ABC’s upfront on Tuesday had a bit of a back-to-the-future quality to it.
After a musical performance by Lea Michele, who stars in a new ABC comedy, Ben Sherwood, the president of the Disney-ABC Television Group, reminded media buyers in the audience that it was ABC that held the first upfront event back in 1962.
”On behalf of the industry, I would like to say we’re sorry,” Sherwood joked about starting what has become a 50-year tradition.
In 1962, ABC’s top show was the medical drama Ben Casey, which had a 29 rating. “In totally unrelated news, I’m pleased to announce we’re bringing Ben Casey back,” he joked.
ABC isn’t bringing back Ben Casey. But it is bringing back American Idol. And Roseanne, featuring the original cast. ABC announced a project from Jimmy Kimmel and Justin Theroux that will produce a live special in which scripts from sitcoms from the 70s, 80s and 90s will be acted out by the top names in comedy today.
The blasts from the past kept coming as the upfront ended with the Backstreet Boys, heralding a new ABC reality show that will try to create the next boy band.
Sherwood talked about how much the industry has changed since 1962. In fact, he added, it’s changed just in the last month and week.
“While ABC has enjoyed its share of successes, let’s be honest, we have higher standards for our performance. We also have realistic optimism about the future,” he said. “Realism about those challenges I mentioned. And optimism about our ability to capitalize on this particular moment.”
But ABC’s presentation underscored a debate going on among media buyers about this year’s upfront events: Are they designed to tell media buyers about all the ways today’s giant media companies can help advertisers sell products? Or are they a showcase to give buyers a first look at clips from next season's primetime programming and a chance to explain programming strategy in what is increasingly becoming an on-demand world?
ABC’s long presentation went show by show, night by night. The clips were contemporary and strong. Viewers knew what the shows were about and when they would air, leaving most buyers with a good feeling about what ABC had to offer.
Also on a positive note for ABC was research presented by Rita Ferro, who this year became head of Disney-ABC Television’s consolidated ad sales operation. The research, from Accenture, showed that investing on ABC had a higher return on investment than advertising on the other networks.
For all its entertainment value, ABC’s presentation missed its annual highlight: the takedown of the TV and advertising business by late-night host Jimmy Kimmel. Kimmel couldn’t make it because of his son’s health issues.
But Sherwood read a letter from Kimmel, which said:
As many of you know, I’m boycotting the ABC upfront this year to boycott the cancellation of Dr. Ken.
I’m very sorry I can’t be there with you this year, and if you believe that, you’re just the kind of ad buyer we’re looking for.
On behalf of my family, that’s for the good wishes. My son Billy is doing really well. I promise to be there next year with you on the off chance network television continues to exists.