The E! soiree in New York City earlier this week proved to be much more than just another upfront bash. It was in every way an East Coast coming out party for the Los Angeles-based network, which remarkably had never hosted an upfront event or had much of a presence of any kind in Manhattan. When I pointed this out to executives from E!, they were quick to respond that going forward the network would indeed be raising its profile in New York. It was perhaps appropriate, then, that the party took place at the suitably named Gotham Hall.
That particular venue – a large round room that used to be a bank – has never been a favorite of mine, but then again I had never been to a party in which that space had been transformed into so inviting an atmosphere. A large stage had been constructed, in front of which white sofas were positioned around large glass coffee tables. The granite walls were draped with white fabric and there were loaded champagne buckets everywhere. Omnipresent black-clad waiters offered fine food and drink. The cumulative effect was that of being in the kind of cool Soho club at which one might find celebrities like the Kardashian sisters or the Jonas brothers spending some time.
And that's exactly what it turned out to be! It was impossible to turn around without spotting Kim, Khloe or Kourtney, or their brother Rob, or their mother Kris Jenner and her husband Bruce, or Khloe's husband Lamar Odom, or Kourtney's boyfriend Scott Disick, all of them E! stars in their own right. Kevin Jonas and his wife Danielle were there to support their upcoming reality series Married to Jonas, while Nick and Joe (who will also appear in the series) were there to support their brother and sister-in-law.
The celebrity roster extended far beyond the Kardashians and the Jonai; also on hand were present and future E-lebrities Chelsea Handler, Joel McHale, Joan and Melissa Rivers, Kelly Osborne, Ice-T (with wife Coco), Giuliana and Bill Rancic, Whitney Cummings, Nigel Lythgoe and Dina (Mrs. Clint) Eastwood, among others. (Dina was accompanied by a vocal group known as Overtone that she discovered in Johannesburg, brought to the United States and now manages. They'll be a part of her upcoming show, Mrs. Eastwood & Company.)
Wisely, E! followed the lead of sibling USA Network, which at its party last year produced what I believe was the first-ever executive-free upfront presentation in which the stars of a network did all the talking. It certainly helped that one of the network's biggest stars is professional host Ryan Seacrest, who introduced the many celebrities in the room and brought a number of them on stage to talk about their shows. In a genius move that set the tone for the presentation that followed, the first performers to take the stage – even before Seacrest appeared – were Nasim Petrad, Abby Elliott and Vanessa Bayer, three cast members from Saturday Night Live who are known for their wicked impersonations of the Kardashian sisters. As they addressed the room, each one whinier and squeakier than the other, Kim, Khloe and Kourtney joined them on stage for a true SNL moment.
The E! stars kept the infectious energy high as they revealed details about their projects and programs. But it was Joan Rivers who raised the roof with her decidedly R-rated remarks. Complaining that the network does not serve kosher food at its studios, Rivers said she was once moved to cry out, "Who do I have to blow to get a piece of white fish?" She then went on to pitch a reality show for the network that involved doing something nasty to country singer Taylor Swift that will not be repeated here. (It was worse than what she said about the white fish.)
The presentation concluded with a performance by Gym Class Heroes, but the excitement and enthusiasm in the room were already so strong that a big name band wasn't really needed.
Amid all the merriment, E! also got the word out in very effective fashion that it would be undergoing a major rebranding across all platforms come July 9, and that it would be adding a broader variety of programming to its schedule in the year ahead. New shows include a singing competition show (from Mr. Lythgoe), a weekly talk show (hosted by Ms. Cummings) and most excitingly a number of scripted series. (The network has nine scripted projects in development with executive producers including John Wells and Kevin Spacey.)
The networks of NBC Universal Cable continue to ignite the upfront season. Last week, Syfy hosted what will likely be the classiest event on this year's busy schedule at the American Museum of Natural History, which included cocktails amid massive dinosaur skeletons, a presentation by network president Dave Howe that included a big-ticket contest (the winner received a first-class around the world trip on Virgin Airlines) and a performance by alt-rock band Young the Giant, and a lavish party in the museum's Milstein Hall of Ocean Life (the huge room with the blue whale suspended from its ceiling) catered by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson. (His was the best food of the upfront, by far.) Syfy could have done more with its talent – I think hot Face Off host Mackenzie Westmore or the sexy cast of Being Human should have welcomed the audience before the presentation began – but the evening overall seemed to be a huge success, and clips during the presentation of the upcoming television series/gaming hybrid Defiance had everyone talking. It won't premiere until 2013, but it's going to be one of the hottest media sensations at the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con in July.