The most striking element of last week's broadcast network upfront presentations wasn't visible to anyone's eyes. It was what you didn't see: people of color in lead roles of scripted series. Not one of the announced comedies or dramas premiering this fall or later this season on CBS, The CW, Fox and NBC--more than 20--features a person of color as star. ABC has two African-Americans in its camp of newcomers...Kerry Washington on Scandal and Annie Ilonzeh as one of the new Charlie's Angels. That's it, all, todo. You also didn't catch many actors of color in supporting roles on these new series, and as for talent of color behind the scenes, trust they'll be plenty of words on that score from other parties. There will be plenty of words coming from the NAACP and diversity advocates about this in the weeks ahead. For now, one on this end--unacceptable.
In this context, let's review the Upfront showcases presented by Univision and Telemundo, as well as my commentary on ABC, NBC and the CW. For additional reviews and commentaries, read the reviews of my colleague Ed Martin here. Following tradition, we rate these events under the "jacks" system:
5 Jacks- Excellent
4 Jacks-Very Good
2 Jacks- Fair
0 Jacks-Worse Than Bad
Editor's Note: Ed Martin Rated the Upfront Presentations as follows:
Fox 5 Jacks
CBS 4 ½ Jacks
The CW 4 ½ Jacks
Turner 4 Jacks
NBC 3 ½ Jacks
ABC 3 Jacks
Venue: Another switch of locale situation, going from Jazz At Lincoln Center/Rose Hall the last few years to the New Amsterdam Theater near Times Square, home to Mary Poppins. The on-stage screen invited the audience to play a trivia game for an IPad 2, featuring plenty of factoids pertaining to the network's audience habits. The theater itself is gorgeous from balcony to basement, where press could watch the festivities with food and drink to the side.Venue Grade: 5 Jacks
Presentation: Opening videos usually draw polite applause at these ceremonies, strong applause if they're really good (like Discovery Communications). This one, "The New American Reality," three minutes of declarations about being Latino and U.S. citizens set to punctual music, elicited a rare roar from the audience, as if they've waited years for what they saw on screen to be presented. Statements like "My duality is my reality...Now talk to me, embrace my passion." YouTube has the video in full. Univision went the crisp route, under an hour even with a knockout closing medley from PitBull. Segments were short and to the point; one-minute clips were emphasized and whether Univision, Galavision or Telefutura was the focal point, the accent was on two or three major projects per network.Presentation Grade: 5 Jacks
News Value: The wraps were taken off three new cable networks Univision will create and premiere next year, one each devoted to news, sports and novellas. They will join the package of Televisa-originated music nets formerly known as "TuTV." Because management usually keeps a lid on pre-event leaks (the new cable nets are a rare exception), take your pick of news to salivate over: a new weeklyBiggest Loser-type reality project from Losercreator Dave Broome; Talisman, the next U.S.-produced novella from the Eva Luna creative team and star Blanca Soto; Latino notables saluted in a live primetime special; and Telefutura's first U.S.-based drama, Mia. News Value Grade: 4 1/2 Jacks
Host: [Although industry favorite Joe Uva, who recently resigned as CEO was missed] Univision Networks president Cesar Conde gets better and better in the role. Delivers enthusiasm throughout and never lets the pace lag. Host Grade: 5 Jacks
Best of the broadcast bunch by far, whether the criteria is timing, taste or production values.
UNIVISION Overall Grade: 5 Jacks
Venue: Smaller location for this channel's 2011 upfront, compared with places like The Beacon Theater in recent years, and the dark curtain on stage made you feel present to a high-school auditorium play instead of a showcase for wonders of the universe. Nevertheless, the packed house inside the American Museum of Natural History's Imax Theater were welcomed with a pseudo-computer screen on stage, delivering all sorts of factoids about the Latino marketplace. Here's a pair worth keeping in mind: Latinos spend more on 3D television sets and Internet/interactive-capable sets (AKA connected TVs) than any other demographic. Assuming the sources for this info are on point, is Samsung, Vizio, Sony, LG, Sharp, Google TV etc. paying attention? Love to know if they are buying time on Telemundo and other Spanish-language nets to generate sales. If not, what's holding you back?Venue Grade: 4 Jacks
Presentation: Give outgoing Telemundo president Don Browne credit for straight talk to the crowd about spending more on his channel and Latino networks in general. "We're 16 percent of the population, yet still get about 4 percent of the ad revenues. That is unacceptable," he said. "It's time to make a shift from thinking about the opportunity to advertise in this marketplace to acting on the opportunity." Browne made the most of his final public forum for Telemundo, and there was plenty of tribute time directed at Browne by his executive co-presenters and stars. Unfortunately, too much time in spots, extending the presentation considerably. Nice touch: introductions to the new novella videos by actresses playing the villain in each series.Presentation Grade: 3 1/2 Jacks
News Value: Get Christina Saralegui, Spanish-language TV's equivalent to Oprah Winfrey, in your fold after more than two decades on rival Univision (and a bitter departure last fall), and you go to the head of the news-making class in any language. Saralegui's new two-hour variety series late this fall will turn Saturday nights into a battleground (against Univision's long-running Sabado Gigante). "What I want to do now is some groundbreaking TV, and I want to do it here," she told the crowd to strong applause. Separately, Telemundo will present more than 160 hours of Summer Olympics coverage from London next summer--none of it in primetime. Publicly, NBC Universal-owned Telemundo bases its long-standing policy of no Olympics primetime on not upsetting novella fans. It's tough to swallow that argument on this end, given the Olympics' universal appeal. Consider a compromise: run Spanish-language Olympics primetime on sister network mun2 weeknights, and Telemundo weekends. News value Grade: 5 Jacks
Hosts: Telemundo spread the duties among various executives, including mun2 general manager Diana Mogollon. Everyone did their thing in no-frills fashion. Host Grade: 4 Jacks
Right tone and 'tude all the way through, and a tighter, slightly faster pace would have increased the Jack result.
TELEMUNDO Overall Grade: 4 Jacks
Venue:Hard to believe that Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center gets one shot every upfront season. Can you figure it out? ABC's happy other networks don't, because Avery Fisher has been their showcase site for years. Nice seating, great production resources and simple, classy look. Same for the stage, with one super-size screen above the floor. Venue Grade: 4 Jacks
Presentation: On stage, ABC also has the science of running a short, entertaining show down pat. Keep speeches to a minimum, show videos to a maximum, and unleash late-night host Jimmy Kimmel for his annual skewering of TV in general. Knew Paul Lee, moving from ABC Family to ABC Entertainment Group president, would fit cleanly into the proceedings with his public delight to be one of Kimmel's targets. He was, after getting this zinger from sitcom returnee Tim Allen (Last Man Standing): "It's fair to say Paul, drop the accent. You got the gig." Among Kimmel highlights: "Remember all the shows we promised you last fall? We cancelled them...One of ABC's new dramas is Pan Am, a show about an airline that went bankrupt...God stopped watching NBC after Friends...Fox is launching The X Factor, the best idea of 2002." Presentation Grade: 4 Jacks
News Value: Three of the network's most promising series--Scandal, The Riverand Missing, all dramas--will be held until midseason. With ABC picking up The River ("utterly brilliant" in Lee's estimation), Steven Spielberg is in position to have four hour-long shows running all over broadcast and cable TV a year from now.Fallen Skies starts on TNT in mid-June, followed by Terra Nova in September for Fox and Broadway-themed Smash highlighting NBC's midseason entries. News Value Grade: 3 Jacks
Host: Lee, like Greenblatt, came off likable and self-depreciating. Hit the Lincoln Center floor in fair shape. Host Grade: 4 Jacks
No need to reinvent a well-run presentation format that keeps the entertainment values up and the inanity (largely from show talent bantering among themselves) down.
ABC Overall Grade: 4 Jacks
Venue: Two for the cause of one in this case...both Rose Hall and Allen Room at the Jazz at Lincoln Center complex, a changeover from Madison Square Garden the last few years (due to extensive renovation launched a few weeks ago). Rose Hall, upfront fave all season long, served as the main locale, with Allen Room handling crowd overflow. Hanging screens were on either side of the Rose stage, framing a center screen with CW's "TV To Talk About" tag line. The Allen watchers had that famous clear wall overlooking Central Park South. Venue Grade: 5 Jacks
Presentation: A flash mob dance performance accompanying techno-pop group LMFAO to Party Rock Anthem gets props as the most unique opening sequence among the broadcast net ceremonies. Far more diversity in that group than the entire new scripted show lineup on broadcast this fall, or so it came over. Big touch of class to have outgoing CW entertainment president Dawn Ostroff introduce the 2011-12 schedule in toto, and share stage time with incoming CW president Mark Pedowitz. She's leaving with a new concept for the lexicon of prospective advertisers--"CWviewaverse"--as in buy the channel based on a combination of live, online and DVR audiences.Another nice approach: have some stars appear live inside Allen Room for the overflow audience. However, much of the banter among co-stars of new CW series could have been eliminated from the proceedings...not so funny. Presentation Grade: 3 1/2 Jacks
News Value: Former UPN/CW fave Sarah Michelle Gellar from Buffy The Vampire Slayerreturns in Ringer, a twin sis mystery originally designed for CBS. The channel could have its first reality success sinceAmerica's Next Top Model in H8R (pronounced Hater), where celebrities run up against people with a bone to pick, especially if the producers can deliver the kind of celebrities featured in the clips (Snooki from Jersey Shore and Kim Kardashian). For people with a bone to pick over One Tree Hill, be of good cheer: it's gone after one last mini-season early in 2012.News Value Grade: 3 Jacks
Host: Ostroff handled her final run in the role with ease--and a promise she'll turn up somewhere post-CW. At the very least, "me, my husband and my four kids may become your neighborhood." Host Grade: 5 Jacks
Smooth, energetic showcase for the network, plus a seamless send-off for Ostroff and welcome to Pedowitz.
The CW Overall Grade: 4 Jacks
Venue: NBC went all out to make The New York Hilton a colorful place for its upfront audience, starting with greeters wearing "I Love New York" T-shirts at the front doors to show talent pix in the escalator areas and color stripes along the video screens inside the third floor Grand Ballroom. Throw in The Roots, house band on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon serving up fun music, and you had a crowd ready to hear the first primetime schedule on Greenblatt's watch. Venue Grade: 4 Jacks
Presentation: From the outset, Greenblatt went mea culpa, promising to deliver better content while reminding attendees this turnaround would not be a one-season project. "Today is the start of the road to recovery. Our two goals are to rebuild primetime night-by-night and have NBC be the creative destination for talent. We view this as a marathon, not a sprint," he said. His colleagues, including NBC Broadcasting chairman Ted Harbert and ad sales president Marianne Gambelli, also poured on the promises, and that contributed to a two-hour showcase that left many people restless and outside the ballroom when Christina Aguilera (judge on The Voice) came on at the end. An extended NBC Sports segment also contributed to the long run time, with a tired-looking Dick Ebersol throwing nerf-size footballs into the audience. You be the judge on whether he knew then his days leading NBC Sports were numbered; he resigned three days later. If you expected a plentiful supply of references to new owner Comcast, you got them from Fallon in song ("Have A Comcastic Day") and Saturday Night Live's Seth Meyers in quips. Presentation Grade: 2 Jacks
News Value:Another newsmagazine hour is on the way, anchored by Brian Williams of NBC Nightly Newsand featuring contributions from CNBC, MSNBC and The Weather Channel. Exact format and time period details to come, with Williams making one promise to the crowd. "It will be topical and relevant. It will be tempting to make comparisons, and how it will compete with other broadcasts, but I won't have it," he declared. Oh, and then there's Donald Trump's drop-in about dropping out of a run for President next year. The Celebrity Apprentice organizer and co-producer made the announcement so nonchalantly, you wonder how many people didn't get it. News Value Grade: 3 Jacks
Host: Greenblatt scored with some nice one-liners at the start ("Thank you God for The Voice...Don't spend too much time looking at the unfortunate carpet. That seems to be a holdover from the CW upfront."), and moved the proceedings along as best he could.
Host Grade: 4 Jacks
Special Note: Solid audience reaction to Prime Suspect, the 10 p.m. Thursday night adaptation of the BBC police drama. If the clips match what viewers get this fall, consider star Maria Bello a 2012 Emmy best actress contender.
Too many variations on the "we know we're in the ratings basement and we're finally on the road to a turnaround" theme...way too many.
NBC Overall Grade: 3 Jacks
Simon Applebaum is host/producer of Tomorrow Will Be Televised, the Internet radio/podcast-distributed program about the TV scene. The program runs live Mondays/Fridays at 3 p.m. Eastern time, noon Pacific time, overwww.blogtalkradio.com, with replays available atwww.blogtalkradio.com/simonapple04. Tomorrow podcasts are downloadable to any mobile device via ITunes.com and other Web sites arranged by Sonibyte (www.sonibyte.com). Have a question or reaction? E-mail it email@example.com
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