Upfront Notebook: Saying We’re No. 1 Takes Time

Buyers like some programming strategies at NBC and Fox
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Day one of upfront week brought the long and the short of it from NBC and Fox.

At the Javits Center, NBC took its time to make sure the media buyers and the clients in the audience heard that the network had emerged from broadcasting’s basement and risen to No. 1 in the vaunted 18-to-49-year-old demo. Several times in fact. Oh, and by the way, did they mention that NBC also has the Olympics through 2032? Does Bob Costas have red eyes?

Fox, with less to brag about, got through its presentation in about an hour so people could get to the important business of the night at Fox’s party in Central Park.

Both showed tons of new programming, and several buyers said they liked what they saw from NBC for the second half of the season. They also liked some of the event series from Fox.

“It’s getting hard to launch new shows in the fall,” noted John Swift, CEO of the Omnicom Media Group. “I think they’re all adapting.” 

“The story of the season so far is NBC,” said Michael Parent, director of broadcast at media agency Assembly. Parent said NBC was entitled to crow about their ratings success during these presentations. “A broadcaster is stealing shares away from cable. It’s too soon to tell if it’s a blip on the radar or a trend, but it’s good for them.”

Parent likes NBC’s sitcom A to Z as a show that men might watch with their wife or girlfriend. He also thought NBC had a good lineup of specials, including the 40th anniversary of Saturday Night Live.

Fox’s “'eventized' short series in primetime is smart,” Swift says. Also smart is its plan to combine its animated hits with live-action sitcoms on Sunday. Swift also thought pairing the Batman prequel Gotham with last year’s freshman winner Sleepy Hollow was a good move.

Another reason NBC’s presentation was longer than Fox’s was that NBC offered two comedians to Fox’s one.

Late Night host Seth Meyers opened for NBC, noting that everything in the lavish presentation could have been “just as easily covered in a mass email.”

The venue also took abuse, with Meyers noting that the Javits Center on the far west side of Manhattan was “in the heart of New York’s stabbing district” and that it was big enough to hold all the people who watched NBC’s Ironside. He added that if the late Senator Javits was alive, he’d ask if Radio City Music Hall was already booked.

Later, new Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon took the stage, and also gave NBC’s lineup a left-handed compliment. “We’ve got The Voice. We’ve got the The Blacklist. We’ve got reruns of The Voice and The Blacklist."

He also took a few shots at personalities and executives at NBC. You can tell how big a success Fallon has become by the fact that he went after NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke, who signed off on Fallon as Jay Leno’s replacement.

While a picture of Burke was on the big screen, Fallon said Burke had won awards as “Most likely to wear pleated khaki underwear,” “Most likely to spray wife with a garden hose in a Cialis commercial,” and finally “Most likely to have this same expression when he fires you.”

Then Fallon showed a picture of himself and said he was the “Most likely to have this same expression when Steve Burke fires me.”

Fox put up Brooklyn Nine-Nine star Andy Samberg, like Meyers and Fallon an SNL alum. Samberg warmed to the task.

Samberg came up with the year’s best acronym, labeling Fox’s integration scheme “Entertainment Network Electronic Media Asset Strategy” or E.N.E.M.A.S. “Join your ads with our programs so we can give E.N.A.M.A.S to every American,” he joked.

He also had a slogan for the broadcasters. “Network TV: What we lack in boobs, we make up for in commercials.”

On Tuesday, buyers were looking forward to seeing if the king of upfront comedy. Jimmy Kimmel will try to top Meyers, Fallon and Samberg at ABC's upfront.

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