BEST REFERENDUM ON THE STATE OF BROADWAY THEATER
Hamilton still sizzles, so it should have surprised no one that more than one network thought of drafting off its success. NBC started the week with Jimmy Fallon (left) rapping in Revolutionary War-era dress. ESPN had cast members from the show perform their own original songs (and then mocked NBC for not having real cast members). CBS raised them all with a larger-scale production number at Carnegie Hall with 16 singers and dancers (though no actual cast members) that network insiders said had been planned since February. Hamilton creator/star Lin-Manuel Miranda even promoted the network’s Tony Awards telecast via video. A peevish Leslie Moonves still insisted onstage that CBS wore the wig best.
Fox ad sales chief Toby Byrne borrowed colleague Joe Marchese’s term, referring to digital video ads as “sub-prime.” With just one hyphenated phrase, the network managed to link a perfectly legal media platform to the toxic mortgage lending practices that eviscerated the entire U.S. economy.
It’s a tie between Jimmy Kimmel at ABC, who said that Fox Television Group chairmen/CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman greenlighted their Exorcist remake after they “looked at their ratings and started projectile vomiting,” and Billy Eichner. The Billy on the Street comic, appearing two weeks after a winning turn at Hulu’s upfront, proclaimed at Turner, “Television is not dead. That said, it has about three years to live.”
It’s become an annual tradition for us to pick the shows we think will stick from the crop of new arrivals trotted out on New York stages. We’ve actually gotten about 60% of them right the last few years, basing selections on an unscientific mix of buzz, crowd reaction, reportage and our own collective gut. Here’s one show from each of the Big Five networks that we think has the best chance at going the distance.
CBS ad sales chief Jo Ann Ross playing “Carpool Karaoke” was a solid runner-up, but Fox went 2-for-2 with Seth Mac-Farlane and Homer Simpson each strafing their own network with friendly fire. “Ads on TV do better than ads on digital. Why? No one knows,” MacFarlane deadpanned, standing in what he said was ad sales chief Toby Byrne’s house. After mocking the exec’s “fancy f---ing mustards” in the fridge (“what a tool”), he and Byrne shared a bed. “Want to watch Game of Thrones?” MacFarlane asked. “You mean Gotham?” Byrne responded. “Yeah, that’s what people watch on Sunday night,” MacFarlane scoffed. Homer, meanwhile, ended with a few shots at Fox TV chiefs Walden and Newman. “Now back to Gary and Dana, the latest at Fox to benefit from a Simpsons lead-in. They will show you clips from brand-new Fox shows. Let’s hope they didn’t save the good ones for ABC this time,” as with Modern Family and Fresh Off the Boat.
BEST PRODUCT PLACEMENT
Kicking off Turner’s event May 18, Conan O’Brien thanked some of his show’s sponsors. Sprinkled in with real brands including Gold Bond, Dr. Scholl (and Mr. Scholl, its lower-priced flanker) and Kirkland Nuts was a mention of “David Levy’s Silver Fox Wigs, the official wig worn by Anderson Cooper.” Levy, president of Turner, later said he’d been to upfront rehearsals and hadn’t heard the quip, but he laughed at it. O’Brien also mentioned “Kevin Reilly Career Ziplines,” with the slogan, “When you’ve got to get out the hell out of that old job in a big hurry.” Reilly left Fox after some bumps in 2014, joining Turner as chief creative officer last year, following a similar swing from NBC to Fox in 2007.
WORST/BEST PUN: By Thursday, when The CW made the week’s last presentation, many media buyers had had enough. Many others were busy with new-business presentations. Recognizing this, CW president Mark Pedowitz told the crowd, “I promise you I’ll have you out of here in a Flash.” (Cue sound effect.) The audience groaned and giggled in equal measure. Shrugged Pedowitz, “You’ve got to use what you’ve got.”
WORST MATH QUIZ: While last year’s upfronts were marked by data talk, raw numbers ricocheted around this year. Turner said it would air 13,000 original hours of programming; Olympics-powered NBCUniversal forecasts 17,000 live hours. Then came the ratings. NBC laid claim to the 18-49-yearold crown, but glided past the fact it had removed Super Bowl 50 from CBS. With the big game, CBS won the demo, though execs also repeatedly said that “without football” (meaning not just the Super Bowl, but everything else, including NBC’s top-rated Sunday Night Football) they won every demo this season. Our takeaway: “Without football” does not seem like a phrase a broadcast network should throw around too casually.
WORST TIMING: At the peak of the week’s frenzy, beleaguered Viacom decided to stage a “Datafront” event May 17 directly opposite ABC’s upfront, hastily inviting marketers to an hour-long plug for the company’s data offerings. Helpfully, the news that its board had voted to stop paying former chairman Sumner Redstone didn’t hit until 24 hours later.
During NBC’s combo upfront, which plugged broadcast, cable and Telemundo, as Andy Cohen introduced Mariah Carey’s new unscripted show on E!, two shirtless, muscle-bound men carried Carey, lying on a divan, onto the Radio City Music Hall stage. Seth Meyers later joked that the beefy guys deserved their own reality show, which could be “just them staring longingly at craft services.”