Upfronts! TV’s Annual Party Brings Stars and TV Affiliates to New York

NBC played a snippet of the Friends theme song during the video preamble to their “upfront” presentation to advertisers on

NBC played a snippet of the Friends theme song during the video preamble to their “upfront” presentation to advertisers on Monday, and one could imagine that the network missed the good old days. Robert Greenblatt, NBC’s newly installed chairman of Entertainment, said during his opening speech: “In the past, nobody did it better than NBC. Today is the start of the road to recovery.”

One person who’s unconcerned about time-shifting-viewing programs online or on DVR, deflating those programs’ rating–is Ted Harbert, the (also new) chair of NBC Broadcasting. The Transom caught him as he ran from the afterparty into the meeting of NBC affiliates. “It’s basic–put something good on-like the ten o’clock dramas. There can’t be three good dramas a night, but there is one now. The audience is there. No one says, I’m only watching time-shifted. They do it because nothing else is on. So if something better is on, they’ll watch it.” NBC’s strategy–at least in terms of its self-presentation–is to focus on better programming, while others, like Fox, touted their tech-savvy and ability to monetize online broadcasting.

One of NBC’s soi-disant better programs may be The Playboy Club, a drama for which Mr. Greenblatt seemed almost apologetic, noting that “the word ‘Playboy’ might evoke something off-limits,” but telling advertisers to expect “a lot of cross-promotional opportunities with one of the most recognizable brands in the world.” The bunny-actresses exited the afterparty in a long and dazzling line, exchanging cheek kisses with Mr. Greenblatt before slipping into bunion-appeasing ballet flats. Other actors in attendance included the stars of returning series Community and Chuck, who gamely posed for pictures with fans in designated areas. “TV’s where it’s at right now!,” said Anjelica Huston, star of the January 2012 series Smash, on why she’s moving to TV. She couldn’t name her favorite television show.

Perhaps it’s better to have a little time away. 30 Rock‘s Jack McBrayer, who gamely posed for photos at the “after-party” with fans and his costar Tina Fey as well as Jerry Seinfeld (they were more easily able to attract the photographers’ attention than Bent star Jeffrey Tambor, who had to shout down a photographer), was looking forward to “some time in the sunshine! It will be a different thing for the shooting schedule–” he dropped into a stage whisper “–but I’m looking forward to an extended break!”

Fox’s after-party was more heavily attended than NBC’s-while NBC’s had been populated with the network’s megastars in order to dazzle the attendees (there is more of an onus to dazzle if one is NBC), Fox’s was largely Fox-affiliate owners and advertisers eating burgers. (ABC, surprisingly or not given the network’s travails, did not host a party at all.) The talk of the evening was the upcoming X Factor, the talent reality show Simon Cowell is to launch in the fall with Paula Abdul. Talent competitions are resurgent on TV right now-NBC’s The Voice is the season’s only breakout hit, and a sorely needed one (the network trotted out judges Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green to perform at their upfront). The network also announced that–in 2013–bro-cartoon auteur Seth MacFarlane is to remake The Flintstones for Fox. Fox’s head of programming, Kevin Reilly, had boasted it had been kept a secret. “Nikki [Finke] got the scoop on that, like, an hour before the presentation, but no one noticed it, because everyone was here,” said one TV journalist over a burger.

On a rainy Thursday, The Observer sought to continue our upfronts adventures and trotted to Carnegie Hall at the appointed time to pick up the CBS ticket that had been reserved for us, only to discover that the publicist’s purported “press check-in table” did not exist or had disappeared before we were told to arrive. We waited, in the rain, as well-dressed Midwestern affiliates and young ad exec types huddled under umbrellas. A fellow young journalist, from Good Housekeeping, commiserated with us in a green room we found to get out of the rain. “We’re not trying to break news, we just want to see what’s out there,” the writer said. Julie Chen, the TV host, walked through the green room quickly; she’d set off the first flurry of activity among the paparazzi photographers outside. At the upfronts, at least, TV still can draw a crowd.

ddaddario@observer.com :: @DPD_ Upfronts! TV’s Annual Party Brings Stars and TV Affiliates to New York