This year’s Upfront Week always was going to be challenging, what with many of the most buzzed-about “new” series for next season having already debuted years (or decades) ago and corporate overlords consigning broadcasters to the back half of presentations in which hitting the two-hour mark means death. NBC believes in shorter commercial breaks this year – but longer upfronts.
Here are the 2018 upfront winners and losers:
CBS, having long ago figured out that media buyers are not fans of audience participation, stuck with its “How Do We Top Last Year?” opening video. This year, John Malkovich was compelled to read the CBS upfront’s opening ad-sales pitch – the price of losing a poker game with CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves, who tells him not to be a pain in the ass this time. “F*cking executives,” Malkovich grumbles as he hangs up. “F*cking talent,” Moonves grouses as he hangs up.
Best Executive Appearance
“Good afternoon, everyone,” Moonves deadpanned to thunderous applause and a standing ovation as he took a break from battling Shari Redstone’s efforts to drive him out, while CBS’ upfront presentation was happening. It might be the first time ad execs have given a network exec a standing-O in Upfront Week.
“So, how’s your week been?” Les added, bringing down Carnegie Hall. “For years I told you I’m only out here for a few minutes. And this year, perhaps for the first time, I actually mean it.”
Worst Executive Appearance
NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke came out on stage to say subjecting NBC News and Entertainment stars to a performing signature ABBA tune in which lyrics were re-written with a meat cleaver — to plug Universal’s upcoming Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! — was “shameless self-promotion.” Guessing media buyers already knew that.
Best Late-Night Comic Seventh-Inning Stretch
Jimmy Kimmel owns the upfronts. Making his triumphant return to ABC’s now-Freeform/ABC presentation, Kimmel cut to the chase, informing media buyers: “Let’s be honest, this is all nonsense. Our ratings are going down and our price is going up. Too bad, eat it.”
He directed anyone in Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall who has “used the words ‘retargeting,’ ‘grand purpose’ or ‘vertical anything’ today, please raise your hand, stand up and walk out into traffic.”
While ABC is saying so long to Shondaland and “going head-first into Roseanne-istan with no exit plan,” Kimmel noted his network is not the only one going the “greatest hits” route, noting: “Murphy Brown is back at CBS. That’s right, CBS knows what millennials want, and they’ll be damned if they give it to them.”
About those millennials, Kimmel preached to the choir, arguing that they are abandoning traditional TV in droves and must be lured back to broadcast. Having lured advertisers in, Kimmel then snarked: “Millennials, by the way, are the people responsible for the smell of strawberry vape smoke in every Uber. Those are the people we need back.”
But Kimmel mostly directed his fire at ABC, noting of new drama Whiskey Cavalier, “It took a while, but we finally came up with a title that’s worse than Cougar Town. Whiskey Cavalier is described as a high-octane hourlong action dramedy that follows the adventures of tough but tender FBI super-agent Will Chase, whose code name is ‘Whiskey Cavalier.’ Should we cancel it now or should we wait until you leave the room?”
ABC programming chief Channing Dungey later told media buyers that, 10 years from now when Whiskey Cavalier still is on the air, she’s going to make Kimmel come out on stage and eat crow.
Kimmel also described ABC’s new reality dating show, The Proposal, in which contestants compete to marry someone they haven’t met, as sounding suspiciously like “a thinly veiled sex-trafficking operation.”
Honorable mention in this category goes to Seth Meyers, who literally rescued NBCU’s Upfront as the two-hour mark drew dangerously near, with a zipping set in which he noted, among other crowd-pleasing cracks, “NBC aired a live version of Jesus Christ Superstar this year starring John Legend. And you know a network has some range when they have a black Jesus and Megyn Kelly.”
Best Reboot Star Appearance
Roseanne Barr kicked off ABC’s slice of the Freeform/ABC Upfront presentation, proving she actuallly can sing the national anthem, then continued to own the stage when she introduced Disney-ABC Television Group chief Ben Sherwood to stage. “Here’s the guy who really writes most of my tweets,” she said. That left Sherwood feeling the need to explain he is not involved with Barr’s radioactive Twitter account, after which he was so effusive about her series reboot that he felt the need to tell those watching the presentation that if they were playing a Roseanne-named drinking game, “You are welcome.”
Worst Reboot Star Appearance
Tim Allen, star of former ABC/soon-to-be Fox sitcom Last Man Standing, took to Fox’s upfront stage to joke about the mayonnaise going bad in the green room and tick off the projects he mulled during his sitcom’s unexpected hiatus, including Santa vs. Alien, and Naked and Really Afraid.
“I say we go kick some Nielsen ass,” Allen urged media buyers, quickly adding, “Oh, shit. I said ‘ass’.”
Best New Series On-Air Talent
Introduced by ABC programming chief Channing Dungey as “beloved” Nathan Fillion, the network’s former Castle star pitched his new cop drama, The Rookie. He charmed the crowd when he told them: “If you don’t know me, that’s all right. I’m probably a really big deal to your mom.”
Best Moment of Actual Spontaneity Onstage
Hands down, this goes to Fox co-chair Gary Newman, who won the hearts of media buyers and press when he said about some stat he had just pitched per script, “That is so ‘New Fox,’ I don’t even know what it means.”