Heeding last year's outcry over their lavish—and long—upfront presentations, the broadcast networks went for speed and substance this year.
The streamlined presentations signaled that three-hour showcases may be a thing of the past. And with less filler cluttering the shows, each network's message—whether the one they intended or not—came through loud and clear.
"We've got the class, and now we need more mass,"said Entertainment President Kevin Reilly during a brisk 85-minute presentation that emphasized NBC's commitment to quality.
The crowd cheered rabidly when Reilly mentioned the second season for Friday Night Lights, just adding to the intrigue of why this show can't attract more viewers.
But his talk of airing more episodes of Heroes, The Office and My Name Is Earl left some advertisers wondering what that said about the network's development.
And after NBC trotted out former franchise Jerry Seinfeld—not for a new show but to tout a new series of interstitials promoting his upcoming film Bee Movie—more than one ad exec grumbled that the conspicuous lack of new comedies only magnified how the mighty had fallen.
ABC's presentation was only 20 minutes longer than NBC's but didn't stint on the razzle-dazzle.
With a musical number featuring the cast of Ugly Betty and a presentation with the cast of Brothers & Sisters, ABC was clearly portraying its two sophomore hours as major hits, even though the ratings aren't quite there yet.
ABC smartly played to its bread-and-butter female dramas with a clip reel of its current slate backed with a live performance by musical act The Fray.
But the network's attempt to sell itself as an upscale rival to NBC ran aground with an ill-advised finale: a live game of bingo to promote National Bingo Night, which launched last Friday.
Said one ad exec, "They told a great story about their dramas and going upscale, and then left us with Bingo?"
Last year, when CBS said it wanted to catch more youthful buzz, they offered the cast of Broadway's Jersey Boys singing 1960s pop tunes.
This year's Carnegie Hall show was much more on-message, with a rap/reggae number and a digital-animation sequence in which sales chief JoAnn Ross appeared as a virtual avatar.
Also on target was a frenetic presentation from digital chief Quincy Smith, who appeared in a pair of sneakers and spoke a hundred miles an hour, assuring advertisers, "This is not going to be your mother's CBS."
CBS boss Leslie Moonves got huge laughs when he said, "I actually understood about one third of what Quincy was saying." But the network's pitch came through clearly.
"Well, it can't be any worse than last year" was the typical remark overheard before the Fox presentation at City Center. Sure enough, it was shorter—and cooler—than last year's muggy affair in the poorly ventilated 69th Regiment Armory.
The show opened with a clever video spoof featuring Keifer Sutherland as 24's Jack Bauer on a phone call with Fox Entertainment President Peter Liguori, tensely discussing how the show has to finish in less than one hour.
It did. But more noticeable than the speed of the show was the absence of a certain ratings behemoth. The network wisely decided to mention American Idol only minimally and instead position itself as a more balanced network with other assets, such as House, which Liguori announced would get the coveted post-Super Bowl slot next year.
With a live pre-presentation fashion show in the waiting area and an opening number by the Pussycat Dolls, The CW delivered a fast-moving show that screamed "young, hip and sexy." The year-old network combined a slate of good-looking new shows that fit the target 18-34 demo with a slew of online-specific initiatives.
While new comedy Aliens in America got big laughs, network chief Dawn Ostroff drew the loudest guffaws with the title of a new reality show: Farmer Wants a Wife.
Said one CW exec afterward, "Well, we have the first five seconds nailed—now we just have to figure out the rest of the hour."
For more on the upfront presentations, see BCBeat at broadcastingcable.com.