2011 Upfronts: Winners and Losers
This story was first published in The Hollywood Reporter magazine on Wednesday, May 18.
The annual upfronts ritual produces high drama for TV players. Some impress the ad buyers and press; others, as Donald Trump would say, are fired. Below is The Hollywood Reporter's rundown of who fared best and worst:
The uber-producer went into pilot season with a bruised TV image thanks to poor performers like NBC's short-lived Undercovers; he came out with two new shows on the air: CBS' Person of Interest and Fox's crime drama Alcatraz, which join his other drama Fringe. Some suggest Fox wasn't completely sold on Alcatraz but picked it up to avoid upsetting Abrams -- which only proves his power.
NBC might still be a loser, at least for awhile, but Greenblatt got high marks for his first presentation. With such pickups as the risque Playboy Club and the mysterious Awake, he's got one foot in the cable world, where the former Showtime topper thrived. Big servings of reality competitions (two hours of The Sing-Off?) suggest the other foot is stepping into populist territory. Plus, talent loves him, as was evident at NBC's post-presentation luncheon Monday. So even if the fall shows don't work, NBC has a ton of goodwill for a change.
Move over, Chelsea Handler. It was Cummings' NBC pilot that garnered big laughs during the network's presentation and earned the prized post-Office time slot. She's also a co-executive producer on 2 Broke Girls, a CBS comedy that had the network's Carnegie Hall audience in stitches Wednesday.
Poised to be No. 1 again in the coveted 18-49 demo, its presentation was a daunting display of might, starting with its parade of stars, including the cast of Glee, and ending with performers from So You Think You Can Dance and American Idol -- with Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul in between. With Fox launching The X Factor in the fall and Idol in January, it not only has launchpads for new shows but could also have two ratings death stars.
No. 1 in overall viewers (again) and facing no real challengers. While SNL's Seth Meyers joked at the NBC upfront that the retiring Larry King, Regis Philbin and Jim Lehrer will add three new viewers for CBS, the Eye doesn't actually need them -- unlike Meyers' network. The net, now No. 2 behind Fox in the 18 to 49 demo, had so few holes to fill with new series entertainment chief Nina Tassler joked about needing another night, "Shnursday." "CBS is like the NBA, and everyone else is just amatuer hour," said one executive as he made his way out of the particularly polished Carnegie Hall presentation.
Some thought new management at NBC might fire the network's reality chief if he didn't come up with a hit this season. At its upfront presentation, Greenblatt invoked The Voice so many times that one network executive joked that he took a drink every time the brass mentioned the show's name and ended up "shitfaced." Bonus: Telegdy now doesn't have to find a replacement for Trump on The Celebrity Apprentice. (Ask the folks at CBS: Replacing a big TV star can be a headache.)
ABC's late night host retained his crown as the upfront king, with a monologue that skewered both his own network and its rivals. Among the lines that had his Lincoln Center audience of ad buyers erupting in laughter Tuesday: "Remember those shows that we were so excited about last fall?" he asked. "We cancelled all of them. And yet here you are again. I think you might have a gambling problem." On NBC's presentation: "NBC thanked God for The Voice... God has nothing to do with what's going on at NBC. God stopped watching NBC after Friends. And God isn't in the demo, anyway." And on CBS: "The business of network television is very uncertain right now. Fox, ABC and NBC are all losing viewers to cable and the Internet. And CBS is losing them to natural causes."
The "It" genre once again. The networks snapped up more than a dozen comedies, many of them multi-camera, with both NBC and ABC opening up entirely new nights of comedy next season. By the looks of the preview clips, many will fail; but networks covet these shows, which repeat better than dramas and offer the potential for syndication riches.
He looked like a grump as he muttered that he was giving up his presidential bid so his Celebrity Apprentice could go on raising money for charity Monday. NBC had already made it clear it was prepared to fill his chair on the show if he kept up the charade -- er, campaign. Later in the week, Kimmel suggested he join The Sing Off as host, joking that the NBC show would need to be retitled The Jerk Off.
Greenblatt gets a pass, but some network executives acknowledged that the room remained cool to most of his new offerings. Shortly after the presentation, one insider admitted that he wouldn't be surprised if none of them break out. Maybe it was the drab hotel-ballroom setting. When Fox took the New Beacon Theatre stage and began rolling out its stars in the afternoon, it was clear just how daunting a task Comcast faces in rebuilding the network.
With speculation about how much running room Disney's Anne Sweeney is giving new entertainment chief Paul Lee, there's been rumbling about slow and cautious decision-making at ABC. Lee is also inevitably going to face comparisons with NBC's it boy, Greenblatt, though multiple executives commended his ease on stage. Although NBC has provided a diversion in recent years, ABC has a lot of rebuilding to do, especially with dramas, and not many solid platforms on which to launch new shows (outside of Dancing With the Stars and Modern Family).
For the past three years, the Turner nets have crashed an upfront week historically reserved for broadcast networks with great success. But the same can't be said for their fourth go-round, care of technological troubles that left network brass without a teleprompter or clips to share Wednesday. Though Turner Entertainment Networks president Steve Koonin and Men of a Certain Age star Ray Romano distracted with impromptu standup routines, the event had the jaws of many audience members on the floor. “A true disaster,” sniped one studio executive; “I’ve never seen anything like it,” added an ad buyer.
Fox Bubble Shows
Such well-received series as Breaking In, Lie to Me and The Chicago Code probably would have survived on a less well-lubricated network but got tossed on top-rated Fox. Right, Shawn Ryan?
America's Most Wanted
Fox gave the crime-fighting show the ax after 23 years, cutting it from a weekly series to four specials per year. Worse, entertainment president Kevin Reilly told reporters that it hasn't made money in some time. "It wasn't particularly viable," he said of the series. Ouch.