The Upfront Week started unusually hot (and bothered) this year before the typical cool and dreary weather settled in. In the fog that’s descended over New York as we wrap this year’s marathon, several trends have emerged:
- Comedy continues to go through hard times. In one week, we saw both NBC’s legacy two-hour Must See Thursday comedy block and CBS’ 28-year-old Monday night two-hour comedy block scaled back to one hour. While all broadcast networks showcased new dramas that had people talking, there were few new comedies that made an impression. “Comedy is hard,” network executives have lamented. Fox even opted not to pick up any of its comedy pilots to series. Of the ordered new comedy series, rom-coms are making a very strong showing with such entries as NBC’s Marry Me and A To Z and ABC’s Manhattan Love Story and Selfie. We also have a comedy that defies genres with Dan Fogelman’s musical fairytale for ABC Galavant.
On the drama side, following the success of NBC’s The Blacklist, it’s no surprise that series with intelligence themes are trendy for next season. Attendees at the NBC upfront started a drinking game every time the CIA sign flashed on the screen in a promo for a new series, with three dramas – State of Affairs, Odyssey and Allegiance — all set in that arena. Also in the milieu are CBS’ Madam Secretary and the more comedic Scorpion, in which geniuses help government agencies.
- This has been a great season for diversity, with one of the most ethnically inclusive slates of new series ever on the broadcast networks. Broadcast drama series with black leads are a TV rarity. This fall we will have something that we probably have never seen: a block of two back-to-back drama series with black lead characters on one of the highest-profile nights on TV, Thursday: ABC’s Scandal, starring Kerry Washington, and How to Get Away With Murder, toplined by Viola Davis. We have a new drama and a new comedy series about black families: Fox’s Empire and ABC’s Black-ish, respectively; a dramedy and a comedy about Latino families in the CW’s Jane The Virgin and ABC’s Cristela, respectively; and a new comedy about an Asian family, ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat. (Additionally, NBC has school comedy Mr. Robinson starring Craig Robinson, Fox has upcoming Latino-themed drama Gang Related and Maggie Q toplines new CBS drama Stalker.)
- Foreign formats also made a very strong showing this upfront with such new series as NBC drama Allegiance and TBS comedy Your Family Or Mine, both based on Israeli formats; Fox’s Red Band Society and NBC’s The Mysteries Of Laura, both based on Spanish series; ABC’s Secrets & Lies, based on the Australian format; the CW’s Jane The Virgin, based on a Venezuelan telenovela; and Fox’s reality series Utopia, based on a Dutch format. In the remakes of U.S. series department, CBS has comedy The Odd Couple. Also hot were comic book adaptations, with DC’s Gotham (Fox), Constantine (NBC), The Flash and iZombie (the CW), and Marvel’s Agent Carter (inspired by movies/one-shot that were based on comics). In other literary adaptations, midseason dramas Backstrom (Fox) and The Astronaut Wives Club (ABC) were based on books, while fall ABC series The Whispers was based on a Ray Bradbury short story.
- A trend that emerged with the first new series pickups has solidified over the past week: projects previously developed and passed on triumphing with series orders. That includes NBC’s Russian spy drama Allegiance; Fox’s hospital coming-of-age drama Red Band Society and ancient Egypt drama Hieroglyph; comedy The McCarthys, clinching one of CBS’ only two new comedy pickups; ABC romantic comedy Manhattan Love Story; and TBS’ family sitcom Your Family Or Mine. Additionally, Fox comedy series Mulaney, which saw its order upped to 16 episodes and a spot on the schedule behind Family Guy, was originally piloted at NBC, and Fox’s Backstrom was a pilot at CBS.
On a lighter tone, here are a few lowlights and oddities from the upfront presentations:
- Most Jarring Made-Up Term By An Executive: “Eventizing,” referring to making programming more event-like, prompting viewers to watch live.
- Most Surprising Trend In New Series: Guys appearing in the buff a la Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator, featured in both ABC’s Forever and the CW’s The Messengers.
- Most Surprisingly Appropriate Use Of A Curse Word: Clusterf*ck. “Talk about a clusterf*ck,” the always proper Alicia Florick (Julianna Margulies) uttered in a Good Wife pre-taped segment about an ad buyer entertainment crisis at the CBS presentation that spilled onto the stage, where Alan Cumming shed his Eli Gold persona to transform into his Emcee from Cabaret for a rousing performance of “Willkommen.” And then there was the always inappropriate Jimmy Kimmel with this gem from his annual ABC upfront roast, referring to a comment by producer Mark Burnett in a promo shown at the NBC presentation for event series A.D., a follow-up to Burnett’s hit History miniseries The Bible. “Mark Burnett is producing an elaborate new miniseries for NBC called A.D., which he described as Game Of Thrones meets The Borgias meets The Bible. I read the pitch for the show — it sounds more to me like total meets cluster meets f*ck.”