NBC Universal kicked off this year’s Upfront presentations — the week when networks pull out all the bells and whistles in order to woo advertisers — with a two-hour show at Radio City Music Hall on Monday morning.
The event began with a self-referential taped segment showing celebrities joking about being contractually obligated to promote the network. The skit eventually turned into a song-and-dance number set to “Here We Go Again” from Universal’s “Mamma Mia” sequel, which, not coincidentally, comes out this summer. NBC Universal chief executive officer Steve Burke came out to give introductory remarks to the audience and laughed about how, like much of what the crowd will see this week, the song is fitting for its “shameless self-promotion.”
Burke spoke about the sea change in media: “Some are getting out of the scripted business, others are getting out of the business altogether,” he said, before touting NBC’s advertiser-friendly reach. Stars from the various divisions under the NBC Universal umbrella — Bravo, NBC Sports, NBC News, E!, USA, NBC comedy, late night and drama — came up to the stage to lend star wattage to the run-through of its lineup. Andy Cohen came out to announce “Project Runway”‘s triumphant return to Bravo, the cast of “This is Us” came out to pull on heartstrings, and a host of NBC journalist, led by Lester Holt, came out to stress the gravity of the news division.
“Late Night” host Seth Meyers did a bit where he gently roasted the Upfronts (how do you explain them to your kids, he wondered), NBC and the “Today” show.
“It’s not surprising for NBC to be dramatic. We are home to the number-one drama on television, a show that each week gives us twists and turns, heartbreaking reveals and, this season, the departure of a once-beloved character. I’m talking about the ‘Today’ show,'” he said. “Hoda Kotb replaced Matt Lauer as co-anchor of the ‘Today’ show this year.…Everyone here is so proud of Hoda, though I’m not sure Kathie Lee is happy about it. I saw her drinking at 10 a.m.”
Meyers went on to joke about the royal wedding. “How we advertise on television changes every year. Not only commercials, there are ad integrations. For my money, the best ad integration was on USA, between the TV show ‘Suits’ and the Royal Wedding,” he said. “Whatever the queen paid for that integration, it was worth it, because I have been hearing a lot about that wedding. I think people are going to watch that wedding.”
Andy Samberg came out to promote “Brooklyn 99,” which NBC picked up last week after Fox’s cancellation provoked an outcry from fans.
The show closed with a pitch to the advertisers from Linda Yaccarino, NBC Universal’s chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships:
“I’m here today to answer the one single question on all of your minds: Where should I invest my marketing dollars to get the biggest possible impact? Well, you know what my answer is. Nothing reaches into people’s lives like television. Nothing reaches into people’s hearts like television. And nothing, nothing, brings people together like television. I mean, come on, no family has ever gathered around a NewsFeed before,” she said.
Later in the day, Fox made its pitch.
Joe Marchese, Fox’s president of advertising revenue, got the presentation started with a straight-up appeal to the audience, complete with slides and graphics depicting ad units, before Jaime Foxx came out to hype up the crowd with a variety of oldie hits. But despite the best efforts of the “Beat Shazam” host, the audience was as unresponsive to the Rolling Stones as to “Play that Funky Music.”
Fox stars Homer Simpson, in a pre-taped, animated segment, and Tim Allen, whose show “Last Man Standing” just made the jump back to Fox, did sets — although the animated character, whose show is about to turn 30, was a much bigger hit with the audience.
Fox spent a big portion of its time hyping its sports division, particularly its NFL coverage. Among the new shows announced during the presentation were “Cool Kids,” a sitcom set in a retirement community, a live version of “Rent,” and astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson’s “Cosmos,” which will return to the network after four years.
After the presentation wrapped up, the audience boarded busses bound for Central Park’s Wollman Rink, where cocktails, food stations, and talent awaited the advertisers who, by the end of the first day of Upfronts, were ready to eat, drink, and talk TV.