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Fox Upfront With NBC

2/22/2008 07:00:00 PM Eastern

I hate Peter Liguori. It's actually nothing personal, I just detest all New York Mets fans after they stole the best pitcher in baseball, Johan Santana, from my hometown Minnesota Twins in a lopsided trade. Plus Liguori's tall and thin, which makes him my polar opposite, and not in a good way.

So it pains me to have to thank the Fox chairman and his network for injecting some color into what has been a painfully dark television season to cover.

If you miss the golden era of network rivals sniping at each other around upfront season, happy days were here again last week as Fox called out NBC over its big upfront announcement. It didn't matter whether what Fox said was remotely valid, it just made for good theater and that's more than we can say for a lot of shows that have made the air this season.

And after covering another flailing fall for the networks followed by a dour 100-day-long strike, I think we all need a reminder that this is show business. It's not the end of the world if an executive actually says something inflammatory and isn't afraid to put his name next to it, and potentially his foot in his mouth.

So to the rescue last week came some serious, Johan Santana-like flame-throwing by Fox scheduling chief Preston Beckman.

To review, last Tuesday NBC announced what it called a “client-centric” approach to its upfront that it said will include presenting a year-round programming schedule in April followed by meetings with advertisers in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago and then a May 12 event of some sort outlining initiatives across multiple NBC Universal platforms.

Fox execs sat and let it stew for about 24 hours, and then as one staffer told me, decided “to call 'bullshit.'” They claimed they had long been setting year-round schedules and talking to advertisers early in the cycle, and decided to tell the world they thought of it first.

So, wanting to keep Liguori in the “statesman” role and with former NBC Entertainment chief Kevin Reilly unable to rip the guy who fired him for fear of reinventing the term “sour grapes,” Fox trotted Beckman out of the bullpen. And Beckman delivered.

“It is total smoke and mirrors. If anyone should be getting credit it is us; he is basically saying we are going to imitate the number-one network,” Beckman said of NBCU CEO Jeff Zucker.

That was one of the more tame comments. Afterward, there were plenty of critics lining up to shoot down Beckman's take as not only bombastic but misguided.

NBC Entertainment Co-Chairman Marc Graboff said, “The story is about value and an overall process change, not who was first. Is [Beckman] disagreeing? Is he saying it's a bad idea? He clearly is not saying it's stupid, he's just saying he thought of it first.” And he was right.

Campbell Mithun Senior VP/Director of Media Negotiations John Rash said, “It's which network does it best that's most important.” Also correct.

Another studio head called the comments “idiotic” and said he had no idea why Fox felt the need for some “chest-thumping.” Works for me.

So whether you agree with Fox's assertions that NBC's announcement was out of the Fox playbook, or you think that Beckman's response was a needless case of Fox Attitude, I really don't care.

The strike is over, spring training is here, and there's nothing wrong with entertainment executives remembering that this is show business and deciding to play a little ball.

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