Day one of upfronts week began Monday with Bob Greenblatt acknowledging NBC’s “ups and downs” during the past season and ended with Gary Newman and Dana Walden promising to end the vicious cycle of “erratic scheduling” by splitting Fox’s dramas into two half-seasons every year.
In between, both networks touched on a lot of similar ground in their presentations, in ways that are telling about the state of the biz. Here are a few highlights from NBC’s Radio City Music Hall session and Fox’s presentation at the Beacon Theater.
- Everything old is new again. NBC gave a big buildup to “Heroes Reborn” coming in the fall. Fox closed its show with the reunion of “The X-Files” gang of Chris Carter, Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, who gave a quick wave to the crowd.
- Actors doing double shifts. Duchovny and Rob Lowe attended both presentations to represent on shows. Duchovny is starring in NBC’s summer drama “Aquarius” in addition to “The X-Files.” Lowe is in NBC’s comedy-apocalypse mini “You, Me and the End of the World” in addition to Fox’s buzzed-about new comedy “The Grinder.”
- Cue the comedians. Jimmy Fallon, who was intro’d by Greenblatt as “the face” of NBC these days, did a few minutes onstage before cueing a clip package. He noted to the crowd that his show runs five episodes a week. “That’s a whole season for most NBC shows,” he said. Andy Samberg did a longer bit for Fox, touting his gig as host of the Emmy telecast in September. Fallon and Samberg are both very funny fellows, but in this context neither of them rose to Jimmy Kimmel heights.
- NBC brought out the incomparable Dolly Parton to plug the plan to produce family-friendly movies based on some of her iconic songs, starting with “Coat of Many Colors.” In a first for an upfront presentation, Greenblatt went the extra mile to entertain by accompanying Parton on piano for “I Will Always Love You.” “Get that money out,” Parton instructed advertisers when they were done.
- Fox cued “Empire’s” Bryshere Gray and Jussie Smollett for a rendition of “No Apologies” with Jennifer Hudson. Terrence Howard warbled a bit of “You’re So Beautiful” and impressed with his fancy footwork. And not surprisingly, Newman and Walden relied on Taraji P. Henson to give them a big introduction.
- Buzzword bingo. “Premium content” is the new “highest-testing pilot ever.” Multiple execs at both presentations used the P-word more than once. And ad sales chiefs — NBCUniversal’s Linda Yaccarino and Fox’s Toby Byrne — both made jokes about the D-word — “data” — that spurred more eye rolls than laughs.
- Thrive with live. NBC staked out its turf as live entertainment with big pushes for “The Voice,” Neil Patrick Harris’ “Best Time Ever” variety show, the sitcom “Undateable” going live and “The Wiz” as this year’s holiday musical. Fox talked up the live-ness of the Emmycast, as well as plans for the Jan. 31 three-hour production of “Grease: Live.” It’s the antidote to the common villain for networks and advertisers: ad-skipping. Byrne one-upped Yaccarino by throwing in “dynamic ad insertion,” promising the crowd: “It’s good for all of us.”
- Crowd shots: the reaction in the room at NBC seemed strongest for dramas “Blindspot” and “Game of Silence.” Fox’s comedies “The Grinder” and “Grandfathered” both got big belly laughs.