The 10 Most Memorable Moments From This Year’s Upfront Week

Some networks left buyers cheering, while others had them cringing

Stephen Colbert bombed with buyers at last year's upfront, but they welcomed him back enthusiastically this year. Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS
Headshot of Jason Lynch

Another upfront week is in the books, and while the week’s usual highlight was MIA this year—Jimmy Kimmel skipped his annual upfront roast at ABC’s event to stay in L.A. with his newborn son, who continues to recover from open-heart surgery—the other networks filled the void with plenty of laughs and cringeworthy moments.

As each network made its big pitch to buyers and advertisers, these were the 10 most memorable moments from the week, from me and the rest of the Adweek TV team. If you missed any of Adweek’s comprehensive upfront coverage, you can find it here.

NBCUniversal: Buyers needed a jumpstart to kick off a loooong upfront week, and Jennifer Hudson provided it right out of the gate with an electrifying rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” which helped win her an Oscar for 2006’s Dreamgirls. Not only did Hudson set the performance bar so high that no one could top it all week (sorry, Backstreet Boys), but she allowed NBC—which signed the American Idol alum as a coach on The Voice less than 24 hours after ABC announced it was reviving Idol next season—to thumb its nose at its broadcast rival, which had been speculated to sign Hudson as an Idol judge.

Fox: There are awkward upfront moments, and then there’s whatever was going on when Fox Sports decided it would be a good idea to dress up much of its talent as rappers—or at least, what they assume rappers dress like—and have them dance and lip-sync to a spoof of Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic.” The result was even more horrifying than it sounds. Joe Buck seemed to realize the awfulness of what had unfolded before him when he later joked that everyone on stage “used to have pride.”

Telemundo’s party: Telemundo got a few minutes to shine onstage at Monday’s august NBCU upfront presentation, but on Monday night, the Spanish-language network let loose. As stars mingled with ad buyers, noshing on sliders and sipping rum and cokes at the Hammerstein Ballroom, Enrique Iglesias performed a high-energy, hourlong set. —Chris Ariens

ESPN: ESPN’s recent round of layoffs didn’t stop the network from having fun during its presentation. Popular hosts chatted about sports and pop culture while a jazz band played intermittently on the Minksoff Theatre stage. Then, SportsCenter host Kenny Mayne flew in from the rafters as the Angel of Advertising to give the audience some hell. “We’ll go along with the premise that people buy things based on advertising if you guys believe people still watch regular TV,” Mayne said, while pointing to improvised charts on the screen behind him. He was escorted down a fog-filled trapdoor by the mascot for—who else?—the New Jersey Devils. —Sami Main

Univision: Univision always knows how to put on a good show. Tuesday’s upfront event at the Lyric Theatre opened with an in-the-aisles and onto-the-stage performance by Becky G (also known as the Yellow Power Ranger) and closed with global sensation Shakira singing her hit, “Hips Don’t Lie.” —C.A.

ABC: While it wasn’t quite as cringeworthy as Fox Sports, ABC certainly didn’t expect its surprise announcement that it was reviving its hit ’90s sitcom Roseanne to fall as flat with buyers as it did. The audience remained quiet when ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey made the grand announcement, and the crickets continued when Roseanne Barr and her cast came out on stage for some painfully stilted banter. “This is going to be fun,” said Barr. Well, not yet.

Turner: Somehow, an onstage conversation between Conan O’Brien, Shaquille O’Neal and Anderson Cooper at Turners upfront presentation turned into, “If I was going be with a guy it’d be … ” O’Brien said Tom Brady. Shaq said Rick Foxx. O’Brien turned to Cooper and asked, “You want in on this?” He passed. —C.A.

CBS: Stephen Colbert’s tepid performance at last year’s upfront event—“this is embarrassing,” declared my seatmate at the time—might have been one of his lowest points since arriving at CBS a year earlier. But this year, Colbert cemented the Late Show’s ratings and creative resurgence with a triumphant upfront return, during which he was welcomed enthusiastically by buyers as he sang, danced and cracked jokes about President Trump. As CBS CEO Leslie Moonves noted, “If you think that I love Stephen more now just because he’s No. 1, you’re right!”

Adult Swim: This year’s high-profile music act, Drake, came onstage sometime after 11 p.m. and announced that he had no intention of only performing for the 15 to 20 minutes he was asked to perform for. Instead, he stayed onstage for more than an hour. The high point of the night was when he brought out Atlanta’s own—and Adult Swim neighbors—The Migos for a few of their hits. That’s the best thing about these corporate gigs: nothing but the hits.  —Charles Goetz

The CW: As the week’s final upfront presentation, The CW’s event wasn’t as “short and sweet” as president Mark Pedowitz had promised, given it was more than 10 minutes longer than last year’s. But no matter—after a week of upfront events that routinely approached two hours, it was a treat to finish with one of the shortest presentations (also, that Black Lightning trailer was fantastic). Thanks, CW!

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.