Upfront 07

NBC Breaks Out the Bells, Whistles and Extras for Every Show

Entertainment President Reilly: "We've Got Class, Now We Need Mass"

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Last year, ABC's Steve McPherson became briefly notorious for his expert dance steps with one of his "Dancing with the Stars" cast members during the network's upfront presentation. This week, NBC was the first to take the stage for the 2007-2008 upfront presentations, and President-Entertainment Kevin Reilly promised attendees the most efficient upfront presentation, vowing to keep it to an hour.
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Photo: Chris Haston

NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly lamented that his dance number was cut from the network's upfront event last night.

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"We can do that because they've cut my dance number," he said, as a picture of him in a Riverdance-like outfit flashed behind him. "I had a whole Irish dance number planned. Damn you, McPherson!"

And that was as close to competitor bashing NBC got this year. With its standing as the fourth network in 18- to 49-year-old ratings, and some rocky weeks just passed, Mr. Reilly seemed determine to focus on looking ahead rather than looking behind. He referred to the spring performance as a "big fat disappointment. Let's put it behind us."

A pledge to advertisers
In his first outing as president-ad sales and marketing, Michael Pilot made it clear he is very willing to work with advertisers this fall season. "My pledge to you," he said, "we will make it easier to plan and buy media, using the measurability and accountability on metrics that matter to you. We will invest in the future. We will be idea leaders." The NBC team came pretty close to keeping it short, getting through its presentation in under an hour and half.

Tina Fey of "30 Rock," one of the network's brighter lights, kicked off the event, held at Radio City Music Hall. She spoke to the assembled buyers and media via video as a way to introduce this year's "groundbreaking" upfront presentation, namely that it was also being streamed simultaneously in Chicago and Los Angeles -- and probably China (how do you say "Olympics" in Beijing?). The short video touched several of the themes NBC was hitting with its presentation -- audience interactivity, extra content distributed on new platforms and an eagerness to work with advertisers to come up with new ad units.

The camera follows Ms. Fey through the set of "30 Rock" to where NBC page Kenneth is seated a desk. She then excitedly told the group that they could text in throughout the presentation and vote for what the audience wanted her to do next. She then glanced at her ringing and vibrating cellphone, and promptly turned around and slapped Kenneth.

She then brought out co-star Tracey Morgan, who delivers a jargon-laden speech about dynamic ad opportunities available through NBC, to which Tina responds, "I don't even know what he's talking about!" But she quickly begins to throw around her own jargon, throwing out "podbusters" and "product placement." On cue, the sexy blonde show assistant, Katrina, appeared next to Tina wearing a very tight T-shirt with a prominent GE logo. "I love giving nerds back rubs, but only if they have a certified GE titanium microwave," she said.

Tina answers her ringing phone again, and reads, "Lose the shirt and dance for us." As she begins to upbraid the audience for inappropriate requests, Tracey Morgan jumps in with, "It's all right Tina," and peels off his shirt and starts to dance. With that, Tina Fey handed the stage over to Mr. Reilly, which caused Kenneth the page to fall into paroxysms of excitement over the prospect of being near him. "Kenneth the page, my new best friend," Mr. Reilly said.

'Mass and class'
But it was clear he was much more concerned with befriending the advertisers and media buyers sitting in the audience. "Mass and class, that's what the NBC brand has always stood for. It's what's been expected, and it's what we aim to deliver," he said, listing some of the network's early successes in the fall, which he said was "demonstrably better" than the year before. "We were better," he said, "but we need to be more better. We've got the class, now we need the mass."

The plan for attracting more viewers? Bulk up the offerings with lots of interactive opportunities and extra content. "The Office" for instance, will not only include 30 half-hour shows, but five one-hour shows for next season. "Heroes" will include six episodes to air in the spring titled "Origins" that each will feature the back story of one new hero. The audience will then be asked to vote for which one is added to the cast.

The audience was then treated to trailers for the time-travel mystery-romance "Journeyman," which met with mild applause, and"Life," a cop show based on the premise that the lead was wrongly imprisoned for a murder he did not commit, and is given a second chance to join the force once he is released, which also earned mild applause. The same reception was given to a female power dramedy starring Brooke Shields, "Lipstick Jungle," which will also have an interactive element. A fictitious magazine in the show, Bonfire, will be an area at iVillage for the audience to interact with the characters and each other.

"Chuck," a light spy thriller centered on the assistant manager of a computer store "Nerd Herd" elicited laughs and some pretty enthusiastic applause. But the new series that got the most enthusiastic response form the audience was the remake of the "Bionic Woman."

Battling reality with reality
Mr. Reilly also indicated NBC's slide in the ratings was due to reality-show competition from other networks, so NBC ramped up its own unscripted shows, labeling them "alternative reality," led by game-show hit "Deal or No Deal," which will travel to spring break and Las Vegas next year. This summer will see a return of "Last Comic Standing," as well as "America's Got Talent" and "The Biggest Loser." NBC has two new reality series. "Baby Borrowers" follows five teenage couples spending a month with other people's children as a crash course in parenting. "American Idol" judge Randy Jackson is the executive producer of "World Moves," a global dance crew competition. And Friday nights were dubbed Game Night, as NBC will air the Bob Saget-hosted "1 Vs. 100" followed by a new show asking contestants to finish singing the lyrics to popular songs after the music has stopped, titled "Singing Bee."

NBC also plans to close the loop on last year's initiative, NBC 360, by creating an online universe for each of its shows. Viewers can log on to "The Office" and create their own branch of Dundler Mifflin, or use the Karma Cam at "My Name Is Earl" to confess their wrong doings. A video demonstrating all of the extended online content promised advertisers a showcase for online video that would offer "so many ad opportunities," all against a live online audience.

Despite all the talk about online video, there was very little information about the NBC-News Corp. joint venture unveiled with so much fanfare last month. Only a passing reference was made by Mr. Pilot to the plan as a "YouTube killer."

Oddly, the man that got the most enthusiastic response from the audience was Jerry Seinfeld, who was brought out to introduce a series of "minisodes" or "tinytainments" that are actually live-action comic shorts promoting his project with DreamWorks, the animated "Bee Movie." The 20 shorts were billed as the comic's return to prime time, even though, as one media buyer noted afterward, it is actually just an opportunity to place ads up against what are, in effect, ads for a movie.

But the audience was genuinely pleased to see Mr. Seinfeld, perhaps because he reminded them of what now seems a simpler time.

'It was UsTube, baby'
"Can you believe I'm here? Ten years ago, exactly 10 years ago, was the last time I walked out to announce we were coming back, that 'Seinfeld' was coming back for its ninth year," he told attendees. "Anyone here who was there? Anyone remember me? I had the No. 1 show. We were the No. 1 network. Those were fun times. There was no YouTube, it was UsTube, baby. America watched what we put on the air or lived with consequences."

The other two major events NBC is selling this year is its year-old franchise "Sunday Night Football," which has added MSNBC's Keith Olbermann and former New York Giant running back Tiki Barber as hosts.

And coming this summer, expressed as 8.8.08 on screen, the Beijing Summer Olympics, which will take advantage of every platform available, from broadband streaming video and mobile phones to cable and prime time on NBC. After much negotiation, Dick Ebersol, chairman, NBC Universal Sports and Olympics, has managed to get the IOC to rearrange its events so that the most popular, swimming and gymnastics, will take place in the morning in China so that they can air live in prime time here. "We will air 2,400 hours of Olympic games over 17 days," Mr. Ebersol said. "The Beatles had eight days a week, we've got six days of coverage for every day."

Now all NBC needs to do is sell it all.
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