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)


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