NBC Upfront: 'This Is Us,' Megyn Kelly Steal Attention From Fall Schedule

Justin Lubin/NBC
'This Is Us'

Two Kardashians also make an appearance as the NBCU portfolio-wide lovefest mostly overshadows the No. 1 network's fall plans.

ABC may have landed American Idol, but NBC on Monday reminded ad buyers it has secured one of the franchise’s biggest stars as NBCUniversal kicked off its annual upfront presentation in New York with a performance from season three breakout (and new Voice judge) Jennifer Hudson.

But it was Late Night host Seth Meyers who proved the day’s biggest breakout, with his end-of-the-presentation skewering of the upfront tradition, which he suggested was the very “definition of fake news.” During his few minutes on the Radio City Music Hall stage, Meyers also took shots at ousted Today anchor Billy Bush (“The Olympics will be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, not to be confused Pyeyongyang, North Korea, where we sent Billy Bush"), Steve Harvey (“He was supposed to come out here today, but people are afraid to knock on his dressing room”) and, yes, President Donald Trump (“Law & Order: SVU is having a big year ... it was elected president").

In between Hudson and Meyers was a packed presentation that hit on nearly a dozen networks in the portfolio, including Bravo, E!, Telemundo and a revamped crime-focused Oxygen. Without ever showcasing a schedule or a network chief, the upfront focused on clips, buzzwords (“brand safety” was a favorite of NBCUniversal ad sales chief Linda Yaccarino) and a buffet of stars, including Kim and Khloe Kardashian, Kate del Castillo, John Cena and the cast of This Is Us. Given all of the success at the broadcast network, No. 1 and heading into a season that will bring another Olympics and the Super Bowl, the actual gloating for NBC proper was kept to a curious minimum.

Here are the highlights:

Megyn Kelly Had Some Subtle Shade for Fox
Last year, it was Fox that trotted out Megyn Kelly, who was promoting her primetime special on the broadcast network at the time. This year, NBC was the one highlighting the network-jumping anchor, ahead of her Sunday magazine show and, later, a 9 a.m. slot. Joined by Lester Holt, Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie, Kelly laid it on thick, suggesting she had already hugged the trio early and ended with a “love you, guys.” During her brief time onstage, Kelly never uttered the words "Fox News," though she didn’t need to — it was atop every audience member’s minds as Kelly noted that she’d be joining a “winning" team of “the best journalists in the business,” and then added that she’d be doing “the kinds of broadcasts I always dreamed of being able to do.” 

NBC Seems Confident That Will & Grace Can Kick-Start Thursday
The network didn’t bother downplaying its excitement for the return of Will & Grace, which, per the huge text flashing across the screen, took home 16 Emmys in its eight seasons on the air. Early in NBC’s presentation, it unspooled a lengthy video in which Grace (Debra Messing) suggests she’s nervous about reviving the show. The bit segued into a charming if cheesy song and dance from the four stars, which appeared to play well with the media-buying crowd, and ended with the actors appearing live onstage with a full orchestra. The show, joining a shifting This Is Us on Thursday, heralds the official return of NBC's old "Must-See TV" ad moniker. Later in the presentation, Meyers joked that NBC should consider renaming the series Chicago: Gay.

This Is Really, Really Us
When
Meyers took the stage, he jokingly asked if This is Us had been mentioned yet. Then, given how long it’s been since NBC had a drama of its size, he joked that it should be retitled This Is Unlike Us. Of course, the breakout series from Dan Fogelman had been name-checked multiple times, with the stars surprising fans in a video designed to tug at the heart strings much the way the series does. The ensemble cast appeared onstage following the video, thanking the deep-pocketed audience for their support and promising more tears to come. 

No Porn, We Promise
Like she did last year from the Radio City stage, Yaccarino took aim at digital usurpers — except the ones they’re in business with, which include BuzzFeed SnapChat and Apple News. She offered a scary version of the new media landscape — in one video clip a "your ad here" bug appeared over two TV-MA video clips of a couple having sex — telling ad buyers that NBCUniversal promised “brand safety.” “With NBCUniversal,” she said, “you never have to worry about your ad showing up next to something objectionable.” It was a direct shot at the ad models of Facebook and Google. “But let’s be honest,” she continued, ”promising brand safety is a really low bar, and some companies can’t even do that.” Yaccarino promised that placing messages across the companies' linear and digital portfolio, one that she said reaches “every single smartphone in the country,” will also “elevate” buyer’s brands. She also stressed accountability — the company will guarantee $1 billion of its $10 billion inventory based on “real business outcomes.” The exec drove home the personal accountability of her team, and also on the network as a whole, asking rhetorically: “Would an algorithm ever taken a chance on a rookie show like This Is Us? Television is the most effective medium ever — we know it, you know it and our friends in Silicon Valley know it.

Every Marquee Sports Event in One Year
NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus closed the presentation. And not just because sports continues to be a huge part of the NBCUniversal portfolio; next year, NBC will have three enormous ratings drivers with the 2018 Winter Olympics, Super Bowl LII and World Cup soccer. Lazarus, who last fall was promoted to chairman of NBC Broadcasting (after Ted Harbert retired), echoed many of the themes Yaccarino opened the show with, including the company’s “collaborative culture” that “enables us to think and act differently than any other company out there.” He stressed the “tens of billions” of dollars that Comcast and NBC have invested in sports rights. But the exec sounded a somewhat cautionary note at a time when many networks (read: ESPN) are retrenching in the face of escalating sports rights fees. Stressing the company’s “compelling and selective acquisition strategy,” Lazarus concluded, “we don’t need to have everything and we don’t need to overspend.” 

Keep track of all the broadcast renewals, cancellations and series pickups with THR's handy scorecard.

comments powered by Disqus