Upfronts 2010: It's Baaaaaaaack!
Call it an upfront comeback as optimism (finally) returns this year
By Ben Grossman -- Broadcasting & Cable, 5/17/2010 12:00:00 AM
Let's be honest: Upfront week has increasingly stunk the last couple of years. For one thing, the parties, like so many child stars, have either dropped way off or died altogether. Multiple extremely influential television-industry journalists have, for instance, carefully documented (and mourned) the depleted supply of shrimp. Nielsen is said to be working feverishly on a metric directly correlating previous year's ratings fall-offs with this withering supply of shellfish. And you thought that they weren't innovating fast enough over there.
The malaise, however, has gone beyond the soirees, as there have been plenty of other reasons upfront week has turned from winner to bummer of late.
First, we've had a run of really terrible presentations in recent years, though with varying results. Fox's ill-fated show in a New York armory a couple of years ago couldn't have gone much worse, but all that network did then was go out and haul in a record upfront cash grab-not exactly a rallying cry for the importance of a huge upfront presentation.
But stinkers don't always turn out so well. The low point was probably NBC's upfront a few years back, when the biggest thing they had to crow about was the return of Jerry Seinfeld to the network. And we're not talking about Jerry in The Marriage Ref, a show he's not even on most of the time. That would've been OK.
Nope, 2007 was when NBC strongly touted a series of interstitials featuring Jerry promoting one of his movies-Bee Movie from DreamWorks. That's right: NBC took valuable upfront time to push commercials. This basically led NBC to wave the white flag on the whole upfront presentation idea for a couple of years.
It's always fun to joke about the parties and the presentations, but it's better news to report that for the first time in years, everyone is understandably looking forward to upfront week once again. Even the most jaded television veteran can't help but feel good heading to New York. As someone said to me last week, "Upfront week is starting to feel like upfront week again." Optimism is back in vogue.
The reason is simple: The industry had two serious problems heading into last year's upfront week, and a year later, both have been corrected.
The first major issue involved money; it wasn't a question of whether the upfront would be up or down, but rather, how low it would go. This year, however, bean counters are eagerly sharpening their pencils: There is apparently money in them thar hills. It's pretty hard to find anyone who disagrees with the idea that there will be an increase in the sheer amount of dollars flowing into the 2010 upfront. And from both a bottom-line and buzz perspective, we could all use it.
Now, many people warn that an increased upfront means little in the grand scheme of things, that total ad spend will be flat or even down on the year, and that's all that matters. To those people, a simple message: Go to hell. What are you, Mets fans? Just enjoy the current ride, and quit focusing on the inevitable fall.
The second big fix is that the networks seem to have regained something they had lost around this time in each of the past couple of years: our trust. Due to a perfect storm of reasons ranging from the writers' strike to a collective development slump to an increase in competition from elsewhere, the networks just couldn't get many rookies to stick.
Two years ago, we went through all that song and dance, and just one show-one show-stuck on any network: CBS's The Mentalist. So we stopped believing what they told us about these hot new projects.
But this week last year, the networks unveiled a slate that looked like it had a bounce in its step. I bought in, and put a photo of NCIS: Los Angeles' LL Cool J on B&C's cover with the headline "Call It a Network Comeback." Thankfully, the viewers responded, as a bevy of new shows from Glee to Modern Family to The Good Wife became legitimate rookie sensations.
So this time, as we all sit in those big Manhattan venues while the networks tell us how big these shows are going to be, we should all believe them just a little more than we have recently. And then head to the parties to stuff our faces with shrimp.
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