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Last call for TV’s season of free eats

Upfronts set to climax with food and celebrities

The apex of Gotham’s upfront season arrives this week. The parade of programming and skedding announcements that began back in March climaxes with four days of heavy duty spinning and grinning from the Big Four networks, CW, TNT and TBS and Univision — starting today with NBC and Fox.

Upfronts are the warm-up act for the advertising sales negotiations that will commence in a few weeks. But for the vast majority of those that attend upfronts and after-parties, the events are all about the one thing that discerning media maven wants: free eats with celebrities. Where else but at the A&E Television Networks upfront would you got to hobnob with William Shatner and David Hasselhoff?

“There’s the utilitarian purpose, but beyond that — hey, it’s Tuesday and I like champagne,” said freshman upfront-goer Alison Steedman, Hachette Book Group’s assistant brand manager for novelist James Patterson.

The broadcast nets are expected to spend more freely on their events after scaling back last year amid the dire economic situation. CBS, for one, is pitching a huge tent in Lincoln Center. But broadcasters will have to work hard to impress media buyers who have done the gauntlet of cable events. The Syfy upfront even gave attendees the chance to channel the Force, by filming their alcohol-fueled antics in front of a Matrix-style camera rig and see the results the next day.

There’s always a “top this!” approach to the food and drink served up. One event featured a pomegranate margarita with a chunk of dry ice in the glass, making the whole concoction boil over with mist.

And then there are the musical guests. A&E sported John Legend and the Roots performing with a mini-orchestra. TruTV trucked in Kid Rock. Nickelodeon’s featured Justin Bieber before an aud of screaming teens. “Some of them are from casting,” a net rep admitted. “Others are kids of ad buyers we invited.”

For all the stage management, media buyers do have a good time, which is the point. “For a few weeks, it’s shockingly easy to be plied with free booze and expensive snacks,” Steedman said.

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