Upfronts: Highlights and lowlights from NBC and FOX
Day one of Upfront Week is over, and if there's never again two of the major networks in one day(*), it'll be too damn soon.
(*) For those who care, this weird double-booking came about because NBC - which traditionally owned Monday of Upfront Week, while Fox went Thursdays - had the brainstorm a few years back to do an "infront" in April instead of an upfront, at which point Fox decided to claim the vacant Monday date. Then when NBC realized this year that the infront was just as pointless as Leno-in-primetime, neither network wanted to blink on Monday, so we got them both. And boy am I tired.
I've avoided attending the formal upfront presentations in recent years, in part because the dog-and-pony show aspect bores me (as it should, since these things are geared towards ad buyers and not people like me), in part because I'd rather watch the pilots as pilots, and not as cut-downs that give away all the best jokes and/or biggest surprises. But most of those cut-downs now wind up online within minutes after each upfront ends, and starting a new job gave me an excuse to go across the river and try to view Upfront Week with fresh eyes.
Early returns: I'm reminded of why I stopped going, but I also saw a few trailers with promise.
Some highlights and lowlights of NBC and Fox's presentations coming right up...
Best-looking (but still not 100% selling me) cut-down: NBC's "The Event" (Jason Ritter gets caught up in a conspiracy involving his missing girlfriend and Blair Underwood as POTUS) had all the things you expect from a trailer (scope, action, strategically-deployed subtitles, etc.) and seemed to justify all of the network's faith in it as the tentpole of a reinvented, post-"Heroes" Monday night. But at the same time, I kept thinking throughout the cut-down, "Okay, but I want to see what episode three looks like." (This concern has had other names, but for now should probably be referred to as The "FlashForward" Rule.)
Most pleasantly surprising cut-down: Fox's "Lonestar" doesn't sound very promising on paper - A 21st century riff on "Dallas"?" From the "Party of Five" producers? - and I'm still not sure it's a show I'd want to watch regularly (even with Adrianne Palicki from "Friday Night Lights"), but the cut-down (and what we saw of the performance by unknown leading man James Wolk) at least has me intrigued.
Other cut-downs that made me say "Okay, I look forward to seeing more of that": best of the rest were NBC's "Undercovers" and Fox's "Ride-Along," with two veteran producers revisiting a familiar theme (JJ Abrams on spies with romantic entanglements, Shawn Ryan on cops and corruption) that look very well-executed in the trailers (and "Undercovers" looks to be "Alias" without the convoluted mythology and other stuff that ruined "Alias" by the end).
Show I hope will play better as a pilot than as a cut-down: "Running Wilde," the "Arrested Development" mini-reunion with Will Arnett and Keri Russell, has Arnett as a slightly softer version of GOB, but the jokes didn't land as well as I'd hoped. I don't remember the "Arrested" cut-down, but I suspect Mitch Hurwitz and Jim Vallely's writing isn't as funny without all the context of a full episode.
Shows I have no real interest in seeing a pilot for after watching the cut-down: Most of NBC's half-hour comedies (but particularly "Outsourced," and not just because it's keeping "Parks and Recreation" off the fall schedule) and "Chase" (generic Bruckheimer take on U.S. Marshals, very much paling next to how good "Justified" has been this spring), plus Fox's "Mixed Signals."
Most effective method of sucking the life out of the room: NBC decided to air an entire segment of its romantic anthology "Love Bites," with Greg Grunberg (as a married tattoo artist) trying to take advantage of an overnight flight with Jennifer Love Hewitt (as herself). Showing an extended clip, or even a full pilot, can really energize the room if it's good enough, as ABC discovered last year when they aired the "Modern Family" pilot to a huge response. But when you show something that's just okay (with all of the very modest number of laughs coming from guest star Craig Robinson), and it just keeps going... well, it has a way of feeling much, much longer.
Second-most effective method of sucking the life out of the room: NBC brought out "Sunday Night Football" announcers Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, plus four of the guys from the "Football Night in America" studio show... and let all of them talk, with four of the six giving endless monologues about their love of the game, the awesomeness of their show, etc. This happens a lot when sports and/or news people come to upfronts - if multiple people are on stage, they assume that the audience wants to hear from all of them, and at great length - but it was particularly annoying late in a very long NBC upfront where most of the cut-downs were received with applause that was a bit too grudging to be called polite.
Most effective method of energizing the room: As they did last year, Fox had the cast of "Glee" come out and sing - this time "Like a Prayer" - and given how much of the audience had obviously fallen in love with the show compared to a year ago, it went over huge, and closed a long and often dull day on a strong note.