How much time will Fox chairmen Dana Walden and Gary Newman devote to discussing next season’s 18 episodes of this season’s hit drama Empire at this afternoon’s Fox Upfront 2015 presentation? Will they confirm which former American Idol judges have shown “a lot of enthusiasm” for coming back for the singing competition’s swan-song season? And can any of it top this morning’s belting out of I Will Always Love You by Dolly Parton dressed as the NBC peacock (her description) and accompanied on the piano by NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt?
Here is how Fox execs pitch it strong at the Beacon Theater:
1 PM PT: “Alright, alright, alright,” Toby Byrne, president ad sales says as he begins to talk about the portfolio of networks including FX, Fox Sports, NatGeo, etc. – the networks Dana and Gary are not going to discuss with media buyers: Men’s US Open Golf championship on Fox Sports, Denis Leary’s Sex & Drugs & Rock N’ Roll and Kurt Sutter’s The Bastard Executioner on FX, etc.
1:17 PM: Rob Lowe is seen in a taped bit, explaining how he came to Hollywood to break into the business as a kid in hopes of one day impacting Online Viewability Standards, by way of pitching Fox’s premium package.
1:22 PM: When they finally get around to Fox, creators of Empire kick things off – no surprise, given it’s the network’s best story of this season. Lee Daniels thanks Fox for having “let black people on television, and its a good thing,” adding, “We thank the fans” and, “It is crazy, you know people from my neighborhood.” Then he talked about going to see a play with Helen Mirren, “and I see these 70-year-old white men… and they’re talking about Empire.” Daniels says he asked them whey they liked the show and they responded, “We love the show…because it’s about power.”
“We done something special guys,” Daniels says, explaining that, by “we” he means. “Fox, us — we got a special gift.”
Brian Grazer, in contrast, heaps praise on Gary and Dana. “They are true innovators, they are risk takers, trend creators,” he says, adding, “We’re thrilled [Empire] had this sort of volcanic opening.” The cast performs, including Jennifer Hudson.
1:33 PM: Dana and Gary finally come out on stage; Gary gives “huge thanks to Jennifer Hudson for being part of that, and of Empire. Dana explains this is the first time she and Gary have been up on stage at Fox’s Upfront presentation as head of the network’s entertainment programming, but, as head of the Fox TV studio “collectively we’ve been to over 100 upfront presentations. And never once, she says, did they hear anyone in the audience say they wanted the speeches on stage to be longer, so they will be brief. There will be no discussing of the numbers — except Empire’s, as ratings stats are spewed across giant screens. Empire, she said, shows that broadcast is “still the best place to launch a hit.”
At other networks you’re buying into franchises; at Fox you’re buying characters, Gary says like he means it to sting. Contemporary viewers demand more strategic viewing, Dana adds, and to that end they’re going to chop many series into two parts of uninterrupted original episodes, driving another nail into the coffin of broadcast TV reruns.
1:38 PM: Ryan Murphy comes out to pitch his new comedy/horror series, Scream Queens. He promises it’s like nothing media buyers have ever seen before. It’s about a sorority, hazing, and a serial killer and, he promises, “absolutely no singing or jazz hands in the show.” Murphy introduces the cast — or most of it, anyway, and Jamie Lee Curtis gets the biggest applause by far. So far on Day 1 of Broadcast TV Upfront Week, the biggest media buyer reax has gone to Dolly Parton and Jamie Lee Curtis. “Admit it, you’re not going to see another show like it this week,” Dana says after the clip.
1:44 PM: Tuesday night is all new – “something you don’t do unless you’ve got the goods, and we’ve got them,” says Dana – and very noisy. Clips of John Stamos starrer Grandfathered and Rob Lowe starrer The Grinder which, Dana says of the latter, had what is maybe the funniest script she’s ever read. Media buyers seem to like these two shows as well. After Scream Queens ends its run of originals in the fall, Tuesday becomes a four-comedy lineup including New Girl return and Guide to Surviving Life.
1:58 PM: Moving to Sunday, to round out the comedy talk, Dana calls it best place on television “to reach a broad audience with a unique concentration of young men,” Dana says. For midseason, that includes Seth McFarlane’s new, animated, “Mexifornia”-set series, Bordertown.
2:05 PM: Speaking of a unique concentration” go male-dom, Fox will kick off its 2015-16 TV season with the Primetime Emmy Awards this year, which will feature the network’s “first choice of hosts, Andy Samberg,” Dana says. Samberg comes out to do some stand up. He says he agreed to host the Emmys if Fox also would let him realize his dream, “that I also get to perform at this year’s Upfronts. And here I now” on the same stage “as countless Rob Thomas concerts. Dream realized.” At the Emmys, he said, “I will be live tweeting the trophy show’s In Memoriam segment, including using the ghost emoji “with his tongue out” along with the words “They Dead’.”
“Empire a huge hit, proving audiences do want to see diversity,” Samberg said, adding that now that the networks know that, “I’m sure it will never never be a problem, ever again.”
“Bones is back and, I’m told, this season focusing on the tibia.”
Scream Queens is about sororities and murder and, as such, “originally was titled Porn.”
2:10 PM: Gary says it’s with bittersweet feelings that he’s announcing next season will be the final one for American Idol. Some media buyers start to applaud, but stop abruptly, as if confused as to how they should react; it’s followed by some tittering in the theater. Usually at Fox Upfront presentations, mention of American Idol is followed by a walk out on stage by host Ryan Seacrest, one of the judges, or some of the winners. This year’s presentation is Idol-free, unless you count Hudson’s performance in the opening, she being maybe Idol’s most famous early evictee.
2:15 PM: Talk turns to Fox’s new dramas, “This is really going to be the cool series of the new season,” Gary says of Monday’s new Minority Report, based on movie of same name. Midseason Lucifer is about Satan, who is bored as hell in hell, and so moves to Los Angeles, which is redundant or, as Gary snarks, “sort of a lateral move.”
2:20 PM: Clips of new Rosewood, The Frankenstein Code later, the two programming chiefs finally get to The X Files reboot. Dana notes it’s “more than a decade in the making” and is getting the biggest launch outside of the post-Super Bowl slot, following the NFC championship game. She reminisces about being a young exec in the biz when the network did focus group testing on the original pilot and “the reaction was incredible and we knew back then we had something so special.” In marked contrast, the entrance on stage of creator Chris Carter, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. “We couldn’t be more excited,” insisted Carter on stage, as Duchovny and Anderson held on to each other. “Could Duchovny and Anderson have looked any less excited?” one attendee emailed us – though maybe they were just making facial statements about the clip they’d just seen. Anyway, after Carter announces they go into production in June and thanks Fox for letting them “return to search for the truth,” they exit and the presentation comes to a close with wrap-up words from Dana and Gary.