NBC ‘infronts’: TV is alive and not so badly off

Mediacom's EVP director of trading Helena Shelton shares the scoop from yesterday's more intimate, low-key 'infronts' at NBC in New York.

On the way to New York both Pearson and LaGuardia felt empty compared to previous years. A reflection of the economic times? I saw one soul on my travels wearing a surgical mask, a reminder of the swine flu alert. Despite rain making the trip slower (and my hair messier), I did make it to New York City for the NBC ‘infront’ – that is not a typo.

The infront is in year two. I did not witness year one, but the differences from the days of the Radio City Music Hall presentations include: about 4,500 less people (there were about 300 present in the SNL studios for a more intimate presentation with a question period at the end), no afterparty (however, NBC still has a party planned during the week of the regular upfronts) and none of the usual night-by-night, hour-by-hour schedule discussion. This smaller, two week earlier preview of the fall programming was as insightful as the big ones of previous years and definitely less stressful.

The big news for NBC is Jay Leno going to five nights a week in prime time at 10 pm. This is a DVR-busting strategy for them. We were told numerous times that this move will mean fresh, relevant, timely programming that is also funny – and funny is good when up against the usual murder, murder and more murder that is 10 pm TV. This will not be Late Night Jay, this will be Prime Time Jay…The jury is still out on this one.

NBC has nine new shows, and we previewed clips for six of them. Trauma, from the producers of Friday Night Lights, got solid applause. This intense action drama about paramedics in San Francisco has a high production budget, and it shows. Parenthood from Ron Howard got me all emotional, but the rest of the audience seemed unmoved. The storyline revolves around four siblings in various stages of parenthood.

Mercy, about three nurses and the challenges of a hospital, was intense; even the NBC exec on stage described this one as ‘harsh.’ Day One will premiere after the Olympics and is about the first day after some sort of catastrophe wipes out the earth. What can be said? Excellent special effects. Community, a comedy starring Joel McHale and Chevy Chase, is about a bunch of people (divorcees, seniors…you get the idea) who go to community college and learn about themselves in a Breakfast Club fashion. It actually had a few funny moments but I’m not sure if it can sustain its humour.

Finally we saw 100 Questions, another comedy. It appears each episode will be the answer to a question from a dating service, again with a couple of good one-liners. As one of my New York contacts pointed out, ‘it is hard to get a good feel for the schedule because they did not tell us when the shows would actually be on…not sure what the point of having this meeting now was.’

What we did learn was TV is alive and not so badly off. Shows are being produced, sold and bought, and as this infront proves, there is still interest and hype. Digital is now a part of regular TV offerings; even the NBC promo take-away piece has each program listed with it’s digital offerings detailed on the same glossy sales page. Mobile was presented as the big growth area for NBC (and others I’m sure). And like the media crowd here, the faces change, the styles may change, but the business of entertaining and engaging consumers continues to march forward.