Upfronts Diary Day 1: Seen and Heard During TV’s Biggest Week

Kate McKinnon Ellen DeGeneres NBC Upfront selfie
Courtesy of NBC

Variety‘s TV team brings you all the news and dish from TV’s biggest week of the year.

The 2016 Upfronts officially kicked off Sunday night with UTA’s annual party. Monday, NBC is the first of the major broadcasters to present to ad buyers, and for the first time, all of NBC’s cable networks, plus Telemundo, will be consolidated together for a jam-packed morning at Radio City Music Hall. Fox is up in the afternoon at the Beacon Theater, followed by the network’s annual mega-party at Wollman Rink in Central Park, which this year, is held at the same time as Telemundo’s private Jennifer Lopez concert. Also that night, CAA and WME will both hold cocktail parties.

Stay in-the-know with our daily Upfronts Diary, and keep refreshing the page for new updates throughout the day and night.

UTA Party, TAO Downtown, Sunday night

Larry Wilmore was all smiles at the Sunday night shindig, poking fun at his recent White House Correspondents’ Dinner remarks, which made headlines. “I’ve been in much tougher rooms that that,” he told partygoers with a laugh. “The Nightly Show” comedian spoke highly of President Barack Obama and especially First Lady Michelle Obama, pondering what the couple may do next after they leave the White House. After discussing the upcoming presidential election, Wilmore spoke with guests about Jon Stewart, joking that the former “Daily Show” host must be hankering to get in front of a camera, given the current political climate.

Real life “Empire” couple Grace Gealey and Trai Byers made date night of the swanky agency party, chatting with friends by the bar over a few laughs. The engaged duo is anticipating the Season 2 finale of their hit drama, which airs on Fox this Wednesday.

Showrunner Bruce Helford is hoping that Kevin James’ new CBS comedy “Kevin Can Wait” gives him a TV grand slam, or a fourth comedy series to go more than 100 episodes. (The first was “The Drew Carey Show,” followed by “George Lopez” and “Anger Management”). Helford is heading east for a stretch to shoot the series at Grumman Studios in Bethpage, N.Y., at James’ request to remain in New York. The timing is right for Helford, who at present has a kid in college in the Empire State.

“The Daily Show’s” Jessica Williams was in high spirits and sneakers at the UTA gathering. She was asked by more than a few partygoers why she has been so scarce on “Daily Show” of late? Her big focus at present is a scripted project that she’s co-writing and starring in for Comedy Central with “Broad City” writer Naomi Ekperigin. “It’s gonna be good,” Williams promised. She’s also having a good time doing the “2 Dope Queens” podcast with her friend and fellow comic Phoebe Robinson. But she hasn’t quit her “Daily Show” day job, she assured.

Other notable attendees at the downtown soiree were Chuck Lorre, Billy Eichner, Ted Harbert (pictured), plus UTA’s Jay Sures and Peter Benedek (pictured). Held annually at TAO Downtown, the sprawling club was packed on both floors as agents, execs and talent who sipped on open bar cocktails and passed trays of sushi, skewers and sweet treats.

NBCUniversal Blue Carpet, Rockefeller Plaza, early Monday morning

Rami Malek, Josh Holloway and Sarah Wayne Callies hugged each other on the NBC upfront carpet. “Your show is kicking a–!” the “Mr. Robot” star exclaimed when seeing the “Colony” stars.

Jennifer Lopez waved to fans as she walked down the blue carpet. The “Shades of Blue” star, who sported a white mini dress and high ponytail, is performing at tonight’s private Telemundo’s party.

Mariah Carey was mobbed by reporters, as she sparkled in a sequined frock and smiled at the press line and fans. The Grammy winner will star in her own E! reality show, “Mariah’s World.” (Later, during the Upfront presentation, she was brought out on stage Cleopatra-style by two shirtless men.)

Kristen Bell told Variety she took the red eye from L.A. to NYC because she wanted to tuck her kids into bed on Sunday night. Her flight was delayed so “The Good Place” star opted to take the subway when she landed Monday morning so that she wouldn’t miss the carpet — and Bell stuck around until the very last minute to chat with reporters.

Asked by Variety if he’d want to become Kelly Ripa’s “Live” co-host, Andy Cohen said, “I’m subbing next week! But I’ll tell you what — I have like 10 jobs. I have my own show every night at 11 so it would be a lot. I love Kelly. I love subbing. Any opportunity I have to hang out with Kelly, I’ll take.”

NBCUniversal Upfront Presentation, Radio City Music Hall, Monday morning

Chocolate-dipped pretzels were waiting on every seat in Radio City Music Hall, which was a welcome gesture for busy — and hungry — Upfront attendees. (Including this Variety reporter who didn’t have time to eat breakfast before the red carpet.)

Jimmy Fallon opened NBC’s presentation spoofing Broadway’s “Hamilton.” Dressed in colonial garb similar to the costume worn by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the late-night host took aim Donald Trump during his song-and-dance. “At least we’re the network that fired Donald Trump,” he said of the former “Celebrity Apprentice” host.

The newest coaches of “The Voice,” Miley Cyrus and Alicia Keys, warmed up the crowd during one segment of the two-hour presentation that was focused on live programming, including sports, news and reality competitions. “They’re gonna let me go live. Can you believe it?” asked the notoriously unpredictable Cyrus.

Arnold Schwarzenegger revealed his new tagline for “The Celebrity Apprentice” for the first time: “Lets get down to business.”

“SNL” member Kate McKinnon dressed up as Ellen DeGeneres for her now-famous impression of the daytime host, and took an Oscar-like selfie in the audience that was star-studded — with everyone from Kardashians to “Housewives.”

Seth Meyers garnered laughs at Radio City during his closing stand-up routine, especially taking aim at “Parton and Greenblatt,” referencing last year’s much-talked about Upfront piano routine between Dolly Parton and the NBC entertainment chief.

Fox Upfront presentation, Beacon Theater, Monday afternoon

Fox as usual had some street theater going on in front of the Beacon. This time it was young men in orange jumpsuits handing out pretzels and cupcakes to celebrate the return of “Prison Break.”

The presentation opened with the cast of “Empire” taking the stage for a medley performance with Jussie Smollett on the piano and Bryshere Gray rapping. Taking a dig at CBS, Fox boss Gary Newman exclaimed, “Let’s see the cast of ‘NCIS’ do that.”

Homer Simpson appeared via video message at the Fox upfront. Gearing up for “The Simpsons” to hit 600 episodes next season, the iconic animated character praised Fox, while jabbing other networks. After calling CBS’s audience “the walking zombies,” Homer said he would take a shot at NBC, but he didn’t “know if they’re still on.”

“The Mick,” a comedy on Fox’s midseason slate, brought loud laughs to the Beacon Theater. “She’s like Mary Poppins — only drunker,” Fox’s Dana Walden quipped about star Kaitlin Olson. Fox also debuted the first trailers for the reboots of “24,” “Prison Break,” “Lethal Weapon,” as well as the upcoming “Rocky Horror Picture Show” revival and Jason Sudeikis’ hybrid animated comedy “Son of Zorn,” all of which received positive praise from the room.

Fox may not have “American Idol” next season, but music-driven programming will come year-round for the network with both “Empire” and “Star,” also hailing from Lee Daniels. At the Upfront, Queen Latifah and Benjamin Bratt introduced their co-stars, who play a girlband in the midseason show. Watch below for their debut performance in front of an audience:

Fox party, Wollman Rink in Central Park, Monday evening

On the heels of a solid presentation, Fox execs were in a good mood and the house was packed, particularly the “petting zoo” areas where partygoers take selfies with stars. Gordon Ramsay and the “Hell’s Kitchen”/”MasterChef” booth had a big crowd. There’s a reason he’s got so much real estate on Fox’s air. Jude Demorest and the other ingenue stars of “Star” were caught up in the whirlwind of their first upfronts, after impressing with their musical medley that closed the presentation at the Beacon Theater.

Spotted: Blair Waldorf taking photos with fans — a.k.a. Leighton Meester, the star of Fox’s new comedy “Making History,” snapping photographs with ad types and partygoers at the outdoor Fox soiree where the “Gossip Girl” alum was sporting new blonde locks.

“Brooklyn Nine Nine” star Terry Crews charmed partygoers by taking a turn as DJ. “Food and drink is on Terry!” he exclaimed. As always there was a line for the sushi spread. Tater tots and mac and cheese were also going fast.

Telemundo’s private Jennifer Lopez concert, Hammerstein Ballroom, Monday evening

Jennifer Lopez fired up the stage for an intimate gathering of a few hundred guests who were treated to a private show. The multi-hyphenate, who has a residency in Las Vegas, sang her classic hits (“Lets Get Loud”) to her latest single (“Aint Your Momma”), over the course of four costume changes.

WME party, Skylark, Monday night

After a day of event and party hopping, WME’s vast TV team and hardy upfront warriors gathered ’round midnight at the Skylark for still more drinks, bites and conversation.

Super-producers Dan Fogelman and Howard Gordon were busy collecting compliments on their new shows. Gordon couldn’t take a step without someone raving about “24: Legacy,” but he was quick to give the credit to showrunners Evan Katz and Manny Coto. In this season of movie-to-TV remakes, Fogelman earned pats on the back for the originality of his two efforts, NBC’s “This Is Us” and Fox’s “Pitch.”

And “The Mick’s” Kaitlin Olson had the unmistakable glow of a funny lady who may have just given birth to a hit comedy. Her “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” partner in life and work, Rob McElhenney, said he’s got no problem with the prospect of becoming “Mr. Olson” for a while.