Yesterday, discussing the strong possibility that CBS’s Viva Laughlin will crash and burn after its fall debut, this column referred to that network’s Cold Case as a “macho procedural drama.” Michelle Elwood of Skillman, N.J., has written in to correct the record, offering that Cold Case is “the girliest (and lefty-est) of all the procedurals, with no techno-beat lab scenes but plenty of flashbacks to times of oppression and stories of tragic lost love.” The column regrets the error. Further, the column blames it on the fact that most powerful thing about Upfronts Week, despite the overriding emphasis on new shows, is the way that the individual programs blur into a mass and hypnotize attendees with each network’s brand identity.
The CW, for instance, is fresh and female—the only network whose numbers are up with young women—and so much more. It’s hip and wired and experimental. (Yesterday, execs announced both a commercial-free celebrity-and-style show called CW Now and a plan for five-second ads.) It’s proudly multicultural and casually eco-conscious. It’s kinda slutty. The Thursday-morning pitch kicked off with a performance by the oily fembots of Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll, soon to be tramping around for a second season. I don’t want to underrate the entertainment value of leggy dancers dressed up like skanks, but the Pussycat Dolls are a bit much to take at 11 a.m. “I wanna hear all my girls sing,” the lead singer, Nicole Scherzinger, called to the audience in the middle of “Don’t Cha.” But none of her girls sang. “C’mon, CW!”
Nicole introduced Dawn Ostroff, the CW’s president of entertainment, as “an honorary doll,” and she was flattered. Ostroff, the shrewdest presenter of the five network entertainment chiefs, is warm and brisk and engaging—easily a better speaker than Hillary Clinton. It was charming to hear her outline Kevin Smith’s Reaper, an hour-long action comedy that gets in on the supernatural trend: “Before he was born, Sam’s parents begrudgingly sold his soul to Satan.” It was even better when she cracked up while stating the title of a forthcoming The Bachelor-meets-Green Acres reality show, Farmer Wants a Wife.
In unveiling Gossip Girl, based on the series of trashy young-adult novels, Ostroff was selling a hormonal soap (The O.C. meets Cruel Intentions) and, with it, a whole multiplatform strategy. Digital this, MySpace that, text-messaging all of Times Square, ad infinitum. The show’s Web site will feature a virtual reality where one can attend to the care and feeding of an avatar. “This is your chance to live on the Upper East Side.” Without approval from a co-op board? Rad school! Other notable debuts include Aliens in America (Freaks and Geeks meets Little Mosque on the Prairie), and Crowned, a mother-daughter pageant competition destined to rake it in hand over fist. Best moment of the clip: “Welcome, ladies, to your first de-sashing ceremony. …”
The Fox thing started at 4 p.m. at the New York City Center with Peter Ligouri, perhaps the smoothest of the five presidents, incarnating the most appealing element of the Fox aesthetic—its lack of pretension. He sold Canterbury’s Law—a legal drama with Juliana Margulies—by telling an unshowy story about taking her to an Italian dinner. He bragged about the Mets. Even his jargon was agreeable: The reality show Nashville (Laguna Beach meets Music Row) will be part of a Friday-night block of “aspirational unscripted shows,” along with an Idol successor. Said Liguori, “We should probably do another competition called The Search for a Shorter Title for The Search for the Next Great American Band.” He got the thing over with fast. On one level, this was a necessity; last year’s presentation started late and never ended. On the other, it didn’t matter—as the Wall Street Journal reported at the time, the notorious awfulness of the Fox upfront made no difference to the bottom line.
About 4,000 of us, it seemed, walked into Central Park for an after-party at Wollman Rink—an insanely lavish affair that nonetheless must be a rounding error on Rupert Murdoch’s personal T&E budget. I went partying with some guys from the Farrelly brothers’ new Rules for Starting Over—another show about four guys and their dating lives, but in Boston this time, and with an orangutan. A 20-foot-tall balloon depicting Brian from Family Guy stood sentinel at the entrance.
I ran into some Gilmore Girls fans upset that the CW had not given the show a dignified series finale. One fan, asked if he was excited about the new Fox show from Gilmore auteur Amy Sherman-Palladino, said, “I was until I saw the clips.” Allegedly a comedy, The Return of Jezebel James stars Parker Posey as a book editor with a fertility problem and the redhead from Six Feet Under as her kid sister/surrogate womb.
I asked Ligouri himself whether—given the widely accepted idea that the upfront market itself is growing obsolete—parties like this would have to disappear. Maybe, he said, “but we’ll be pretty grey before that happens.” I chose to ignore the fact that Ligouri is salt-and-pepper, handsomely so.
Trying to leave at a reasonable hour, I was detained by a friend who turned me around so we could discuss whether gins-and-tonic is the correct plural. We fell in with some junior ad people who’d spent the whole week entertaining a client from out of town. They hadn’t seen her in a little while and had just started trying—amid discussing the evident shabbiness of Fox’s Terminator adaptation, The Sarah Connor Chronicles—to get her on the phone. I excused myself.
In the men’s room, two women in wrap dresses were waiting for the stall. The guy at the urinal adjacent to mine struck up a conversation by mentioning the terrible trouble he was having with his zipper. Leaving, I was spotted by a guy wearing a buttery-tan suit similar to mine. “Dude, you’re fucking my shit up,” he said in all chummy good humor. “You go over there, and I’ll go over here.”
I went over there, where the concern about the lost client had elevated to Code Orange. It had been a couple hours since they’d seen her. It was her second trip to New York. Despite the distraction, the ad kids made subtle arguments about the long-term viability of Back to You, a Fox comedy starring Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton as feuding news anchors. “What happens when those two start wanting $2 million an episode?”
A disco band played to a heaving dance floor. Was that the Pussycat Dolls I heard? The ad kids forecasted the impact of the DVR, yelled genially about the problems of monetizing Web video, hoped it was brilliant of NBC to move Friday Night Lights to Friday night. I definitely nattered on about next season’s tough-girl trend—something for everyone from Mary Wollstonecraft to Russ Meyer!—and exactly how wicked awesome the full Bionic Woman pilot had been. We made a community bonded by television and everything it sells, from dreams to Vitajex. When they finally got in touch with their client, she was back at the hotel, in bed alone, watching Grey’s Anatomy.