“This is not an upfront presentation; it wasn’t designed to be that,” said John Kelly, executive VP of NBC News and information media sales & marketing, in opening what NBC News dubbed its “Insider Event” in New York on Thursday.
And indeed it wasn’t. Kelly kept his remarks brief, as did NBC News President Steve Capus, with nary a mention of ratings, ad revenue or page views that execs are usually keen to tout at traditional upfronts. The two instead focused on the many different outlets of the NBC News family, represented by the various NBC and MSNBC talent scattered throughout the audience.
“This news division is truly in a special place,” Capus said. “We call it the power of one — one organization that supports all these different platforms.”
From there NBC News’ talent took center stage at the lunchtime event, starting with a behind-the-scenes video of the networks’ recent Super Tuesday coverage, voiced by Lester Holt. Next, in keeping with the election-year theme, was a Meet the Press-style politics panel moderated by David Gregory and featuring Chris Matthews, Savannah Guthrie, Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow.
After lunch, the ever-witty Brian Williams emceed a question-and-answer session with several anchors seated in the audience, asking many about a favorite memory from the job (for Matt Lauer it’s the access to newsmakers Today grants him, Al Roker joked it was the time he shared a tent with Williams while covering the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti). Ann Curry gave a particularly candid answer describing the challenge of pivoting from covering a war in Sudan to “within hours facing the importance of why neons are the color for spring,” she said tongue-in-cheek, but said the platform of the Today show allows her to do both.
“Just recently I’ve discovered that it’s very easy to switch from one to the other,” said Curry, who was clad in a neon pink dress. “This is what our viewers need as well as what they want.”
The event closed with a video clip featuring Willie Geist as an old-school quiz show host with the perennially tipsy Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford as contestants. The quiz show – aptly titled “Smashed” (which Geist quipped was “not quite sweeping the nation the way we thought it would”) – asked NBC News trivia while poking fun at everything from the failed Playboy Club and Williams’ “hard-hitting” Marcel the Shell interview from Rock Center.
This year, NBC News’ upfront was held two months later than in 2011, making it the first for the news division under the new Comcast regime. And besides being held in a different space (at an event hall converted from an old church on New York’s Upper East Side), Kelly further drew attention to the end of the cost-cutting General Electric days by announcing in his closing remarks that every advertiser in attendance would be receiving a Kindle Fire — a new era, indeed.