I’m in the cheap seats of Radio City Music Hall, where I’ve found a wireless network. So we’re going to go cowboy-style and do an impromptu liveblog, until it wraps up or the John Henry that is my aging Time loaner laptop wears its little battery heart out.
The Shins are playing over the sound system, an apt choice for the network that still employs Zach Braff. The advertising suits are filling the seats and reading trivia projected over the stage. Did you know that 9 out of 10 Americans experience NBC Universal content every month? (Would you like to find out how to become one of the 1 out of 10 who don’t?)
Stay tuned. The big show starts in five.
2:55: Did you know that NBC U’s site members have made a total of 1,793,724 posts? Did you know that after budget cuts running into the hundreds of millions of dollars, NBC still has someone to compile that stat?
2:59: Smaller, but richer. NBC, fourth place in the ratings, touts the fact that The Office, 30 Rock and My Name Is Earl have some of the biggest audiences of people with incomes over $100,000. Scrubs fans, you need a raise.
3:05: Tina Fey tapes an “interactive presentation” film, in which she says viewers can text her instructions on what to say and do in front of the audience. At one point, she gets a text and slaps the actor who plays Kenneth the Page. Considering Fey nixed an NBC promise (made at last year’s upfronts) that 30 Rock would produce “sketches” from The Girlie Show to air online, it’s an ironic pitch coming from her.
3:10: NBC entertainment president Kevin Reilly promises the advertisers less “song and dance” at this upfront. A promise to have us out of here “in a little more than an hour” gets a smattering of applause. Translation: we don’t have ratings to brag about. Les Moonves will mock this mercilessly at CBS on Wednesday. NBC is pitching “mass and class” — shows with broad appeal and upscale audiences — but, Reilly admits, the “mass” has been missing.
3:14: Reilly on Heroes — “They saved the cheerleader. They saved the world.” Thanks for the spoiler, dude.
3:16: With the rest of the cast of Heroes, Masi Oka is raised onto stage, with his arms lifted in the Hiro “I did it!” position. Heroes: Origins, Reilly says, will have each episode introduce a new character; fans will vote on which character will join the main show. Why not add three judges and call it American Hero?
3:20: The new-series previews start! JOURNEYMAN has its protagonist travel back in time to 1987 to right mistakes from his past. In this version, he shuttles between the present and the past. Kevin McKidd (Rome’s Vorenus) joins the ranks of Brits playing Americans on TV.
3:22: Brit turned Yank number two! Damian Lewis, in LIFE, plays a cop freed after years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
3:28: Women, get your wish-fulfillment on! In LIPSTICK JUNGLE, from Sex and the City’s Candice Bushnell, Brooke Shields and Kim Raver play high-powered city career women who have romantic and job intrigues and occasionally sit around a table with drinks. (“They are Mr. Big!” goes the promo copy.) In an online twist, a magazine depicted in the show will actually be created online. I hope the time.com business department isn’t reading this.
3:30: Nerds, get your wish-fulfillment on! In CHUCK, a computer geek turns spy. Pros: from Josh Schwartz (The O.C.) and looks like it may be funny. Cons: Is essentially Jake 2.0.
3:36: Women and nerds, get your wish-fulfillment on! NBC is remaking drama THE BIONIC WOMAN, in a version that, from the clips, seems intended to be both darker and more emotional. Then again, what wouldn’t be? The pedigree is Battlestar Galactica (David Eick produces), but the clips look more Painkiller Jane. We’ll see.
3:43: NBC trots out its “unscripted” lineup. Ah, remember “Unscripted TV”? Journey back with me to the heady days of the first George W. Bush administration. In BABY BORROWERS five teen couples will become “parents.” In THE SINGING BEE, which is sadly not about an insect, amateur singers will try to remember lyrics of pop songs. In AGE OF LOVE, a 30-year-old bachelor must choose between really hot 20something women and really hot 40something women. The clips use the term “cougar,” which is the classy word for MILF. Because NBC is the classy network.
3:50: 2007-08 will be the year that viewers finally start getting excited about web offshoots of TV shows. For, like the fourth year in a row. Next season, you can help write episodes of Medium, or enter a game based on how often NBC characters use catchphrases. Or you could join a book club or learn a foreign language or spend time with your loved ones. Your call.
3:55: NBC’s most exciting new star is not an NBC star. Not anymore, anyway. Jerry Seinfeld comes on stage to announce that he’s airing some couple-minute, making-of “minisodes” about his upcoming Bee Movie. Pros: The advertisers go nuts. Cons: Reminder of much, much better times for NBC. “We were the number-one network on television! There was no YouTube! It was UsTube! America watched what we put on the air or lived in fear of the consequences!” He plays us a couple. Most entertaining thing we’ve seen all day. Does NBC really want people to leave here thinking that?
4:07: Bob Costas comes on stage with the NBC football crew, including Keith Olbermann and Tiki Barber, to talk football. The entire crew carry pigskins, which they did last year, then launched them at the audience, to see if someone could put one in the balcony, where I’m sitting. Jerome Bettis just hauled off and nearly killed me, firing a spiral three rows directly in front of my seat. This year, like last, it seems like a metaphor for NBC somehow. Only at an upfront does someone come on stage, admit to having had a disappointing performance, and then throw things at you.
4:15: Now NBC is talking 2008 Olympics, bragging that Beijing and the IOC have agreed to have swimming at 3 in the morning, or whatever it needs to be, so that NBC can air it in primetime. In a grandiose promo reel for the games, the video malfunctions and freezes for a minute during a swimming scene. Call it karma.
4:20: NBC’s sales president is now talking to the ad people in ad people talk, promising things about “metrics” and “guaranteed engagement” and “growing the brand.” This is the part where an upfront always starts to sound like a Sinclair Lewis satire. It would have worked better if they had gotten Alec Baldwin to deliver it, in character, as Jack Donaghy. Damn voicemail tape!
4:25: Now comes the sentimental montage, where NBC strings together clips from hits or (mostly) critical hits like 30 Rock, The Office and Friday Night Lights. It makes me sad, though probably not for the reasons they intend. I realize that NBC is in desperate ratings trouble largely because they have done a pretty good job of making shows that appeal to me. I feel a little guilty. But then I’ll watch the Office finale Thursday and get over it.
4:30: Kevin Reilly wraps it up in 90 minutes. Rival networks, the gauntlet has been thrown! On to ABC tomorrow.