Programming

LEFT COAST BIAS: Upfront Send-Up

Fun with This Week’s Upfront Presentations in New York 5/12/2008 12:04:00 AM Eastern

I know you’re all unsure about what to expect from this week’s upfront presentations in New York.

I don’t blame you. Everything just feels smaller this year. Let’s face it, there hasn’t been a more celebrated lack of pilots since food poisoning ravaged the cockpit in classic flick Airplane.

Words like “depressing” are being thrown around by the usually bubbliest of executives to describe the toned-down feel of the week. Fortunately, B&C obtained at least one detail from each of the upfront presentations this week and it turns out that there will be some fun after all.

• NBC: I never watch the Olympic Games opening ceremonies, but I will this year to see when and how (not if) protesters somehow get their word out. So at its “NBC Experience,” the network is just giving in to that potential ratings bump.

Its party will include a “Make Your Own Protest” computer booth where you can enter a virtual world and try to disrupt the Opening Ceremonies in Beijing. Create an avatar, and then try to sneak in banners or even a security uniform to try and jump in front of the cameras. If you get caught, you have to pay for your drinks the rest of the night.

• ABC: Most of the networks are cutting back their presentations this year, and ABC is no exception, going for a more streamlined show, which means no dance routine for network chief Steve McPherson -- and I hear he is ticked.

So word is that he will end the presentation by thanking his bosses at Disney for that fat new contract and then surprise even them by announcing that he is competing on next season’s Dancing with the Stars. According to sources, the early favorite for his partner on the show is his buddy, Fox’s Kevin Reilly, who has been dancing ever since joining first-place Fox.

• The CW: The traditional upfront consists of a big presentation and then a party. The CW has a different plan: a big soiree with a presentation at the end. And that’s by design. The idea is to get everyone so smashed that when it comes time for a short presentation, they can announce a new pair of impressive shows that seem perfect for the network’s brand: Gossip Girl and Reaper. They figure if everyone has enough to drink, they’ll forget the same shows were announced last year and go home as impressed as they were the first time around.

• CBS: Do you know what a Kimbo Slice is? I know it sounds like an errant shot by a Japanese golfer, but it’s not. It turns out that it’s the name of a backyard street brawler who is now a cult hero in mixed martial arts. And May 31, he’s coming to the network we all think of when we think of backyard street brawling: CBS.

But apparently, Sumner Redstone isn’t thrilled about the network’s decision to air EliteXC/CBS Saturday Night Fights, so Les Moonves will try to soften him up by parading out another fighter on the card, a brunette bombshell named Gina Carano. When you see her Wednesday but swear you saw her Monday at the NBC party, it’s not your CW-induced hangover talking. She moonlights as “Crush” on American Gladiators.

• Fox: The network had a good year -- at least relative to the other networks -- despite still trying to figure out how to succeed in the fourth quarter. So Fox has a new strategy for the fall that could really move the ratings needle. It is canceling its entire upfront presentation and party and giving all of that money -- and a few million more -- to the New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs to bolster their rosters. Given the whole industry’s struggles with launching new shows in the fall, Fox knows a Yanks-Cubs World Series would be a bigger ratings bump and promotional platform than even a J.J. Abrams science-fiction drama.

Now if only a few million dollars could actually still buy you even one decent baseball player.

For complete coverage of the upfronts, click here.

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