The Best and Worstof 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.
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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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