Nets downsize the upfronts

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After the broadcast networks opted mostly for subdued upfront presentations coming off the WGA strike last year, some expected a rebound this year. But the recession has put a damper on that, and the switch to lower-key festivities seems permanent.

"It used to be that everyone and their mother would go to the upfronts," a network executive said. "Now it's all about ad buyers."

Studios and talent agencies, which trimmed significantly the number of executives attending last year's upfronts, have gone further this year. For most, including 20th TV, Warner Bros. TV and Sony, the reduction is about 50% from pre-2008 levels, with only a handful of execs planning to attend.

NBC is sticking to its stripped-down "infront" presentations, beginning May 4 in New York. To underline how far the net has come from its glitzy stage shows, the infronts will include a Q&A with NBC co-chairman Ben Silverman and sales head Mike Pilot. NBC will bring out talent for advertisers with a comedy showcase May 19 at Town Hall, featuring Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Fallon, Rainn Wilson and possibly Jerry Seinfeld.

NBC's party will follow ABC's upfront lineup. To accommodate that, ABC is moving its Lincoln Center presentation from 4 p.m. to 3 p.m.

For a second straight year, the only talent ABC will bring is late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel. Last year, it was out of necessity: ABC had no series to showcase because it filmed pilots after the upfronts because of the strike.

Fox, CBS and the CW will bring stars to their presentations. Fox presents first, May 18 at New York City Center, with an afterparty at Wollman Rink, same as last year.

CBS again will take the stage at Carnegie Hall, this year May 20. After scrapping its staple post-upfront party at the posh Tavern on the Green last year for private dinners with clients and a small soiree for the media, the network is planning a low-key party, not be at Tavern.

The CW closes out upfronts May 21, presenting at Madison Square Garden Theatre, followed by a party at Gramercy Park Hotel.
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