The upfronts, like the Oscars, ran long again this year. At the NBC marathon, which included song-and-dance numbers by prime-time casts, Scott Sassa, West Coast president, introduced a wacky parody of the network's winning show "Fear Factor." In the clip, a hapless NBC seller is dropped into a seething pit of media buyers screaming "Make good! Make good!"
Last year, many big time media agency execs watched reels in the office and gave their upfront tickets to underlings, but this year the shows were attended by top agency execs, including Alec Gerster of Initiative, Peggy Green of Zenith, Irwin Gotlieb of MindShare, Rino Scanzoni of Mediaedge:CIA, Steve Grubbs of PHD, Dan Rank of OMD, Charlie Rutman of Carat, Donna Wolfe of Universal McCann, Bill Cella of Magna Global, John Muszynski of Starcom, Mel Berning of Mediavest and Jon Mandel of MediaCom. One could almost read their minds as they sat expectantly in the overflow audiences: "Make good. Make good."
At the CBS upfront, the No. 2 network introduced a show featuring an NYC cop who leaves the force under a dark cloud and starts fresh, from scratch. "All he wants is a second chance," says a narrator in the upfront promo. How does he do it? By escaping to Bel Air? By running a bone-fishing charter in the Florida Keys? No, by driving a yellow cab in Manhattan. The name of the new series is "Hack" and it may or may not capture the imagination of viewers-it's a basically a drama about a former cop who becomes a vigilante-but it certainly captured the tone of the 2002 upfront. (When the title was announced the trade press corps got excited: "Finally a series about us!" Sorry.)
Following a dismal season that saw no real hits, a drop in sales and loss of viewership, largely to cable, the big nets want to start over, to make it better. Even No. 1 NBC pledged a restart of sorts, as an edgier network. But the networks all basically followed the "Hack" character arc; they really didn't change much. They were still cruising down the same old mean streets. "It's deja vu all over again," said a top media buying executive at the CBS party at Tavern on the Green, after seeing the shows put on by the Big Three nets.
Ultimate upfront; we got the dish
The best upfront party: the William Morris Agency throwdown at 21, where one literally rubbed shoulders-and other body parts in the packed rooms-with the likes of Les Moonves and Julia Roberts. The best tear-jerking upfront moment: Lloyd Braun, ABC's entertainment group chairman, hanging his head, thanking everyone for "their patience" and apologizing for a "difficult and trying season" and promising to "go back in and fix all our past mistakes." The best upcoming bottom-line programming: NBC tributes to Abbott and Costello and the Three Stooges, and ABC's Barry Manilow special "Ultimate Manilow." Oh Barry! You came and you gave without taking!
Fear and loathing on Georgica pond
One program that was not shown at the ABC upfront was "The Hamptons, "a reality miniseries about the polo-playing classes who summer in East Hampton, directed by Barbara Kopple, who is famous for filming coal miners in Harlan County, U.S.A. (she also shoots commercials through a company called non.fiction spots). "The show is all about how we stereotype people and when we get to know them, they are totally different," Barbara tells Adages. "It's also about going into a place without an agenda and capturing a person's soul and spirit and making a space for them that is intimate and comfortable and allows them to be who they are." Among the many soulful Hamptonites who appear in the film-Billy Joel, Alec Baldwin and Christie Brinkley-one who makes a space for herself is Lizzie Grubman. Barbara filmed the PR whiz before the infamous "Fourth of July Melee" last year, when she backed her Mercedes SUV into a crowd of East Hampton club-goers. On "The Hamptons" trailer, Lizzie says in voice-over: "July Fourth is really when, I feel, the summer kicks off." Yes, it sure does Lizzie, with fireworks.
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