May 19, 2017
Upfronts 2017: Hits, Misses, Conan, Colbert & Bee
Another network Upfront Week is in the books, and it’s time to look back at the week that was. The presentations were thick with late-night stars hoping to wow the crowd in Jimmy Kimmel’s absence. Meanwhile, networks showed off their 2017-18 schedules and new series. Here are some highlights — and a few lowlights:
STOP US IF YOU’VE SEEN THIS BEFORE
Reviving and rebooting series has been around for a while (see Hawaii Five-O, MacGyver, Arrested Development, Twin Peaks, Fuller House, etc.) but has reached a fever pitch this season. While ABC wheeled out the Roseanne cast on that much-remembered sofa for brief scripted remarks, NBC went all out with the return of Will & Grace and the return of Must See TV Thursdays:
COLBERT TIPS HAT TO TRUMP
Upfront Week coincided with Donald Trump’s Washington Meltdown Week – and as the reality star-turned-president historically used the upfronts to address presidential plans and Celebrity Apprentice news, it was only natural that he came in for some joshing and snarking as this year’s confab. CBS went all-in, with Stephen Colbert opening its dog-and-pony show:
“It’s an honor to be here at Carnegie Hall,” Colbert said before giving due credit for a great year at Late Show: “Thank you, Donald Trump!”
Colbert’s spotlight appearance was a marked contrast to 2016, when CBS had James Corden open with one of the year’s many Hamilton-esque kickoffs, as Reporters Who Cover Television were citing sources that Corden was getting Colbert’s time slot.
“If you think that I love Stephen more now just because he’s No. 1 – you’re right!” CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves beamed this year. “Who would have predicted Stephen Colbert would be winning late-night on CBS and Bill O’Reilly would be doing a podcast in his underwear?”
After a big song-and-dance number, a top hat-and-tailed Colbert welcomed the CBS Family to Carnegie Hall, including “our incredible affiliates and, of course, a special welcome to the hot new star of Criminal Minds, James Comey. Every season is just him writing stuff down and getting fired.”
“There is only one word to describe this president – and the FCC has asked me not to use it anymore.”
“The president recently has had harsh things to say about me, because kids are watching. Who says only old people are watching CBS? Thank you, Mr. President! We’re No. 1 in 6- to 12-year-old politically engaged insomniacs!”
And Colbert said he and Trump indeed do have something in common: Both spend most of their time talking about Trump. But, noted Colbert, “my guests know they’re being taped.”
COOPER STUMPS CONAN
Samantha Bee kicked things off for Turner Networks, but it was Conan O’Brien, who just signed a new four-year deal with TBS, who stole the show. For reasons known only to Turner upfront planners, someone decided it would be a good idea to have Anderson Cooper come onstage to interview O’Brien and Shaquille O’Neal. “Why the hell are you here?!” O’Brien shrieked at Cooper, speaking for everyone in the hall or watching via livestream. “The republic is hanging by a thread! Wolf Blitzer is backstage eating a scone, and you’re hosting this show?” Calling the trio “Black, White and Even Whiter,” O’Brien asked Cooper, “How do they contact you if they suddenly need you, like if Trump just took a sh*t on the East Lawn? OK, let’s do this thing – because this needs to happen.”
SWING AND A MISS
During his new bosses’ upfront presentation, recently retired baseball star Alex Rodriguez whined that Fox Sports does not pay as well as the Yankees. This coming from the guy who once signed a $252 million contract to play a game.
BEE’S STANDARD PRACTICE
ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel broke a 14-year run as the highlight of Upfront Week, either to spend more time with his family after his son was born with a heart defect, as he famously explained on his show – or to protest the cancellation of Dr. Ken, as he revealed in a letter read onstage during ABC’s presentation.
Maybe Kimmel didn’t break that streak after all.
Best of the late-night lot was Samantha Bee, who shared an email exchange between her show Full Frontal and TBS’ Standards and Practices.
Full Frontal to S&P: “Can we use ‘tw*t’ in reference to a vagina? Please let us know as soon as you can. Context: ‘Rick Scott’s spent most of his administration relaxing Florida’s gun laws until they’re looser than the tw*t of an elephant who just had triplets’.”
S&P to Full Frontal: “This use of ‘tw*t’ is approved by S&P. We can approve the wide shot of the elephant birth; however S&P cannot approve the medium shot of the elephant’s vagina. Please let us know if you have any questions.”
Said Bee to the upfront audience, “These people are worth their weight in gold, and I hope we are paying them enough to afford the best therapy our health care system has to offer.” Then noting that she’s fairly certain she’s the first person on the upfront stage to utter the words “elephant tw*t,” she beamed, “You are welcome!”
WHAT ABOUT BOB?
NBC’s presentation has gone all Comcast-y, and these days it incorporates pitches from stars of Bravo, Syfy, E! and the rest, apparently assuming that media buyers would rather see Kardashians than Bob Greenblatt onstage. We, however, think the NBC Entertainment Chairman’s presence was much missed: All we got was his name on the door of a faux NBC office, and the top-floor elevator button, during the Will & Grace video.
SONG OF SETH
Yes, NBC’s The Voice judge Jennifer Hudson blew off all socks at Radio City Music Hall when she opened NBC’s presentation with Dreamgirls’ “I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” And yes, Lea Michele from ABC’s The Mayor looked incredible in her catsuit as she belted out some tune no one can remember because of that catsuit.
But for our money, The Orville creator-star Seth MacFarlane’s written-for-Fox-upfront opening number takes the prize, with such sterling lyrics as:
Yes, the broadcast network slate
offers hits that resonate
and that’s a pretty simple challenge
’cause a ‘hit’ is 0.8
Now at Fox our reputation
It could use a little bump
‘Cause although we’ve brought you ratings
We elected Donald Trump
But if you’re thinkin’ ads on YouTube
are the way to reach the kids
just remember your commercials
will be shown on ISIS vids