Heard Inside the Upfront Parties and Presentations

From Seth Meyers taking another dig at Donald Trump to Ashton Kutcher's comeback to Jimmy Kimmel, THR has the scoop on what was getting buzzed about during upfronts week.

This first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter magazine on May 18.

Which shows and people were getting buzz at TV's parties and presentations.

♦ Clearly, NBC's Bob Greenblatt is besotted with the midseason musical Smash, which he developed at Showtime. One insider said the pilot cost $7.5 million, but a screening for network execs prompted a standing ovation, with some -- including NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke -- even shedding tears. 

♦ Over at ABC's press breakfast, topper Paul Lee made it clear that midseason horror drama The River is his darling. Clips suggest the show is a change-up from ABC's typical femme-skewing dramas. Paranormal Activity writer-director Oren Peli uses shaky camerawork to creep out his audience. "I think it may play at Comic-Con," Lee boasted.

♦ "Musical shows do well, but there will be saturation at some point," griped one ad buyer of the rash of competitions, including American Idol, The Voice, The X Factor and the newly expanded Sing-Off at NBC. Even Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly acknowledged that the field is getting crowded. "I do worry about too much clutter," he said at the network's post-upfront party at Wollman Rink.

♦ Asked how long it will take him to put his imprimatur on NBC, Greenblatt cited his pet project. "Smash took me three months, so it can happen quickly," he said. "But I was very involved in all these pilots. Ninety percent of them I didn't develop initially, but I was on the job soon enough to really have an effect on all of them -- casting, the directors, execution. So for better or worse, I will have to take some credit for the successes and the failures."

♦ There were rumblings at the NBC party of its Prime Suspect drama needing to be tweaked a bit. In addition to star Maria Bello's outfits, which met with tepid reviews, the episodes will likely be infused with more engaging puzzles, noted one insider.

SNL's Seth Meyers isn't finished with his skewering of Donald Trump. "I never thought for a second that he was going to run -- and neither did he," joked Meyers. Trump snuck out before NBC's lunch, avoiding an awkward encounter.

♦ With the Parents Television Council on its case, nobody expected ABC to keep the working title Good Christian Bitches for its soapy drama. Some had wanted to call it Good Christian Babes, but women were offended, noted one insider. The group settled on Good Christian Belles, which will be shortened to GCB. It could have been a lot worse -- a source said someone at Sony suggested calling it GCC (we won't print what that stands for).

Awake, NBC’s dark mystery from Kyle Killen, might have generated the most polarizing response of the upfronts. There was lots of chatter among buyers and talent reps about compelling storytelling and a strong lead in Jason Isaacs. “I still have goose bumps,” noted one agent, while others nodded in agreement. Still, two top executives suggested it would be especially hard to pull off, thanks to its complexity and its dark theme. "Do people really want to come home from a long day and wind down with a show about a man whose family has died?" asked one.

♦ At his traditional performance at the ABC upfront, Jimmy Kimmel had this to say: "CBS announced a plan to move forward and retool [Two and a Half Men], and sure enough they found another tool, Ashton Kutcher. He happens to be a pretty solid choice. He's popular, he's handsome, he's talented and he has experience. Remember, he did a very good job replacing Bruce Willis." It turns out that Kutcher had a comback. In an interview for KCRW's The Business, Kimmel told THR's Kim Masters that he received a note from Kutcher promising that when Kimmel becomes a drug addict, he'd take over his show, too.

♦ After Turner's Steve Koonin saved his otherwise disastrous, tech-plagued presentation with an impromptu --and hilarious-- standup routine, the Hammerstein Ballroom audience was buzzing about the executive's performance. He won them over almost instantly, when he trotted out on stage ID-ing himself as "Steve Koonin, formerly of Turner Broadcasting." As for the troubles, "We had a power surge, we blew something. I'm Jewish, so I have no idea what happened," he joked. "The man should have his own show," said one executive, only half kidding. "I can just see it, Koonin's Corner," chimed another. By lunch, the cast and crew of TNT's Men of a Certain Age were already trying to work in a cameo appearance for Koonin on their show. 

♦ When discussions about Brian William's upcoming primetime newsmagazine show began at NBC, two sources said there was talk about airing it more than once a week the way the previous regime did The Jay Leno Show. Just the suggestion had at least one insider to have, as he put it, "Leno flashbacks."

♦ Men of a Certain Age’s Ray Romano may not be as eager to retreat to retirement as he initially suggested. While he admits that he doesn’t’ “want to be doing [the TNT show] at a certain age,” he says “as long as we’re having fun. What else am I doing? I’m like Richard Gere in An Officer and A Gentleman; ‘I got nowhere else to go!’” Meantime, he and his co-stars Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher are waiting on a pick-up for the show's third season. “We don’t know [if we’re coming back]. They haven’t told us yet,” he said following the network’s upfront.