Upfront Week 2019: The Good, The Bad & The “Did That Just Happen?”May 18, 2019
The broadcast networks that once hosted Upfront Week mostly have been gobbled up by media behemoths, and the traditional dog-and-pony show gradually is being replaced by daily disgorging of corporate buzzwords. Still, the week had some very memorable moments. Here are few:
Most Stunning Star Appearance
“Why is that funny?” a bewildered Rami Malek asked media buyers and NBCU execs when they laughed as the Mr. Robot star said how happy he was to be at the media conglom’s upfront presentation.
“That show means everything to me, helping me get to where I am today,” he added. Where he is today including signing to play the supervillain in Bond 25 after winning an Oscar for his work in Bohemian Rhapsody.
Later in the presentation, NBC latenight star Seth Meyers remarked on Malek’s sincerity.
“He recently won an Oscar for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury and he still couldn’t get out of coming to upfronts!” Meyers marveled. “I mean, what’s it gonna take? If I ever won an Oscar, the first thing I would think is, ‘I think this means I don’t have to go to upfronts.’ But, such a well-deserved Oscar. That guy’s a great actor. I mean, how about when he came out here and said, ‘It’s great to be here’ – so believable!”
Best Elephant Addressing
CBS opened at Carnegie Hall with strained sports analogies as execs struggling to get past the obvious absence of ousted CEO Les Moonves one year after adoring media buyers gave him a standing ovation. Among them, Jim Nantz made coy references to “some changes at the top” as if it was the 1950s and he was talking about pregnancy on-air.
Stephen Colbert heroically saved the day. Telling the ad execs CBS gave him a massive document before his Carnegie Hall appearancea and detailing how well the network performed over the year to help him craft his upfront onstage remarks, Colbert said he had not had time to read it through and instead relied on Bill Barr’s four-page summary: “Turns out Les Moonves was totally exonerated! I did not see that coming!” Colbert said as the audience gasped a bit, then tittered.
“There had to be one,” Colbert said with a sly smile. And then they could move on.
It marked the only time Moonves’ name was uttered onstage at CBS’ upfront. But ABC late-night star Kimmel kicked the name out to the crowd one day earlier, when he chided, “Remember last year when you guys gave Les Moonves a standing ovation? That was funny. Whoops! That, I still don’t understand. I mean, how is it that a network whose logo is literally an eye did not see that coming?”
Worst Ad Lib
As the Fox NFL team discussed Super Bowl LIV and Thursday Night Football, Terry Bradshaw got asked about his time on improbable reality hit The Masked Singer. In response, Bradshaw complained he got tossed off the competition by Alan Thicke, who is dead and “that little guy from Japan!” Thicke’s son, singer Robin Thicke, is one of the judges, but that doesn’t make that crack OK. His more disturbing attempt at humor was a reference to Ken Jeong, who is an American of Korean descent. Bradshaw acknowledged he has known that for some time in the statement issued later on the veteran broadcaster’s behalf by Fox Sports as he became a main topic of conversation at Fox’s upfront party afterward, as our Nellie Andreeva reported.
“I’ve spoken to him about the importance of cultural respect and apologized for my offensive comments,” Fox Sports’ statement for Bradshaw read. “I would like to also apologize to the Asian-American community for my insensitivity.”
Snarked Kimmel the next day: “Was that some kind of concussion awareness PSA?”
“Terry Bradshaw and The Masked Singer. What a stupid time to be alive,” added Kimmel, who has become the beloved Voice Inside Our Heads At Upfronts.
Best Streaming Service Slam
“F*ckin’ Netflix,” said Kimmel during his Disney at-bat. “They even signed the Obamas The Obamas are making TV shows and Trump is running the country. If this isn’t some Freaky Friday-type bullsh*t.”This is getting bad. By the end of the year, 34% of homes won’t even have traditional ad-based TV. But the good news is, if you look under your seats, you’ll find a cyanide capsule. Wash it down with some Whiskey Cavalier.”
He added later: “[Disney ad sales chief] Rita Ferro said, ‘The future of TV is TV.’ Even Sarah Huckabee Sanders was like, ‘What the f*ck kind of bullshit are you telling them?’”
Most Riveting TV News Talent Appearance
CBS News made have won the ppfront trophy for Most Self Congratulatory, when its new chief, new CBS Evening News anchor and new CBS This Morning team unleashed lines like, “We’re making history,” “There has never been a more important time to be a journalist,” “You are the most transformational leader we have every worked for,” and “It is our time.” But NBC News’ upfront appearance made headlines when Brian Williams walked out onstage, joined NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, Today’s Savannah Guthrie, Meet the Press anchor Chuck Todd, MSNBC star Rachel Maddow, NBC/Telemundo’s Jose Diaz-Balart and CNBC’s Becky Quick, and said: “This coming year, the world will be watching as we cover perhaps the most consequential election of our lifetime. It’s an election that will define our nation for years to come, and it’s already underway.”
His appearance was electric, given his absence from that stage since being yanked as the country’s most-watched evening news anchor in February 2015 for misrepresenting facts of his experiences covering the Iraq War in a Nightly News segment. Put on suspension for six months pending an investigation few expected him to survive, Williams then was sent to MSNBC to anchor breaking news, then anchor The 11th Hour.
Riskiest Song Choice
We get why the CW would jump at the chance to have Jonas Brothers perform at its upfront presentation; you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting the trio these days. They’re on Saturday Night Live, on Billy Eichner’s Billy on the Street, on Carpool Karaoke, on Nickelodeon’s All That reboot. Amazon is about to unleash its JoBro documentary Chasing Happiness, and heck, the CW is using their new tune “Cool” in its sizzle campaign. But maybe performing “Sucker” for media buyers at its upfront presentation was not the best song choice?
Best Performance by an Executive
ABC Entertainment chief Karey Burke, no context. Introduced by Modern Family’s Julie Bowen as “fearless, funny” and “a force of nature” Burke’s performance onstage at Lincoln Center nonetheless came as a revelation to some who previously had only seen her on a stage at TCA. Joking confidently about her company-color outfit and her first few months on the job when controversy left ABC with no host for the Oscars, Burke sealed her win when she mentioned her sixth-season pickup of Fresh Off the Boat, then deadpanned, “Still starring Constance Wu” and brought down the house.
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