The TV industry is unveiling its coming season to advertisers in Manhattan this week at a series of events known as the upfronts. Three New York Times media reporters — John Koblin, Edmund Lee and Michael M. Grynbaum — assess the Disney presentation at David Geffen Hall on Tuesday.
JOHN: The Walt Disney Company just put on its first oversize upfront — welcoming the newly acquired Fox properties like FX and National Geographic to the fold, which already included ABC, ESPN and Freeform. It only took about two and a half hours to get through it all.
MICHAEL: At the end, Jimmy Kimmel threatened to extend the thing another 90 minutes because “Bob just bought more networks” — a shrewd and funny reference to the Disney chief Bob Iger’s recent shopping spree.
EDMUND: Disney executives thought Kimmel killed it.
JOHN: He did indeed. His material also came at around the two-hour mark, so we needed it. More on Kimmel in a minute, but let’s talk about a theme of the week: stability. Yesterday NBC claimed to have the schedule that had changed the least. Fox proudly said it had only a few slots to fill outside of sports, and CBS always lays claim to the “stable” tagline. ABC picked up only three new shows for the fall. Karey Burke, ABC’s entertainment head, said something interesting about this. She said debuting too many shows at this moment of Peak TV is a disservice to new programs and — here’s the key point — “networks just don’t have the marketing budgets to launch those shows properly.”
EDMUND: It was another way of saying you can’t just greenlight a bunch of shows and expect people to watch them, even if they’re good. Arguably, that’s been Netflix’s playbook. Streaming seemed very much on the minds of TV executives this week.
JOHN: Let’s consider this. It’s upfront week, and yet it feels like we’ve been through this already. Apple had a veritable upfront in Cupertino in late March. Hulu (now completely controlled by Disney) put on its own presentation a few weeks ago at Madison Square Garden. And Disney’s other streaming service, Disney Plus, scheduled to start in November, held an event on its lot in Burbank last month.
EDMUND: Both Hulu and Disney Plus are now run by the Disney executive Kevin Mayer, who opened tonight’s upfront — that was a surprise. He has been talked about as a potential successor to Iger, and at the after-party, he looked like he was on a receiving line, with executives practically lined up to congratulate him.
JOHN: He also had a large role at the Burbank event.
MICHAEL: ABC broke from NBC and Fox by featuring brand executives boasting about product placement on their shows. Given Donald Glover’s creative cred with “Atlanta,” which is now part of Disney, I was surprised to learn that his ordering a Miller High Life in one episode was just marketing.
EDMUND: Maybe the ads are getting … smarter?
JOHN: The broadcast networks’ presentations have had their share of celebrities (Kardashians, Tina Fey, Justin Timberlake), but just how much are they overshadowed at this point?
EDMUND: I’d argue Hulu had the biggest names so far. Margot Robbie, Reese Witherspoon and George Clooney showed up for the Hulu event.
JOHN: The networks are concerned. One thing the Fox Entertainment head Charlie Collier conceded to me last week: “We will be out-P.R.’d by the sexy new platforms.” But he made the argument that when companies need to move a product or change perceptions, they do it by advertising on a broadcast network. True?
EDMUND: I think he’s right. The N.F.L. still relies on the broadcasters to show its biggest games because they still generate the largest real-time audiences. It’s also where advertisers go for big awareness campaigns. Netflix is great, but I have to rely on watch guides and blogs, even Twitter, to find what I want there.
JOHN: Let’s consider some of the new shows we saw today. ABC has a “black-ish” spinoff called “mixed-ish,” a prequel story about Tracee Ellis Ross’s character, Rainbow Johnson, growing up in the 1980s. If “Young Sheldon” worked for CBS as a Sheldon Cooper spinoff from “The Big Bang Theory” …
MICHAEL: How about Chris Rock starring in the next season of “Fargo”! Even Rock looked a little confused, and he only appeared in a prerecorded interview.
EDMUND: The new Cobie Smulders vehicle, “Stumptown,” looked pretty good. She plays a private investigator with a gambling problem. Sold. And “mixed-ish” is the third show Kenya Barris is doing for Disney.
JOHN: Lest we be reminded, Ed: Netflix signed him to a lucrative contract after he got into a disagreement with ABC over its handling of a “black-ish” episode. And speaking of Netflix, Jimmy Kimmel was referring to the departed executive Channing Dungey, who decamped for Netflix, when he said, “I can’t believe Channing left us for Netflix. Who does she think she is, our viewers?”
EDMUND: And she wasn’t the only one. Shonda Rhimes, who created the sturdy ABC hit “Grey’s Anatomy,” left for Netflix, too. And Kimmel said: “Channing leaving us to work at Netflix was — to borrow a Yiddish term — such a Shonda.”
JOHN: O.K., one more. When talking about NBC, Kimmel said: “They have ‘This Is Us,’ which was so popular it was renewed for three years. Or as Constance Wu would call it: a death sentence.” Jimmy Kimmel won the upfronts.