Upfront Report: Fox

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It’s a very good thing FOX (FOXA) has hit shows.

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Because the network’s upfront presentation–held at sweltering temperature, deafening volume and interminable length in the Armory Thursday afternoon–was an unqualified dud. It started with network president Peter Liguori promising everyone he’d “keep in short” and ended two and a half hours later, with a third of the audience having ducked out early, to the achy groans of those who remained.

In between, Fox, which ranks first among 18-49 year olds and therefore shouldn’t have much to say, revealed a schedule with six new shows and 16 returning. The two men in charge of Fox Sports spent 20 agonizing minutes joking about how one couldn’t pronounce the word “Tostitos.” Kiefer Sutherland expressed his wish to buy everyone in the room a drink. Brad Garrett joked about institutionalizing Paula Abdul and sodomizing Ryan Seacrest. Seacrest, live via satellite from Los Angeles, asked the female American Idol finalist if she had slept with anyone on the show. And at the dawn of Hour Three, Simon Cowell, worth every penny of his $36 million annual salary, finally acknowledged the stultification under way.

“Let me sum this up for you Peter,” Cowell said from the stage. “This is the most bored-looking audience I’ve ever seen in my life.”

The audience erupted in applause.

Asked at the after-party how he thought he’d fared, an extremely tan, extremely tall Liguori talked about all the “energy” emanating from the stage. “They laughed at the comedies,” he said, “they clapped for the dramas.”

And they left for the finale. The presentation was a half-hour away from over, but as American Idol winner Carrie Underwood took the stage to sing a droopy country ballad, ad execs began to tiptoe out. By the time Liguori launched into an analysis of Fox’s Wednesday night lineup, hundreds were outside, braving a downpour, climbing into buses and hailing cabs.

Meanwhile, inside the Armory, Liguori was concluding the last presentation of Upfront Week with an easy prophecy. After thanking everyone for coming, he said the day had been a thrill so far, “and it’s only going to get more and more exciting from here.”

–Rebecca Dana

Upfront Report: Fox