The upfronts are supposed to be an opportunity for cable and broadcast networks—and now digital content providers—to unveil their slates of new programming before an audience of advertising executives, in a bid to impress said execs into turning their pockets inside out.
But tugging dollars from industry wallets takes more than a PowerPoint presentation. The upfront is also a network's only chance to strut its stuff and throw money around, spoiling its most important audience—while demonstrating its health, spirit and vitality in much the same way as a debutante.
Now deep into the broadcast upfront schedule (most of the cable presentations were held last week or earlier), it's apparent some networks know how to play the game while others are still finding their way off the sidelines. Here are the 10 best upfront parties attended by Adweek so far.
The network’s upfront rocked for two reasons. It used a video presentation to make light of last year’s major upfront screwup, in which the Hammerstein Ballroom’s power went out, forcing Conan O’Brien to joke the audience through the problem. And although it held its presentation at 9:30 a.m.—presumably to avoid having to serve anything tastier or more intoxicating than bagels—the net announced an intriguing new partnership with laugh-a-minute digital content provider Funny or Die.
Sure, the reference was to tween-swoon manufacturer and alleged singer Justin Bieber, but the network called “Music Television” still actually mentioned music. When was the last time that happened—1996? The show also featured a knocked-up Snooki, Alicia Keys and an after-party that included oddball treats like margarita-flavored marshmallows and run-and-coke pop rocks—as well as a photo booth for attendees to nab shots with stars.
The streaming service’s first, highly anticipated upfront came with some exciting news: Much of its revenue is being directed into new original programming. Could Hulu become the new cable?
This net’s upfront makes the list for one simple reason: no Paris Hilton. Last year, the inexplicably famous hotel heiress was borne in on a Lucite palanquin by four hunks in sailor suits. But at this year’s event, Hilton—whose most recent show saw its ratings never leave the gutter—was blessedly absent.
It takes some cojones to think you can decorate a room better than the curators of the American Museum of Natural History, but Syfy’s transformation of the space—specifically, the Hall of Biodiversity—made it seem the storied museum had added a new alien species to its exhibit. The glowing upside-down Y-shaped thing looked kind of like an ostrich with a mustache and watched over an event that featured such cutting-edge tech as pretzel-launching sconces.
It may be a kids’ network, but Disney still applied an adult-style wine-and-dine strategy to its high-tech, bring-your-kids fête at New York’s Hard Rock Cafe. It was an event that bordered on the surreal. Amid the detritus of the lives of such notables as Elvis Presley and Jim Morrison were squeaky-clean displays of toys and licensed tchotchkes from Disney hits Phineas and Ferb and Jake and the Never Land Pirates, a series with both a cartoon component and the Never Land Pirate Band, a Raffi-esque duo singing sea shanties for kids before Disney tapped them for the show.
There were the trapeze artists, who perched on giant rings hung from the ceiling and stretched into improbable positions. There were the burlesque dancers, who took off exactly enough of their outfits to stay suitable for basic cable TV (actually, let's say basic cable after 10 p.m.). There was the drunk ad buyer who jumped into an empty trapeze and had his friends spin him around until he fell off. And then there were the fire-breathers.
He definitely went after ABC’s rival nets with a verbal bayonet, but late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel broke rank to also skewer his home network for mistakes it surely would prefer fade into broadcast history. For example, he pointed out that the comedy Work It signaled ABC entertainment group president Paul Lee’s inherent disdain for Americans. It’s much classier to sling mud when you’ve taken a dip in the puddle yourself.
A&E would have made this list anyway, what with executives dressing to match brand logos, plus the live music and copious free booze—but even more memorable is ad sales president Mel Berning’s refusal to be seduced by none other than '90s-teen-male-fantasy Jennifer Love Hewitt. Why, Mel … why?!
What better entrance to an upfront party than a freight elevator behind a roller-shutter garage door? But behind the low-rent façade hid major network talent, many of whom (at least the ladies) could be seen ditching New York City-streetwise sneakers for the flashy footwear more befitting a boldface name. Bravo stars—they’re just like us!