NBC's nontraditional upfront

Party replaces standard presentation

NEW YORK -- It was safe to say that nothing like it had been seen before during upfront week.

Kicking off the annual four-day marathon Monday was the NBC Universal Experience, a part tour/part party showcasing NBC Uni's TV and digital properties. It replaced NBC's traditional upfront presentation after the broadcast network decided to present its 65-week schedule six weeks ago.

Ad buyers and reporters navigated through a series of hallways at 30 Rock that was a mixture of theme park, old-style carnival and sales meeting. Visitors could be videotaped being interviewed by Meredith Vieira and Ann Curry of "Today" and get handed a USB drive by Women Nos. 21, 13 and 10 from "Deal or No Deal."

Even though guests were supposed to go through in half-hour shifts, that quickly became unworkable and bottlenecks ensued throughout, especially in the space between "American Gladiators" and autograph-signing tables for the broadcast team of "Sunday Night Football."

There were plenty of lines in the confined space and a lot of walking, somewhat unwelcome to the ad buyers, clients and journalists for whom the heavy walking week had just begun.

"I can smell the finish line," said one weary executive who didn't realize there was still a ways to go. "I hope."

Still, most ad buyers gave NBC props.

"They wanted to do something different. Good for them," Carat national broadcast chief buyer Andy Donchin said. "It shows you the size and the scope of NBC Universal. It's not just the shows on NBC."

That, said NBC ad sales chief Mike Pilot, is what it's all about.

"We wanted to create an event to bring the whole company together," Pilot said. "We didn't want to be dark the same week that everyone had their clients in town."

NBC entertainment chief Ben Silverman confirmed that every incumbent NBC advertiser is returning next season: Nissan is back in "Heroes," Maybelline in "Lipstick Jungle," Toyota with "American Gladiators."

"Our business cannot be predicated on just having a hit anymore," he said. "We are a content company, so even if a piece of NBC real estate goes from 20 million viewers to 12 million, we need to figure out how to pay for it."

NBC brought to bear other assets that aired directly from the NBC Experience, including CNBC's Maria Bartiromo, MSNBC's Chris Matthews and an internal NBC feed with Nancy O'Dell interviewing stars as they walked on the red carpet.

And if CBS was doing away with giant shrimp for ad buyers and ABC too, NBC was all too happy to fill the gap. One exec noted that the cost of the event, with setup and talent and food, couldn't have been much less than what NBC would have paid for its old digs at Radio City Music Hall. No one from NBC would comment about cost.



Late-night antics

Earlier in the day, NBC officially introduced Jimmy Fallon as the new host of "Late Night" at a news conference.

"He is a handpicked talent, part of the NBC family already," Silverman said.

Fallon, who like his predecessor, "Tonight Show"-bound Conan O'Brien, will be based in New York and will be on five nights a week, declined to discuss the length of his deal, saying only that he got the same contract as NBC weather forecaster Willard Scott, "150 years." Fallon also deflected a question on how much he is being paid.

"I keep asking Lorne," he said. "He keeps telling me not to worry about it. ... I just want to live comfortably ... in Dubai."



Motherly love

NBC is teaming with "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest for a new reality series in which mothers choose brides for their sons.

In "Momma's Boy," a group of "controlling mothers," their eligible "complacent sons" and several brides-to-be live together under one roof.

The series is planned for early fall, set to launch right after NBC's presentation of the Summer Olympics in Beijing.

"Anytime I make a decision either personally or professionally, I have to ask myself ... what would my mother say?" Seacrest said. "Like it or not, I am a true momma's boy."

Seacrest is executive producing the series with Andrew Glassman ("Average Joe").
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