Upfront 07

Buyers Lukewarm to NBC's Offerings

After-party: After a Disappointing Season, 'Optimistic but Cautious'

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Madison Avenue is generally cautious about delivering instant opinions at upfront after-parties, but ad buyers on the whole were receptive to, but not exactly bowled over by, NBC's new offerings for the fall following the network's 90-minute presentation at Radio City Music Hall yesterday afternoon.
Photo: Chris Haston

Media buyers gave new ad sales chief Michael Pilot positive reviews for his first upfront presentation at Radio City yesterday afternoon.

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Magna Global's exec-VP audience analysis, Steve Sternberg, late last night weighed in with a critical report. "This is the first presentation that we can recall where strength or desire for strength, among the adults aged 18-49, were not discussed."

'We need to be more better'
Indeed, NBC made no promises about returning to its former long-held No. 1 perch in that coveted audience demographic. NBC President-Entertainment Kevin Reilly at the earlier presentation instead declared, "We need to be more better," with regards to hopes about the new schedule. NBC Universal's new ad sales president, Michael Pilot, stressed NBC's groundbreaking heritage in TV advertising -- the network created the first commercial breaks. "We'll write the evolution together," he said of the next phase in NBC's history.

"My pledge to you," he said from the stage at Radio City, "we will make it easier to plan and buy media, using the measurability and accountability on metrics that matter to you."

"For a maiden voyage, I think Mike Pilot did well," said Irwin Gotlieb, CEO of Group M. "I think the content was more related to its core constituencies."

NBC is the first network to respond to calls from the ad community for upfront presentations less geared toward general press marketing and more toward the specific needs of advertisers that have, in the past, sat through three-hour marathons of dancing, video clips and ratings power-point presentations at the broadcast networks with barely a mention of how marketers might fit in.

No obvious program bloopers
In terms of picking the next hit show, it's anyone's guess, though no one called out any obvious bloopers. John Moore, senior VP-director of ideas at Mullen, said: "I think 'Journeyman' could be an 'Ugly Betty' [ABC's hit sitcom]. It's going to work or be a catastrophe." The show stars actor Kevin McKidd from HBO's "Rome." Mr. Moore noted the absence of any high drama attached any particular show this year. "Look at 'Studio 60' and think of all the pomp and circumstance of a year ago. There is just no formula for a hit show." The network has canceled the hour-long drama.

Campbell Mithun senior VP-director of media negotiations, John Rash, suggested that "Journeyman" on Mondays at 10pm would be a good match for "Heroes," in the 9pm slot. He also noted that this was the first upfront where no new sitcom made the schedule, a signal of NBC's confidence in its Thursday comedy line-up.

One executive, who wished to remain nameless, said it was risky for NBC, with so many gaps in its schedule, to introduce so few new shows. Though this executive praised the network's strategy of sticking with existing shows that have won a decent fan base and need time to grow, programs such as "30 Rock" and "Friday Night Lights."

Lisa Kowitt, senior-VP director of advertising and media at Wachovia, predicted that "Lipstick Jungle," based on the book by "Sex and the City" writer Candace Bushnell, would generate a lot of buzz.

Praise for 'Heroes' spin-off
NBC, which is spinning off a new series from "Heroes," called "Origins," won praise from Todd Adest, an account executive with stations group TV program buyer Millennium Sales and Marketing. "Personally, I liked the 'Heroes' spin-off." Commenting on strategy, he added: "Kevin Reilly was realistic about the ratings achievement. They are optimistic but cautious." Mr. Adest also liked "Chuck," which he described as being a cross between a sci-fi show and the "40 Year Old Virgin," with elements of ABC's "Lost" thrown in.

NBC, which had been accused of going overboard with its digital offerings during last year's upfront, weaved in the online ad opportunities a little more specifically this season. Bill Cella, vice chairman of DraftFCB, said: "They did a good job and were very succinct. They were very coordinated with the online stuff."

Meanwhile much of the after-party talk centered on whether the new streamlined NBC upfront had lost some of its energy and excitement. Did we miss the testosterone-charged presentations of yesteryear when Donald Trump and Jeff Zucker, now NBC Universal president-CEO, sparred for title of most overconfident executive in history? Yes. Did we miss the B.S.? No.
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