Tuned In

Liveblogging the Fox Upfront

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Last year’s Fox upfront was memorable. Not in a good way. Held at the Armory in New York, it ran two and a half hours, and the jury-rigged air-conditioning couldn’t begin to cool the sweltering cave-like room. It was a grisly, bloody-Antietam of a show, and many of the advertising executives–the people these galas are meant to court–left pissed. (From my notes last year: “the crowd is getting surly… ppl are taking off their jackets, walking out… Simon Cowell: ‘This is the most bored audience I’ve ever seen,’ crowd applauds…”)

This year, seemingly in reaction, the networks seem to be competing to see who can have the shortest upfront show. Gone are the endless cattle calls of every show’s cast, news departments, sports departments, ad-sales-department skits. NBC clocked in at an hour and a half; ABC about the same; CBS a sprightly hour-and-a-quarter.

Well, somebody at the Manhattan City Center was kind enough to spring for free wi-fi, so that’ll allow me to liveblog the show–and see if it stays on schedule. (It better. My battery is at 84%) We’ll start the clock on Fox… now!

3:53 p.m.: OK, the show doesn’t officially start for seven minutes, so this doesn’t count. But in its pre-show stage graphics, Fox is bragging about the green-ness of the upfront. The flights to New York were offset by carbon credits, the power is being provided by biodiesel (I knew I smelled french fries!) and the invitations were… e-mailed.

3:59: Fox has things to brag about this year, and it’s letting us know. #1 in 18 to 49. #2 in total viewers. Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? is the top new reality show “in key demos.” Do you know what a key demo is? Ask a 5th grader.

4:00: Clock started. Lights dimmed. 80% battery power. The wi-fi connection is getting spotty. I blame the damn biodiesel.

4:03 A 24 parody, with Fox pres Peter Liguori talking to Kiefer Sutherland. Kief says to keep the speeches short. “Mr. President–you’re on the clock!” A title says: “The following takes place between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.” The crowd goes nuts.

4:07: Nonetheless, the network is still finding the time for the traditional parade across the stage of nearly every star of every Fox show. Peter Liguori, WHO ARE YOU WORKING FOR?!

4:12: Fox sales chief Jon Nesvig is monologuing about the next year’s broadcast of Super Bowl, that will apparently enable “brand-building advertising that gets funneled down to a personal level.” Did you know you can use free wi-fi to check your email?

4:18: Liguori says he’s glad to be back in the “friendly confines” of the City Center. He’s telling the advertisers Fox is planning to address its “fourth quarter” problems, which is not a Super Bowl reference, but advert-ese for “Nobody watches Fox before January.”

4:23: Liguori starts introducing clips of new shows. He says that this year, Fox will only air shows they think are really good. No, he actually said that. BACK 2 YOU has Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton as feuding newscasters. Like last year’s ‘Til Death, it seems like a generic concept for the home of the edgy sitcom. Grammer plays a pompous, self-important broadcaster, because, you know, he left Frasier so he could stretch.

4:25: THE RETURN OF JEZEBEL JAMES. Parker Posey! Lauren Ambrose! Amy Sherman-Palladino! The Gilmore Girls creator pairs the indie actresses in a sitcom as sisters, one of whom (Posey) is the maternal one in the relationship. That may be about to change, though, as she wants sis to be a surrogate mom for her. (“Like an incubator?” “An incubator with Tivo.”) It’s hard to tell from clips if a sitcom will be good, but Sherman-Palladino’s fast dialogue translates well to the sitcom form.

4:29: SPOILER ALERT! In the Farrelly brothers sitcom THE RULES FOR STARTING OVER, one of the co-stars is Rashida Jones, Karen from The Office. Jam fans take note. Four friends looking for love; monkey and prostate jokes.

4:31: Of course, if the show is canceled, she could be back on her old show faster than you can say Kim Raver. So, Jam fans take note.

4:32: THE SEARCH FOR THE NEXT GREAT AMERICAN BAND, from the producers of American Idol, is about–well, I didn’t type that big-ass title for nothing, did I?

4:34: NASHVILLE has nothing to do with Robert Altman, but the show–following aspiring country singers pursuing their careers in the country capital–is from the producers of Laguna Beach, who know their way around a real-life dramedy.

4:38: Gordon Ramsay of Hell’s Kitchen finds new and exciting people to yell at in KITCHEN NIGHTMARES. (“I have never, ever met anyone I believe in… as little as you.”)

4:40: K-VILLE, a cop drama set in post-Katrina New Orleans, where in real life the police force was decimated after the disaster. Anthony Anderson, so awesome as a villain on The Shield, wears the badge here. Liguori says it’s the kind of show that he used to do when he ran FX, although the trailer seems to be injected with some big-network uplift.

4:44: In NEW AMSTERDAM, a cop, whose last name is Amsterdam (a trend we need to stop, now) turns out to be immortal, and has policed New York City since the 17th century. If only he had bought real estate early. The second immortal cop we’ve seen this upfront, and the umpteenth character with supernatural abilities or circumstances. What does it say about all of us? That a lot of people watched Heroes last year.

4:49: Liguori continues to raid FX talent with CANTERBURY’S LAW, produced by Denis Leary of Rescue Me. Julianna Marguilies plays a tough, bullying attorney. “How far will she go in the name of justice?” asks the trailer. Perhaps to more or less the same place as Glenn Close in FX’s Damages this summer, it looks like.

4:52: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES continues the story of the fugitive heroine from Terminator 2, but, say Liguori, it’s really the story of a single mom trying to take care of her family. Yes, and I’m sure that’s exactly the reason they picked the show up. Lots of SFX–yes, we do see a metal-skinned robot in the trailer –and plenty moody-looking. Best casting: Firefly’s Summer Glau as an action heroine.

4:59: From the giant TV screen overhead, Jack Bauer calls Peter Liguori back on his cellie. “Congratulations, Mr. President, you’ve done it!” Can it be? Yes–Fox takes the title, sends the advertisers off to the after -party, and leaves me with 57% left on my laptop battery. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the winner of the 2007-08 upfronts!