NBC put on a show for advertisers and press in a hotel ballroom in New York Monday that included performances by Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green of “The Voice,” NBC late-night stars Seth Meyers and Jimmy Fallon, and Fallon’s “Late Night” house band, The Roots.
And, of course, Donald Trump “performed” too – using this annual “upfront” presentation to announce that he won’t be running for president. The announcement was a surprise – not necessarily that he’s decided against running since most of us were betting against it, but that he would choose this particular occasion to make the announcement. It was shrewdly included in the presentation’s agenda to make news and draw attention to the event.
But it also made those in attendance – a couple of hundred ad agency people who buy the commercial time on NBC – feel like they were privileged to be a part of something important, a national news story that broke right before their eyes.
Preview “The Playboy Club”:
How’s that for generating excitement? Certainly, that’s what these upfront presentations this week in New York are supposed to do. For NBC and its new executive team – NBC Broadcasting Chairman Ted Harbert and NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt (the guy in charge of programming and the man ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the fall lineup the network announced) – the challenge is to convince advertisers that NBC is intent on battling back from fourth place.
That theme was repeated over and over again at the NBC upfront. “This is really the start of something new,” said Marianne Gambelli, president of ad sales for the network. In that same vein, Greenblatt declared: “Today is the start on the road to recovery.”
Preview “Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me Chelsea”:
For his part, Harbert promised a return to “fundamentals.” “The fundamentals [that have guided the commercial television business for decades] are the same,” said Harbert, a TV veteran who was once the top programmer at ABC and then ran E! Entertainment Television. For next season, he promised “a little less reinvention of the wheel and a little more of broadcasting 101.”
If one of those fundamentals is showmanship, the NBC upfront delivered. Seth Meyers sat on the “Saturday Night Live” Weekend Update anchor desk – which had been brought up Sixth Avenue from 30 Rock to the Hilton – and gave a hilarious NBC “news” cast. Noting that he’d heard Paul Reiser was bitter about the swift cancellation of his show last month after just two airings, Meyers said, “I can’t blame him – he was only 98 episodes away from syndication!” (100 episodes being the benchmark for reaping rerun riches).
He also poked fun at competitor CBS for the Eye network’s reputation for having the oldest audience in network TV. Noting that TV vets Larry King, Regis Philbin and Jim Lehrer have all announced their retirements, Meyers said: “And CBS gains three new viewers!”
Fallon came on stage later with a guitar to sing a song welcoming NBC’s new ownership, Comcast, some of whose representatives were in the ballroom audience.
The oddest moment of the upfront was possibly a piece of a scene shown from the upcoming swingin’ ’60s series “The Playboy Club,” in which a bunny appears to accidentally kill an overly amorous clubgoer when she steps on his head while trying to escape the stockroom in which he has trapped her and appears to fatally stab him through the skull with one of her high heels.
We had to admit: In a lifetime of watching television, we hadn’t seen anything like that before.