The New York upfronts: Fox is feisty

Attending Fox's upfront presentation in NYC yesterday, the first of four she's covering this week, Mindshare Canada's managing partner Lina Alles learns that not much has changed after all, from putting on the glitz to the staying power of television itself.

It’s Monday, 3:55 pm, and I am sitting in NY City Centre waiting for the Fox upfront to begin. With all the unrelenting, gloomy news about the economy I look around and think, ‘Recession? What recession?’ I don’t know what I expected: a smaller, sombre crowd maybe? Nope – the centre was filled to the rafters with the same extremely well-dressed crowd, and they were all upbeat, networking and double-cheek kissing…OK, so much for that.

Onto the presentation, which starts with Fox trotting out the stars of the shows. At the end of the parade of stars, Kiefer Sutherland makes a small speech about how much he has enjoyed the last seven years of 24, and thanks everyone for their support. He then promises to say hello to us at bar at the afterparty, and I think he also promised not to headbutt anyone – but maybe I misheard!

Up next are Jon Nesvig, president of sales; Peter Rice, chairman, entertainment; and Kevin Reilly, president, entertainment, who each take turns talking about the merits of broadcast television. Yes, people are still watching TV, and studies show that advertising on TV motivates viewers to buy. In short, the power of TV remains unchanged – it has the speed, the reach and the ability to build connections with viewers better than any other medium. Nesvig publicly and categorically stated that there has been a lot in the press lately that is incorrect, and that Fox has not rolled back upfront CPMs – CPMs that remain the cheapest in the market. Given all that has been written on this issue, it’s good to have the head of sales publicly set the record straight!

So after reaffirming that TV as a medium is not yet dead, and that the rates have not been slashed and burned, they proceeded to talk about the new schedule. The good news for Fox is that they had a fantastic year. They are the #1 network, put there because of American Idol‘s huge success. Other returning shows include House, Fringe, So You Think You Can Dance, Bones, Simpsons, Family Guy, etc. have also added to this success. What this means is that Fox is only introducing a few new shows:

So You Think You Can Dance, which usually airs in the summer, will now be airing in the fall on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Technically not a new show but an old show in a new season, so it will be interesting to see how it does.

Glee – Wednesday night @ 9 pm with SYTYCD lead is a one-hour comedy/musical set in a high school. It’s like Fame meets High School Musical. The kids are extremely talented and with the lead-in it could do well. Fox is also premiering the first episode after the American Idol finale as a ‘teaser,’ and then will build interest for the show over the summer.

Also new is Brothers, a half-hour sitcom about two brothers – one who is extremely successful and one who isn’t – and how they interact with each other and their parents. It had some pretty funny lines, but not so sure it will sustain.

And in the spin-off lane there’s the Cleveland Show – for all those Family Guy fans, Cleveland the neighbour has his own show. If you like Family Guy you will like Cleveland.

Some other new shows that will be starting in January 2010 (midseason) are:

Sons of Tucson, a comedy from the producers of Malcolm in the Middle, about three young boys who decide they need to rent a dad because their father is in prison, and they don’t want anyone to know. The humour is very similar to Malcolm, and we all know how well that did.

Past Life, a one-hour drama about dead people who are ‘reincarnated’ and in need of help. Sort of like Ghost Whisperer, except they aren’t ghosts…The clip that we saw actually was surprisingly good!

Human Target, a fun one-hour action series. Fox compared it to the action series of the past – Magnum PI, Remington Steele – in an updated genre. It did have the prerequisite car chase (in the clip we saw it was a train chase – but close enough).

After a little over an hour the presentation was over, and we walked over to the party at The Rink in Central Park. As usual, the venue was beautifully decorated, the drinks were free-flowing and the food was plentiful. No cutbacks here. The stars did their customary picture-taking with the fans. We saw Kiefer Sutherland, but he stayed away from the bar, and behaved.

Lina Alles is a managing partner at Mindshare Canada.