Networks scaling back upfront soirees

Attendees will see lower-key festivities for a second year

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.

For a second year in a row, there will be scaled-back presentation parties and fewer Hollywood types in New York during primetime week.

"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.

For those staying back, ABC, CBS and Fox plan live webcasts of their presentations.

Among the broadcast nets, NBC and ABC, which pulled back the most last year, again are at the forefront of cost-cutting.

NBC is sticking to its stripped-down "infront" presentations, beginning May 4 in New York. To underline how far the network has come from the glitzy stage shows of its past, 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, who has an upcoming reality series on the network.

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 to New York is late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, the perennial star of the network's presentation. Last year, it was out of necessity: ABC had no new series to showcase because it filmed its pilots after the upfronts in the wake of the WGA strike. This year, Kimmel's presence is part of ABC's upfront choices, which also include no party. The network's presentation will be followed by a cocktail reception and dinner for media buyers.

Fox, CBS and the CW will bring stars from new and existing series to their upfront 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 party this year -- but it's a low-key affair that will not take place at Tavern.

The CW, which closes out the upfront-week marathon May 21, will present at Madison Square Garden Theatre, followed by a low-key party at Gramercy Park Hotel.
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