A Round of Applause For a Sensible Upfront Week

An Ad Age Editorial

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Regardless of what happens with this year's negotiations or how long any of next season's shows survive, the networks can congratulate themselves on streamlining this year's upfront presentations.

Every year, those who work in the business and those who cover it find themselves at the end of a week's worth of upfront presentations behaving like the survivor of a minor battle (albeit one that features an open bar and sushi). Overly exhausted, they've got the thousand-yard stare of people who've been subjected to an excess of bright lights and loud bangs.

Presentation week is an odd beast, both a working event and a chance for the networks to showcase their entertainment chops. But recently, the entire ordeal had started to take on the characteristics of the Super Bowl -- overproduced, overpriced, overlong and, when all was said and done, the least exciting game of the year.

This year, most of the networks pared down the sideshows and simply got down to business; what were once three-hour events wrapped up in less than half that time. And the presentations were more relevant for buyers and more focused on the consumer: shorter speeches, less flash and a focus on explaining not only next season's traditional offerings, but, more important, the networks' efforts in an increasingly complex digital realm.

There was still some flash -- the networks are still selling their ability to entertain, after all. But with some of the big blockbusters growing a little long in the tooth, celebrating their successes may have seemed silly. Even ABC, one of the few to light the lights, simply replaced the "Desperate Housewives" Broadway-like routine with an "Ugly Betty" number of a similar nature. And considering some of the seemingly weak scripted programs on offer next year, maybe they felt there just wasn't that much to sing and dance about.

And, by keeping things simple, the networks also avoided PR nightmares, such as those that dogged Fox last year. From a PR perspective, it's much better to have the network chiefs explaining their online offerings than to make excuses for a lame party.

Sure, it was still a lot of hard work. But by the end of this year's presentations, survivors were looking a little less bedraggled than in previous years. Instead of the thousand-yard stare, they had a 500-yard stare. Maybe next year we'll get that down to 300 yards.
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