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If NBCUniversal’s upfront presentation Monday morning was any indication, the week ahead will be a relatively low-key affair, with plenty of pitching, with very little in the way of specifics.
There will be one constant, however: Striking writers.
Outside of Radio City Music Hall on Monday, a crowd of more than 200 writers marched in front of the venue’s various entrances, calling for a fair deal.
The strike was also present during the presentation itself, where the usual parade of actors and stars was replaced by a cavalcade of NBC News anchors, like Willie Geist and Savannah Sellers, who introduced clip packages for the company’s lineup of TV shows and films.
“If you squint a little bit, I could be Colin Jost,” Geist said, before introducing a Saturday Night Live clip reel.
But the strike was also addressed overtly, with executives resigned to navigate the upfront with the uncertainty it will create.
“We also want to acknowledge the writers strike,” NBCUniversal TV and streaming chairman Mark Lazarus said. “We are grateful for the contribution writers make to our company, and respect their right to demonstrate. It may take some time, but I know we will eventually get through this and the result will be a stronger foundation on which we can all move forward together.”
And during a clip package featuring interviews with the creators of hit NBC shows (including Amy Poehler and Dick Wolf), text at the bottom made it clear that the interviews were taped in April, well ahead of the strike.
There was even a joke in the opening number (a musical number starring “Ted,” the CGI teddy bear voiced by Seth MacFarlane) that, while clearly locked in well before the strike, seemed to be written with the work stoppage in mind.
“Peacock, eh? There definitely weren’t any comedy writers in the room when that name was picked,” MacFarlane’s Ted said, to laughter from the crowd.
In fact, NBCU didn’t shy away from any of the news of the last week, with Lazarus also praising Linda Yaccarino, who left the company on Friday to become CEO of Twitter (Yaccarino was rehearsing for the upfront the day before her departure).
“So what was more surprising today, being welcomed by a foul mouthed teddy bear? Or seeing me up here on stage?” Lazarus said. “In all seriousness, Linda and I have worked together for many, many years here at NBC and in our time in sales at Turner, and for her many contributions and for building an excellent team here, we want to thank her and wish her well.”
“I’ve heard from so many of you over the past 72 hours. And I can’t tell you how much that means,” added Mark Marshall, who succeeded Yaccarino as the interim chairman of ad sales.
In fact, the biggest laugh at the morning was from a joke Ted made about Twitter “letting all the crazies back in.” (A buyer seated near The Hollywood Reporter laughed and then told their colleague “oh Linda.”)
The presentation itself was light not only on stars, but also specifics. There were some clips from upcoming drama shows, comedies, and reality programming, though not very much. And there was a segment featuring NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC’s lineup of anchors. And of course there was a sizzle reel for the 2024 Paris Olympics with singer-songwriter Grace Potter performing while shots of U.S. athletes in Paris played on the screen behind her.
But while past years touted the breath and depth of the programming, this year’s upfront was more like a corporate clip show, highlighting all the bits and pieces, and betting that buyers will still bite.
There were musical performances, with Potter also joined by Reba McEntire (a new judge on The Voice) and Nick Jonas (a former mentor on The Voice), and plenty of clips, but little in the way of buzz (Ted’s unexpectedly timely Twitter joke notwithstanding). It was, in the words of one buyer walking out of the upfront, “low energy.” And that may be the tone for a week still riddled with uncertainty.
As attendees left Radio City, guild members handed out flyers accusing NBCUniversal of “breaking the law, union-busting, and bargaining in bad faith.”
Not the sort of swag that companies have handed out to upfront attendees in the past.
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