Highlights and Lowlights and Cougars, Oh My

By Ben Grossman
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If you skipped the upfronts in New York last week, here's a quick primer on what you may have missed while you were apparently setting your computer to speed-dial for Kris Allen. Come to think of it, the week included a performance by LL Cool J and a show called Melrose Place, so if you were at the upfronts in the 1990s, you didn't miss much at all.

Played Best in the Room: ABC's Modern Family. It's always gutsy to screen an entire pilot at an upfront, but ABC did it, and it paid off with probably the most buzzed-about show of the week. The comedy absolutely killed to the point where I actually asked someone sitting next to me if ABC was pumping audio of laughter into the room. Count me among the people who can't wait to see episode two, and think ABC might have finally gotten its comedic swing back.

Most On-Target Development: The CW. The network may not get the biggest ratings, but its uber-sharp 45-minute presentation was right on message. The new shows were basically Gossip Girl fashion, Gossip Girl Melrose Place and Gossip Girl vampires. And guess what: That's a pretty good strategy, considering they played a clip of President Obama himself giving Gossip Girl an unsolicited shout-out. A close second went to CBS, which will have a perfectly targeted schedule once Rules of Engagement replaces the new Jenna Elfman comedy a month or so into the season.

Best Programming Trend: Beware of Cougars. A cougar, in case you don't know, is a woman who goes after (often much) younger men. I know what cougars are, because I am apparently married to one. I discovered this when I took the beautiful bride to a Star Trek premiere and all she wanted to do was grab the young star, Chris Pine, and have him boldly go where…nah, better not. Anyway, between ABC's subtly titled Cougar Town and CBS's Accidentally On Purpose—with Jenna Elfman getting knocked up by a relative youngster—apparently my wife is not alone.

Most Disappointing Decision:Hank from ABC. “Recession” is the word on everyone's brain these days, but Hollywood still needs to tread a bit more carefully. In the Kelsey Grammer show, the star apparently loses his job and has to move to a relatively paltry house. The problem came when ABC showed scenes of this “poor little” abode, and everyone around me murmured the same thing: We all wished we had a house that big. Not a good time to look that out of touch.

Most Disappointing Decision (Non-Upfront Division): The New Yankee Stadium. As if you needed another reason to hate the Yankees. At the stadium, I walked up to the concession stand to stuff my fat face full of ballpark food—a freedom guaranteed me by the Bill of Rights. But I froze in utter horror at what was printed next to every single menu item: the calorie count. Are you kidding me? I know I look like the “before” picture in a Jenny Craig ad. Please, let me enjoy my angioplasty-inducing self-destruction in peace.

Best Upfront Disguised As a Non-Upfront: NBC Comedy Showcase. Don't call it an upfront (damn you, LL Cool J), but NBC's star-packed Tuesday-night affair was all about the network's current and new shows. However, since it was an off-the-record affair, I can't share any of the great lines from the likes of Brian Williams, Jerry Seinfeld and Conan O'Brien. Don't want to tick off my wonderful friends at NBC before I hit them up for golf tickets when the PGA Championship comes home to Minnesota this summer.

Best Monologue Award: Ed Westwick, a.k.a. Chuck Bass. In full overdramatic character, the Gossip Girl star swaggered onstage and had the crowd in his hands with a double entendre-laced speech. “Enjoy 'America's Next Top Model,' as I have,” he said. “Or, watch it on TV.” He's going to kill me for writing this, but kudos to the well-regarded CW PR guy Paul McGuire for writing Westwick's well-received shtick. I gotta say, it's a little scary how spot-on Paul nailed the voice of a young, cocky, oversexed billionaire. Anything you care to share, Mr. McGuire?

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