The Irrelevant In The Room

It was about as old school a day as was possible on the streets of Manhattan yesterday.  Hundreds of media buyers and sellers eagerly schlepping by limo, taxi, Uber and even the Number 7 line to glitzy, star-filled unveilings of the fall TV schedules.

NBC kicking it all off as they have for decades, utilizing the epic location of Radio City Music Hall to accommodate the typically large crowds that are often the most energetic, if for no other reason that they have yet to be drained by the tedium and the hecticness of midtown traffic, quickly wolfed-down lunches and “special” dinners at out-of-the-way locations that drag into the wee hours of the morning.  FOX then following up with the late afternoon window in a somewhat more contemporary location, cheekily taking potshots at what they had learned had been presented by their competitor and doing their best to spin their own takes.  Not quite the kind of pyrrhic battle between their cable news networks, but considering the dollars at stake, equally as passionate.

At least on paper and in theory, this was the way it had been on Upfront Week Day 1 since the oughts, when these were the preferred choices of buyers seeking upscale 18-49 year olds via high-reach broadcast series.  But now, of course, the broadcast schedules are merely parts of corporate portfolio shills, largely due to the consolidation of sales staffs and the multiplatform realities of today’s fragmented world.  Even FOX, which had eschewed a corporate umbrella approach in past years, co-mingled its remaining entertainment and, yes, its news content.   It was noteworthy enough for THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER’s Mikey O’Connell to note that, for a change, people in New York showed up to voice their opinions on something other than a two-state solution or a political candidate on trial:

While guests of the Manhattan Center presentation were greeted by a small but enthusiastic group of protesters — their shouts to media buyers included “Fox lies, people die, don’t be the next MyPillow guy,” a joke about Fox News advertiser and 2020 election denier Mike Lindell — the Fox News portion of the presentation steered as far away from the network’s more controversial personalities as possible. Instead, they brought out correspondent Benjamin Hall, who was critically wounded while reporting in Ukraine in 2022. The journalist, who lost one leg, the foot on his other leg, the use of one of his hands and one eye, was welcomed with a standing ovation when he came on to plug the channel’s reporting from Israel and Gaza. 

But beyond that mild distraction, both entities tried valiantly to conduct business as usual, even bringing out their veteran strategists to explain the playbook that went into their decisions.  VARIETY’s Joe Otterson offered his readers the insights offered by NBC’s current guru on how one of the few actual new series is being introduced:

(T)he new multi-cam comedy “Happy’s Place,” starring Reba McEntire, will kick off Friday nights at 8 p.m., followed by the third season of “Lopez vs Lopez.” The latter show, starring George Lopez, previously aired on Friday nights but had moved to Tuesdays in its second season.  “[McEntire] is a big, big name,” Jeff Bader, president of programming planning strategy at NBCUniversal Entertainment, said in an interview with Variety. “Her last show was very, very successful and she’s doing great for us on ‘The Voice,’ so it’s a great way for us try out a family comedy block on Friday with two big names.”

Meanwhile, DEADLINE’s intrepid Nellie Andreeva gave special attention to how FOX will attempt to kickstart the beginning of the week:

When it became clear last November that 9-1-1: Lone Star‘s fifth season will be delayed until fall 2024, Fox was expected to use it to launch one of its new drama series. Indeed, the network has moved its new flagship first responders drama to Monday 8 PM where the mothership 9-1-1 series aired for four seasons before moving to ABC last year. Lone Star, which most recently aired Tuesdays, had been used as a bridge between 9-1-1‘s fall and spring runs on Mondays.

It will be followed by Rescue: Hi-Surf, the new lifeguard drama from John Wells Productions, which Fox brass have such highs hopes for that they have given it seven additional episodes, a high-profile slot behind Lone Star and a post-Super Bowl airing in February.

“Monday is the night of rescues,” Fox’s EVP of Program Planning Dan Harrison said of the lineup on the network’s pre-upfront call.

It’s somewhat refreshing to see truly smart and savvy people like Bader and Harrison still being given opportunties to explain how they’re trying to use some old school zigging and zagging to bring as much audience as possible in real time, as advertisers still pay a premium for live-same-day viewing.   But in the same presentation, Bader explained how a more high-profile show, part of what was exclusively a LAW AND ORDER block on Thursday nights, was deemed expendable:

‘Organized Crime’ is a really successful show,” Bader said. “When you’re looking at it over time, only a small a percentage of that viewing is in the time period where we schedule it. It is very successful on streaming, so it’s a perfect time to move over to Peacock and that opens up one of the best time periods on television because ‘SVU’ is one of the highest rated dramas right now.”    NBC will replace it with FOUND, a show still looking for an audience that had one of the lower time-shift deltas on its schedule.

And clearly, the broadcast networks are increasingly a smaller part of both the overall and parochial strategies being touted this week.  Even the entertainment needed to expand their repetoires.  THR’s Alex Weprin noted these gems from NBCU:

Late Night host Seth Meyers returned to the stage of Radio City Music Hall Monday morning during NBCUniversal’s upfront presentation, where he took aim at the entertainment industry, and his own company.

On Fox News: “Hello and welcome to the NBC upfronts, if you’re looking for the Fox News upfront, that’s happening outside a lower Manhattan courthouse.”

On Paramount: “Not to brag, it’s been a very good day for me, I found $20 on the street this morning. Long story short, I’m one of the two finalists for Paramount.”

On Bravo: “Bravo announced the Vanderpump Rules spin off The Valley has been renewed for another season. They’ve also picked up something from Tom Sandoval and are waiting to learn if it’s contagious.”

On Peacock: “Peacock continues to prove that the easiest way to make a billion dollars, is to spend eight.”

Not to be outdone, FOX turned to its own nearly eponymous in-house wit to coax a few laughs and, yes, groans out of the crowd eagerly awaiting happy hour.  Per O’Connell:

Jamie Foxx…(t)he Beat Shazam host who’s barely been seen in public over the last year, spent a long stretch on the upfront stage, plugging the show he shares with his daughter, hyping other Fox projects and promising the crowd that his employers were “going to get [them] fucked up” when the bar opened. “I’m just happy to be here,” he said, seemingly a reference to doing promotions with his child and not a reference to his still-unexplained time spent out of the spotlight.

But as THE WRAP’s Lucas Manfredi reported, he took full advantage of this comeback appaerance to raise a few more eyebrows, not to mention close a few mouths:

(H)ost Jamie Foxx veered off script during Fox’s upfront presentation to advertisers on Monday while promoting Fox Sports and Major League Baseball’s upcoming collaboration on the Rickwood Classic in June.

After showing a teaser for the sporting event, which will pay tribute to the Negro Leagues, Foxx asked the audience to stand up — but they remained sitting.  “Don’t want to stand up for the negro league? That’s what this is? They won’t even stand for Black people, I can’t stand this s–t. No, I’m just kidding,” he joked, which resulted in some members of the audience going quiet.

In more bygone eras, a routine like Foxx’s might have gone unnoticed, or even have been decently received.  But not in an era where competing journalists are looking for every possible clickbaitable fodder, or in an increasingly diversity-driven industry, or in a city that’s been a powderkeg of emotions for months.

And truth be told, both NBC and FOX could use the publicity.  They’re still both chasing CBS for total audience, and they eschewed the New York upfronts entirely.  Instead, they did a shindig in Los Angeles last week where their fall schedule was announced, trumpeting such IP extensions as NCIS: ORIGINS, the third generation BIG BANG THEORY spinoff that will chronicle the world of Sheldon’s older brother Georgie and his young family and a delayed reboot of MATLOCK that will replace Andy Griffith with Kathy Bates.  They’re even resurrecting HOLLYWOOD SQUARES, which didn’t do a darn thing for either corporate cousins VH-1 not CMT in network-targeted versions featuring hip-hop and country music personalities in its most recent incarnations, and giving its daytime syndication doyenne Drew Barrymore a shot at being the next Paul Lynde, if not the next Whoopi Goldberg.  One look the current ratings comparison between their two shows will tell you the game’s gonna have to bring a lot to the table to make it competitive.

This morning, Amazon gets the morning window, and tomorrow Netflix will make its upfront week debut with their whopping 19 million global ad-receivable subscriptions and what one hopes will be a damn good lunch.  In between, Disney and Jimmy Kimmel and whatever Yosemite Zas will allow WBD to make will do their own songs and dances.  So it won’t necessarily as much business as usual as it was yesterday.  And given that advertisers are savvy enough to know and demand much, much more for their products and brands than a new lead-in for an inexplicably renewed LOPEZ VS. LOPEZ, you can bet they will be doing their best to poay attention, or at least their underlings to take note while they get over hangovers.

The elephants may have been in the room yesterday, but you know what else has four legs and a trunk?  Irrelevant.

Until next time… 

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