10 Things We Learned From NBCUniversal’s Upfront

NBCUniversal kicked off this week’s marathon of upfront presentations and parties Monday morning with a two-hour, company-wide affair at Radio City Music Hall.

The presentation was long on talent from across its channel portfolio, short on executive speeches and featured appearances by everyone from Jennifer Hudson (who belted out her signature “Dreamgirls” number “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”) to Megyn Kelly to a few dozen Minions. Attendees lost count of the number of times the success of “This Is Us” was mentioned, but nobody could blame NBC for bragging about its bona fide breakout hit.

Here are 10 things we learned from NBCUniversal’s upfront:

1. The broadcast networks will be hammering away at the weakness of their digital competitors when it comes to controlling content environment for advertising. YouTube, Facebook and others have recently faced backlash from Madison Avenue for algorithm-directed spots popping up in unfortunate places. “Brand safety” were practically the first words out of NBCUniversal ad sales chief Linda Yaccarino’s mouth when she hit the stage. She also emphasized the “human touch” of old-fashioned TV blurbs. “Has a ‘view’ ever bought one of your products? Has a ‘like’ ever walked into a store?”

2. NBCUniversal learned some good lessons from last year’s inaugural portfolio-wide upfront presentation. This time around, the pitches were presented by network, as opposed to nebulous audience segments (“Dreamers,” “Rule Breakers,” etc.), which proved confusing last year. The network by network approach made for better flow.

3. The “Will & Grace” cast still has the power to charm. The familiar foursome of Debra Messing, Eric McCormack, Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes got big applause as they were re-introduced with a musical number “As If We Never Said Goodbye,” complete with an orchestra rising through the floor to the stage. NBC’s revival of the sitcom that signed off a decade ago got the first big program plug of the presentation.

4. The Kardashians as a clan have more social media followers than the population of the U.K., Germany, France and Italy combined: 325 million, according to the breathless E! News host Zuri Hall, who introduced Kim and Khloe for a long walk across the stage. The sisters were there to introduce a clip for younger sister Kylie Jenner’s new E! show, “Life of Kylie,” in which she deals with the pressure of living up to the expectations of all those social media followers, and then some.

5. Megyn Kelly, NBC News’ new highly paid recruit, will launch her Sunday night newsmagazine show in June and her daytime talker in the fall. “I’m here! I’m psyched!” Kelly shouted as she made her way across the stage to stand with Lester Holt, Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie and Chuck Todd. “We’re a family here at NBC News,” Lauer said. “Sometimes it feels a little dysfunctional (but) this team in my opinion is unrivaled.” Kelly promised her newsmag would be “hard-hitting” and her talk show “will inform people, entertain them, inspire them, and empower them to take on new challenges, to help them settle for more in their lives.”

6. We got a glimpse of Oxygen’s re-brand as a true crime network, or stories about poor souls who were suddenly deprived of oxygen. Somewhere, the folks at Investigation Discovery are smiling. The overhaul appears to include a revise of the logo as “Oxy Gen.”

7. Syfy is going back to proudly waving its geek-flag to mark its 25th anniversary. Zachary Levi, who will host Comic-Con programming for the cabler, vowed that the channel was returning to its roots by celebrating “genres at large, far and wide” and by being “a champion for fans.” Producer extraordinaire Jason Blum got a big round of applause for promo-ing the plan for Syfy and USA to carry simultaneously a TV installment of his “Purge” film franchise.

8. “This Is Us” induces hugs and tears wherever it goes. The showcase moment for the NBC drama includes a video montage of fans talking about why they have connected with the family drama. Shrieking and more tears ensued when some of those fans were surprised by walk-ons from cast members Mandy Moore, Chrissy Metz, Sterling K. Brown and Milo Ventimiglia. Of course, there were hugs. The core cast members — including Justin Hartley, Susan Kelechi Watson and Ron Cephas Jones — took a well-earned bow on the stage. “We promise you a second season that will move you and, yes, probably make you cry,” Moore assured the crowd.

9. Seth Meyers is getting better at his Jimmy Kimmel routine for the upfront. He commiserated with media buyers for having to endure a week of “TV executives chewing your ear off about unique branding opportunities. By the time you get to the CW on Thursday I’ll bet you look like the cast of ‘The Walking Dead.’ “

10. More evidence that NBC Broadcasting chairman Mark Lazarus is a rising star in NBCU CEO Steve Burke’s orbit. Lazarus was the closer, cueing up a loud (Radio City’s subwoofers were working overtime) and flashy (so were the strobe lights) clip package touting NBCU’s investment in the Olympics, the NFL and the World Cup.

A few bonus lines from Meyers:

— “Based on what is promised to you and what is delivered, this week is the definition of fake news.”

— “Where better to discuss exciting new technology platforms than a place called Radio City?”

— “CBS just announced a new drama: NCI Us.”

— On the public’s excitement over the “Will & Grace” revival: “When he heard that, someone had to revive Mike Pence.”

— ” ‘Little Big Shots’ host Steve Harvey was supposed to come out here today but no one is brave enough to knock on his dressing room door.”

— Noting that the winter Olympics will be held in PyeongChang, South Korea, Meyers advised that the location is “not be to confused with Pyonggang, North Korea, which is where we sent Billy Bush.”

(Pictured: “Will & Grace” stars Megan Mullally, Eric McCormack, Debra Messing and Sean Hayes)


Popular on Variety

More TV

  • AMERICA'S GOT TALENT -- "Live Results

    TV Ratings: 'America's Got Talent' Finale Draws 10 Million Viewers

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read on if you have not seen the season 14 finale of “America’s Got Talent.” The finale of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” which saw blind, autistic singer Kodi Lee crowned the winner, drew almost exactly 10 million viewers for the Peacock on Wednesday night. Bolstered by a robust, velvety Cher performance, [...]

  • Ava-Mark-Split

    Ava DuVernay, Mark Ruffalo Selected for SAG-AFTRA Foundation Honors

    Ava DuVernay and Mark Ruffalo have been selected by the SAG-AFTRA Foundation for its fourth Annual Patron of the Artists Awards. The awards will be presented on Nov. 7 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. The show benefits the nonprofit SAG-AFTRA Foundation and is not televised. Previous SAG-AFTRA Foundation Patron of the [...]

  • Programme Name: The Cry - TX:

    Brazil, U.K. Lead International Emmy Awards Nominations

    Brazil and the U.K. lead the pack in this year’s International Emmy Awards nominations, which span 21 countries across 11 categories. Titles and talent from Britain and Brazil will vie with other hopefuls for the trophy in five categories: drama, best performance by an actor, best performance by an actress, arts programming and documentary. Brazilian [...]

  • Hailee Steinfeld photographed by Art Streiber

    Hailee Steinfeld Drops New Song From Apple TV Series ‘Dickinson’

    Oscar-nominated actress and singer Hailee Steinfeld dropped a new song on Thursday, “Afterlife (Dickinson)” from the upcoming Apple TV+ series “Dickinson,” in which she stars and serves as an executive producer. According to the announcement, Steinfeld drew lyrical inspiration from her character, Emily Dickinson, and the themes and ideas in many of her literary works. [...]

  • Kim Kardashian Kim Kardashian out and

    Nielsen Now Tracks Celebs' Social-Media Touts of TV Shows

    Nielsen is providing a new lens into how celebrities and talent can boost the exposure of TV shows on social media. The measurement company announced that its Social Content Ratings solution now measures talent promotion of television programs across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. According to Nielsen, talent now drives nearly 60% of all social engagement [...]

  • Ree with Sticky Pork

    Food Network Strikes Three-Year Pact With Ree Drummond, 'The Pioneer Woman'

    Ree Drummond will be offering Food Network viewers more hearty family meals for the next three years. Drummond, who has hosted “The Pioneer Woman” on the Discovery-owned network since 2011, has signed a new deal with the outlet that calls for new episodes of her program. “Ree Drummond’s incredible following and popularity has led her [...]

  • David Zaslav

    Steven Spielberg's 'Why We Hate' Is More Timely Than Ever, David Zaslav Says

    The political state of the world today has made the upcoming docuseries “Why We Hate” relevant in a way that its producers, Steven Spielberg and Alex Gibney, hardly expected when they began developing the project five years ago, Discovery president and CEO David Zaslav said Thursday. “Things are much more of a challenge and hate [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content