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Upfronts Eavesdropper: Britney Baffles; Pitbull No-Shows; How Dick Wolf Scored Rahm Emanuel

Britney Spears X Factor Upfronts P 2012
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Britney Spears

THR reveals what insiders were really talking about during TV's biggest week in NYC.

This story first appeared in the May 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

How did Dick Wolf secure a cameo from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for the pilot of his upcoming firefighter drama Chicago Fire? A well-placed source says Emanuel, brother of WME's Ari Emanuel, was convinced because the show means "jobs for Chicago." The scene, in which Emanuel plays himself arriving at the site of a particularly devastating fire, was shot on a Sunday, which allowed Emanuel to bring his kids with him (they even got to listen on headsets). Emanuel was done in an hour, says the source, and now that NBC has picked up the show, the appearance could give New York's Michael Bloomberg -- a veteran of Wolf's Law & Order -- some competition for the title of TV's most ubiquitous mayor.

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■ Ad buyers riding in cabs were treated to Smash promo clips and star interviews on backseat TVs. Of particular interest: the "series finale" tagline that popped up to plug the NBC drama's May 14 season finale. Oops! (Smash will return for an uninterrupted second season midyear.) And that wasn't the only bit of NBC awkwardness. Those seated in Radio City Music Hall awaiting the network's presentation were entertained by Whitney Houston's unfortunately titled "I Have Nothing" piping through the theater speakers.

■ Advertisers can't be fooled. No matter how many times networks pimp their Facebook likes or Twitter reach, upfront buyers still clamor for eyeballs on the TV screen. A few younger attendees suggested they play a drinking game in which they imbibe at every mention of a network's social footprint. By week's end, quipped one, "We'd be hammered."

■ Univision, which beats its English-language competition nearly every night of the week among viewers ages 18 to 34, took to New York bus kiosks to brag about its ratings. The ads noted that Univision has bested English-language broadcaster NBC on 195 nights this season among coveted viewers 18 to 49. But NBC Broadcasting chairman Ted Harbert brushed off the broadside. "They do a great job at what they do," he tells THR. "We're proud of our own record of being up 9 percent year-over-year in 18 to 49. As a media buy, I'm pretty interested that some of the other networks are taking out signs about their upfront presentation, which I'm not sure has a great effect on the populace of New York City."

■ Recording star Pitbull was a no-show at Univision's upfront May 15 at the New Amsterdam Theatre, where he was scheduled to take the stage along with Shakira. Sources attributed his absence to "travel issues."

■ Given Fox's showmanship at upfronts past -- think Glee -- advertisers expected something special from new X Factor star Britney Spears. But when she took the stage with co-judge Demi Lovato, a visibly shaky Spears only muttered a couple of lines about being "ready to find a true star." As Mary J. Blige began to belt out U2's "One," many expected Spears and Lovato to emerge and join in. When that didn't happen, it created a sense of doubt as to whether Spears can perform the way X Factor needs. If one suspects Spears is intended to fill the Paula Abdul "train wreck" slot, that can't happen unless the train is capable of pulling out of the station.