The A Is for Affluent

Eight questions about the ABC upfront.

The new buddy sitcom Cavemen

1) Does ABC always talk to its clients like they’re children? If so, is that the secret of its success?

Near the beginning of the 4 p.m. presentation, having already established that Nielsen will shortly be providing commercial ratings—that is, quantifying the viewership of the actual ads—one ABC exec felt compelled to remind his clients that “commercial ratings are going to determine who you buy and how much you buy from them.” Elsewhere, Steve McPherson, ABC’s president of entertainment, formulated an idea along the following lines: Because we’ve been focusing on an affluent audience, we are focusing on an affluent audience. I will grant that it’s wholly possible that McPherson just wanted to say affluent one more time.

2) Is Caveman implicitly anti-creationist?

The most notable sitcom on tap is Caveman, adapted from the Geico Insurance commercials. Three caveman guys—heroic Joel, wise-assed Nick, and mellow Jamie—assimilate into American culture somewhere, according to the accents, south of Charlottesville and east of El Paso. Will they be accepted equals? Will they get into the country club? Would you want your daughter to marry one?

3) Jimmy Kimmel has a certain mastery of smugness. Is that why he loves to mock it elsewhere?

Jimmy Kimmel rose to fame on The Man Show, a late-night program devoted, if memory serves, to busty women jumping on trampolines. He is now ABC’s main man in late night and yesterday, doing a brief set, sounded like the conscience of the network, sneering at its failure to launch a decent sitcom, calling its upcoming broadcast of bingo—yes, B-14 and all that—perfect for “viewers who were put off by the complexity of Deal or No Deal.” Amidst all of the week’s assured sales pitches, it was refreshing to hear him update ancient showbiz wisdom at maximum volume. “We’re making it all up!” he cried. “Who the hell knows what works and what doesn’t?”

4) Fat March? Really?

If I’m reading this press release correctly, the reality show that ABC is most excited about is titled Oprah’s Big Give™ (The Apprentice meets philanthropy). Lesser offerings include The Next Best Thing (American Idol meets Rich Little) and Just for Laughs (Candid Camera meets a 2-liter Mountain Dew). Further, two weight-loss shows are lined up—Shaq’s Big Challenge (The Biggest Loser meets Kazaam) and Fat March (obesity meets exercise). The press audience, upon learning the title of the latter show, went bananas. As one colleague said, “No. No! NO! It’s called that?!” McPherson came back on stage: “I just want to thank Oprah publicly. … ” Hey, who wouldn’t?

5) The New Escapism. Discuss.

Yesterday, swooning as I was over the launch of Bionic Woman 2.0, I neglected to mention NBC’s Chuck, a potentially intriguing action show about a cute schlub who gets gigs of sensitive government information downloaded to his brain. Chuck is the beneficiary of a trend that, this past pilot season, had something for everyone from Mary Shelley to Philip K. Dick—zombies, occult figures, hellboys, time-travelers, comic-book superfreaks … NBC’s slant is sci-fi fantasy; CBS, the network most reliant on procedural crime shows, will offer a vampire detective; Fox is expected to debut a Terminator spinoff, which sounds noisy. ABC’s take on the genre is, to be kind about it, magical realist:

Pushing Daisies: A guy can touch dead things and bring them back to life; however, if he touches them twice, they die irretrievably. This complicates his romantic life.

Eli Stone: A guy starts hearing songs in his head—George Michael’s “Faith,” for instance—and the din reaches a point that, disconnected from reality, he finds himself believing he’s at a George Michael concert when in fact he’s in his office at a corporate law firm in San Francisco. Then, doing some kind of pro bono work against his better interests, he meets a hot chick with an autistic son. During a home visit, Eli sees that the kid has spelled “GEORGE MICHAEL” with his building blocks. But maybe Eli just has a brain tumor. This is for real.

6) Will Dan Rather be making his debut on a fictional show? Or do you have to count that National Guard thing?

Dirty Sexy Money kinda looks like a hip Falcon Crest. That’s a compliment. Six Feet Under’s Peter Krause plays the consigliore to a clan of horny plutocrats. In the pilot, the former CBS anchor will advise William Baldwin’s character to run for office.

7) Why do all of the following dramas concern cliques with four members? Is it that entertainment executives are used to thinking in quadrants?

Women’s Murder Club derives from the work of trash novelist James Patterson. (No relation, I hope.) “Four working women” solve homicides while not forgetting to talk about their feelings. Angie Harmon stars, and it’ll be interesting to see how they work around the fact that she’s not a good actress.

Cashmere Mafia concerns “four ambitious and sexy women,” friends from B-school, who have careers and sex lives and doubtlessly talk about them over dumb drinks served in martini glasses. Lucy Liu’s character is exactly the kind of person whom someone who attends an ABC upfront is likely to crush on. “Whoever closes the biggest ad buy stays!” Lucy Liu exhorted her boss in the shamelessly excerpted clip.

Big Shots is a chick show for boys, or at least about them—”the story of four … competitive but dysfunctional CEOs” who get together at the country club to complain about women. I believe someone has sex with his ex-wife in a wine cellar. (Its petit bourgeois iteration is Carpoolers, a sitcom set in the HOV lane: “[F]our guys from very different backgrounds relish their daily commute as they commiserate about their lives, jobs, and families.”)

I wasn’t alone in deciding that watching the previews of ABC’s dramas—with their sameness, their evidently cretinous gender politics, and their all-over air of self-congratulation—was somewhat soul-sucking.

8) Why is ABC’s after-party the hardest to get into?

Is this, too, about being “upscale”? I was not permitted near ABC’s cornucopia of shellfish and liquor, but, according to a reliable source, the party was awful: No one talked to anyone, and everyone had somewhere better to be. That said, the sushi and the filet mignon came highly recommended.