentation.

From Media in Canada

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