Inside ABC's Upfront: Kimmel Slays and 'Roseanne' Takes Victory Lap

The broadcast network shares the stage with cable sibling Freeform for the first time in the week's first presentation to really focus on new scripted programming.
Jeff Neira/ABC
Roseanne Barr

“Here’s the guy who really writes most of my tweets.”

That’s how Roseanne Barr welcomed ABC/Disney boss Ben Sherwood to the stage Tuesday afternoon to kick off the network’s annual dog and pony show — this year a combined pitch with rebranded cable sibling Freeform. After quickly clarifying that he has nothing to do with Barr’s controversial Twitter account, Sherwood used the Lincoln Center upfront to wax on about the success of her working-class comedy.  

“The No. 1 TV show, full stop,” he boasted, revealing that it was the first time his network could say that in 24 years. "That's a convenient bit of trivia we have chosen to omit for the last 24 years." At one point, Sherwood stopped himself, telling the packed theater that if anyone was playing a drinking game that hinged on how many times the word "Roseanne" was uttered, well, “You’re welcome.” 

The Gimmick | The one-hour, 50-minute presentation did not go light on Freeform, sharing the David Geffen Hall with ABC for the first time. Sherwood insisted that the increased partnership between the brands was a way to keep Disney connected with an audience that spans "From teenagers to baby boomers and everybody in between." But, really, it kept coming back to Roseanne. When ABC programming chief Channing Dungey finally took the stage, she reminded the audience that the show has been watched by "one in 10 Americans" since it first aired in March. 

The Spin | It was Rita Ferro’s second turn at the upfront as head of a newish integrated ad sales department. ABC was late to integrate its ad sales force and Ferro acknowledged as much. “Last year, we promised to do better at breaking down silos,” she said from the stage. She then unveiled a series of impossible-to-fact-check statistics about ABC and Freeform’s effectiveness. There were a lot of delayed viewing numbers throughout the presentation — see that "1 in 10" stat above — but the vast majority of advertising deals do not include a 35-day window.

The Star PowerGrown-ish and Black-ish actress Yara Shahidi, an onscreen bridge of ABC to Freeform, took the stage and wowed an entire theater with what felt like an impassioned stump speech about her generation. “A generation that wants the real,” she said to a rapt audience, “a generation that won’t be boxed in.” Later in the presentation, Good Doctor star Freddie Highmore charmed buyers, and Nathan Fillion made them laugh. Introduced as "beloved" by Dungey, The Rookie star (late of Castle) won the room when he acknowledged his niche fame: "If you don't know me, that's alright. I'm probably a really big deal to your mom." 

The Favorite | Roast master Jimmy Kimmel returned to huge laughs with a long string of digs at his network and its rivals. Highlights include: “CBS is [reviving] Murphy Brown. CBS knows what millennials want. And they’ll be damned if they give it to them.” And then: "It's refreshing to see anything brown on CBS." His barbs were not reserved for ABC rivals. He took a swing at departed Shonda Rhimes, joking that he and his colleagues "hope she rots in hell." He added of the TV megaproducer's decision to exit for Netflix: "As the saying goes, when one door closes, you’re fucked."

The Room | After a day and a half of heavy talking, and more than a few hard-to-follow sizzle reels, the Lincoln Center audience seemed grateful for the abundance of clips and full-length trailers that aired during ABC's presentation. The drama A Million Little Things (ABC's highest testing pilot) and the comedy The Kids Are Alright got particularly hearty applause. Even a preview of the kids' version of Dancing With the Stars went over well. 

WTF? Moment | One new slogan is more than enough for a single presentation, but that didn't stop ABC from rolling out two dizzyingly similar "Straight Forward" (ABC News) and "Forward Together" (ABC). "Hillary Clinton let us have that at a yard sale," quipped Kimmel. A special shout-out also goes to Grey's Anatomy, which Kimmel lampooned by just showing a clip most of the room seemed to think was fake. Actual dialogue from the medical drama: "Danielle, did you put a gun in your vagina?" 

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