Programming

The Best and Worst of Upfronts 2011

It didn't stop raining all week, a cable network exec by far was the biggest star on any stage and a flash mob even broke out at a network run by a guy named Pedowitz. Yes, Upfront Week 2011 left us all with plenty of memories. 5/23/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern

RELATED:
Complete coverage of the 2011 upfronts
ABC: Lee Gets Network Laughing Again
CBS: Scheduling For Strength
Fox: 'In It to Win It' With Big Bets Like 'X Factor'
NBC: Greenblatt Wants To Find His New 'Voice'
The CW: Pushing for More Original Programming
Turner: Programs Power Through Upfront Clips Snafu
ESPN: Flexing Its Marketing Muscle
Upfront 2011 Marketplace: Wet Week Clears Way For Hot Ad Market

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It didn't stop raining all week, a cable network exec by far was the
biggest star on any stage and a flash mob even broke out at a network
run by a guy named Pedowitz. Yes, Upfront Week 2011 left us all with
plenty of memories.

So for those of you who weren’t lucky enough to snag tickets to the
big shows—or for those in charge of tech at the Turner upfront who got
fired midway through the week—here are some highs and lows of what
happened inside the theaters.

THE BEST:

STEVE KOONIN: After the A/V totally crashed at
Turner’s upfront and the entire show came to a painful
halt for several minutes, out on stage came the Turner
exec: “I’m Steve Koonin, formerly of Turner.” And with
one line, the crowd was in the palm of his hands.
Launching into a time-killing improv routine that few
stand-ups could have pulled off, Koonin not only stole
the show, he stole the entire week with hands-down
the best performance on any stage. Yes, it was that
good. And it was gutsy. That’s what leaders do.

ESPN: I trashed them in this space last year for a
painful showing, but in 2011 ESPN’s upfront had the
best one-year turnaround since the 1991 Minnesota
Twins. Tight, on message and funny, it really was how
a marketing presentation should be delivered. And will
someone please find upfront host Michelle Beadle a bigger
star vehicle? Remember that name—eventually she
won’t be stuck next to Colin Cowherd, and she has all
the makings of a Next Big Thing. (And a runner-up
for best upfront goes to the CW. But theirs is always
dynamic and on message, so that’s really nothing new.)

KILLER COMEDIANS: If you are going to send
out a comedian, they had better kill. And the room is
tough: George Lopez (who held his own) told me after
his Turner set that he thinks the upfront room is the
hardest one he plays all year. After a sub-par showing
(for him) last year, Jimmy Kimmel came back and
slayed this year. Seth Meyers had two great outings, at
NBC and ESPN. Outside of Tim Allen, it was a good
year for comics at the upfronts.

LES AND DAVE: Getting David Letterman to do
anything these days isn’t easy, so it was a nice surprise
to see him in a fun taped skit singing with Steve Martin
before Leslie Moonves walked into the shot and told
them the bit had been cancelled. Moonves said they did
it in just four takes over about a half-hour (and Martin
came up with the bit). That was time well spent.

DORKY CHICKS: There were two stars that left
the rooms buzzing, and they were geek-chic Zooey
Deschanel from Fox’s The New Girl and Kat Dennings
from CBS’ 2 Broke Girls. They will be media darlings
until their shows launch, and probably TV stars come
the fall.

THE WORST:

GET BACK TO RADIO CITY: You know a venue
isn’t good enough when even the president of the network
trashes it. That’s what happened at NBC’s event
at the Hilton in New York, when Bob Greenblatt made
a joke about the carpet. Major network upfronts just
don’t feel major in a hotel ballroom, probably 48 hours
after the Steinberg bar mitzvah occupied the same
space. The good news is a couple people from NBC
told me they are eyeing a return to Radio City Music
Hall next year. I’d book the place. Now.

THE MOUSE’S MESSAGE: Don’t shoot the messenger
here Disney, but I did not hear a lot of good
buzz about the ABC upfront itself. As we all know,
ad sales dollars don’t hinge on an upfront presentation,
but rather the shows themselves (some of which
looked very fun), so no harm done. But many Madison
Avenue execs told me they didn’t see a clear message
as ABC fired up clip after clip. More than one exec
also followed that by noting that ABC did not replace
former marketing chief Mike Benson. Oh—and throw
a damned party again afterwards, already. Do it jointly
with ESPN and make the rich cable boys pay for it if
need be, but throw a damned party.

CARNEGIE HALL SECURITY: People don’t
tend to get too mad at Jon Lafayette, our affable and
talented business editor, so I was a bit surprised during
the CBS upfront when I got an email saying security
was threatening to toss him out of Carnegie
Hall. It turns out that while Jon was tweeting away
like everyone else, one security guard decided no one
was allowed to use any technology in the building
and shut him and everyone else in the area down.
That was the coldest shoulder given at the CBS upfront
next to the absolutely zero mention anywhere
of Katie Couric.

PHONE BOOTHS, RIP: I thought I was having
a nice New York moment one night when I actually
saw someone standing in a phone booth. There I was,
thinking, “Cool, someone actually still uses those
here.” That was until I got a little closer and realized
it was a homeless guy peeing in the booth.

E-mail comments to bgrossman@nbmedia.com
and follow him on Twitter: @BCBenGrossman

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