ABC Offers Another Lean Upfront Presentation

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For the second year in a row I watched streaming coverage of ABC's Upfront presentation in the comfort of my home office via ABC MediaNet, and once again I don't feel that I missed much by not being at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall in person. It saddens me that the company doesn't do more on one of its most important days of the year to support the work of Steve McPherson, President, ABC Entertainment Group, and his programming team.

For the second year in a row I watched streaming coverage of ABC's Upfront presentation in the comfort of my home office via ABC MediaNet, and once again I don't feel that I missed much by not being at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall in person. It saddens me that the company doesn't do more on one of its most important days of the year to support the work of Steve McPherson, President, ABC Entertainment Group, and his programming team.

ABC continued to take a low-key approach to its Upfront event, even as the other broadcast networks this year are stepping up their game and doing everything they can to get their messages out and champion their new and returning shows. At least this year's presentation produced a handful of ABC stars (Matthew Fox of Lost and cast members from Modern Family), as compared to last year's roster, which began and ended with perennial performer Jimmy Kimmel. ABC did try something new, having Fox and the Family folks introduce clips from upcoming freshman series. But there was otherwise very little to get excited about. It's almost as if the end goal at Disney is to make its Upfront presentation a virtual event, with Anne Sweeney, Co-Chairman, Disney Media Networks and President, Disney/ABC Television Group, and Steve McPherson live on camera from an ABC office somewhere, giving their speeches and rolling their clips.

Read Jack Myers Media Business Report exclusive Upfront Coverage by Ed Martin and Simon Applebaum available to corporate subscribers. Re-distribution in any form, except among approved individuals within your company, is prohibited.

I could have done without the video of Geri Wang, ABC's new President, Sales and Marketing, suffering the muddy indignities of the obstacle course on the network's silly summer series Wipeout. It was a one-joke offering that could have been thoughtfully expanded by having Wang visit the locales of other ABC series. And speaking of things that weren't funny, I didn't think Kimmel kicked ass as much as usual, especially when he took shots at the Upfront presentations at NBC and Fox, which were both more ambitious than ABC's event. Still, he managed to make me laugh a couple of times, especially at the start when he faced the audience of advertisers and warned, "We know you have money this year so don't try to act all poor." And then there was his observation about everyone's favorite island adventure: "Watching Lost is what I imagine it must be like to be trapped in the brain of Paula Abdul."

In general, there is no comparing the effectiveness of footage from a brand new series when it is viewed on a computer monitor instead of a deluxe high definition screen in a room full of thousands of people who are interested and invested in television programming. The big display option can work wonders for even the most unremarkable show. (For example, everything NBC showed its audience on Monday at the Hilton Hotel looked pretty darn good, even though some of it will undoubtedly fail.) Conversely, the computer viewing option can compromise even the strongest new series. Perhaps that's why I had a neutral reaction to most of what I saw from ABC. (I'm told that, had I been on site this year at Avery Fisher Hall, I would have observed that ABC's drama clips met with polite applause at best and that the clips from new comedies Mr. Sunshine, Happy Endings and Better Together drew a stronger positive response.)

The show that came over best from where I sat was Body of Proof, about a crime solving medical examiner played by Dana Delany. It looks to be the only new drama on ABC or any other network with a central character that viewers will want to watch every week even if the stories being told aren't always riveting, much like Brenda Leigh Johnson, the disarming but surprisingly tough Deputy Police Chief played by Kyra Sedgwick on TNT's The Closer. I wish this show wasn't scheduled for 9 p.m. on Friday, the time period that destroyed Ugly Betty last fall.

Based on their concepts rather than their clips, I'm most intrigued by No Ordinary Family, about a family suddenly given super-human powers, and My Generation, a documentary style drama about nine young adults in 2010 who were high school students back in 2000 and the impact that decade had on them.

Lastly, it doesn't help that ABC has discontinued its post-event party. Yes, parties are a lot of fun, but there is great professional value for journalists and advertising executives in having the opportunity to discuss new series with their creators, producers and stars, as well as network executives, before sharing their impressions with the industry and the public.

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