2010 NYC Upfronts: Day 1

MiC guest blogger Helena Shelton of PHD shares her experiences at the 2010 Upfronts in New York: On Day 1, Fox goes glam while NBC lets its 13 new shows do most of the talking.

It’s May in New York City, the time of year when the networks reveal their plans for the 2010/11 TV season and network affiliate types, US buyers, clients and a few Canucks all gather to see and pass judgment.

Monday began early with NBC who changed their venue from Radio City to the Hilton with the tagline ‘Everything is colourful’ and it was. NBC had their peacock colours everywhere: outside, on cabs (smart), inside, on walls, on water bottles, the escalators – you get the idea.

The presentation itself, however, was not so colourful. It was fairly low key and lasted just under two hours. Alec Baldwin started the show in character as Jack Donaghy of 30 Rock, with a few jokes, followed by the network’s introduction of its eight new fall shows and five midseason programs.

Monday nights will start with The Event, from the creators of Lost. It is well-produced, with a definite eerie Lost-like feeling to it. However fugitive-on-the-run drama Chase (airing just after The Event) from producer Jerry Bruckheimer left some of us wanting to run too.

New on Wednesday nights is Undercovers, which channels Mr. & Mrs. Smith for TV, but without the raw sex appeal of Brad and Angelina. At 9 p.m., Law & Order Los Angelas – no explanation required here.

Thursdays are about comedy for NBC with Outsourced at 9:30 p.m. The half-hour sitcom, which will follow The Office, got a lot of laughs from the audience. NBC then ran a full episode of Love Bites, and they obviously feel this is a great show or they wouldn’t do that to us. The basic premise of this hour-long rom-com is that an attractive woman (played by Jennifer Love Hewitt) meets a normal, chubby guy on a plane and wants to do him, but he says no. As my companion said: ‘Oh sure, this is real,’ an observation followed impatiently by, ‘When is it over?’

The mid-season shows were nothing exciting; there is actor and stand-up comedian Paul Reiser with The Paul Reiser Show – clearly someone owed him a favour. Friends with Benefits is about friends who have sex. Harry’s Law, starring Kathy Bates as a patent lawyer gone good, had the most mixed reviews, as people either loved it or hated it. And then there was Perfect Couples, about three couples who are not so perfect.

And that was it for the new shows. Then came the announcers from the NFL and Sunday Night Football, who threw pigskins into the audience. More than a few people had them knocked off their heads, and then it was over.

We were streaming out of the Hilton when we ran into a few fellow Canucks and decided to go out for lunch instead of going to the NBC party to line up for a drink. Lunch was very Mad Men. We all agreed Outsourced was the clear winner for NBC, and Love Bites was not. Two bottles of wine and 30 blocks in heels later (running behind two senior ad guys), we were at the Beacon Theatre for the Fox launch (my feet will never recover).

Fox had no colour but it did present lots of glamour, music and stars. The kick-off was the parade of stars, all of them, from House to Glee. And Fox had research: TV delivers large audiences, TV delivers ROI, TV is dynamic and TV has an impact on our culture. There was also (and rightly) lots of glee over the success of Glee this past year.

Fox started their new show previews with The Good Guys, a comedy about two regular cops starring Colin Hanks and Bradley Whitford, and the clips got a few loud laughs. Lonestar, a prime-time soap/drama that the network described as a modern Dallas, was very good. Starring John Voight, the show is about a con man who has two separate lives and wives. [It also scored the House lead-in slot.] Raising Hope, a new half-hour comedy about a single guy raising his daughter with the help of his mother (Martha Plimpton) was very funny and got lots of laughs and applause.

Finally, another comedy called Running Wilde, about a rich guy (played by Will Arnett of Arrested Development fame) who is trying to hook up with the daughter of his former housekeeper, got the most laughs. We felt this one you either loved or hated, as well. [Arnett created Wilde with Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz.] A new animated comedy called Bob’s Burgers was just really bad, my fellow upfront attendant was staring at the ceiling of the theater all throughout this clip. Luckily for him, it was a beautiful ceiling with gilt scones and colourful paintings of nature and happy people.

Then came the mid-season lineup: Superbowl 45, a new season of American Idol, Mixed Signals and Terra Nova. Terra Nova is still in production so there were no real clips to see, however its creator Steven Spielberg was talking about the vision and it sounded great. It’s about a future on earth so bad they send people back into the past to prehistoric times to save them. If this is done as well as they claim, it will be very good.

It was over in just under two hours and there were busses ready to take a few thousand people to the afterparty. This writer (with aching feet) opted for another 20-block walk back to my hotel, followed by a good conversation about what we had seen that day. We agreed that the tone of this upfront season seemed to be all about the strength of conventional TV; a celebration of mass audience delivery! The end of day one in New York City. Next: ABC’s presentation. Wonder what they will have to show us?