I Have Seen the Legs of Eliza Dushku

Checking in with the TV industry at the Fox upfronts.

“Yo yo yo yo yo!” “Hey, Tom!” “Good to see ya, Richie.” “How are you, Jen?” “Another year …”

Like swallows come back to Capistrano or tooth doctors convened at the ADA annual session, the ladies and gentlemen of the advertising industry have made their yearly pilgrimage to the network upfronts, there to buy commercial time in advance of the fall TV season. I saw an item in the news the other day hinting that the economy has slowed down a tad, and this situation seems to have repercussions for the TV industry as well. Last year, $9.2 billion in business was done at the upfronts. This year, before hocking their crystal balls, analysts saw numbers like $7.4 billion and $6.7 billion spiraling out of the mist. What might this mean for the tone of the upfronts? Fewer stars flown in from the coast? Less bonhomie in the ad buyers’ backslaps? Popov replacing Stoli at the after-parties?

At Fox’s Monday presentation, the downturn seemed to mean very little. Almost all of the 2,750 seats at the New York City Center were filled with butts clad in boring suit pants and bright wrap dresses. Fox—by far the healthiest network—seemed to have flown in all its talent except for Hugh Laurie, who is exempt from this sort of thing, and the alleged criminals of Cops, whom it would have been fun to see cuffed into a chain-gang kick line. In recompense, we were permitted to gaze upon Eliza Dushku’s legs—sort of an inverted V-for-victory signaling that Dollhouse, the best new show of this season, would be back.

The execs euphemized the recession as “the crazy year we’ve had” and behaved as if new media and cable TV, where ads are cheaper, were the primary threat to the national economy. Have any average Americans put down their double-cheeseburgers long enough to click open this article? Well, you folks watch one hour of commercials per day, and Fox claims that network TV is the most cost-efficient means for advertisers to separate your household from the $46,242 coming in this year. Herewith, a look at some of the new stuff that will be separating the commercial breaks.

  • When the musical comedy Glee airs tonight, its audience will be treated to a thoroughly charming preview of a show beginning its proper run four months hence. Engineered from the recombinant DNA of Fame, High School Musical, The Breakfast Club, Freaks and Geeks, and the most exhilarating karaoke session you’ve had, the show concerns the glee club of an Ohio high school. My lone complaint concerns a hilariously specious claim made by Kevin Reilly, Fox’s president of entertainment. If I can believe my notes, he called this evening’s pilot “the world’s biggest grassroots screening,” a curious claim to make about a show preceded on the lineup by American Idol.
  • Brothers is a back-to-the-nest family sitcom starring retired NFL star Michael Strahan as a retired NFL star. In the two-minute preview, Strahan projected great warmth. Still, I would rather see Michael Vick in a Lassieremake.
  • The smart money—a good percentage of the mentally challenged money, for that matter—is on Past Life to become the first to fail. A drama about investigations that help souls tormented by untidy deaths in early incarnations, it resembled a cross between The Ghost Whisperer and a recovered-memory therapy session: “You have to confront the memories if you want them to stop. Wah wah wah.” When the show is canceled, it will be reincarnated as a crappy sitcom.
  • Human Target concerns a bodyguard-for-hire who’s as dashing as Bond and as crafty as MacGyver, and I eagerly anticipate watching stuff blow up therein. Some of the ad guys, swaggering the half mile from the presentation to the Fox party at Central Park’s Wollman Rink, predicted that this kind of old-school action show would be the hot trend going forward.

Your correspondent milled around the party just long enough to ascertain that the recession hadn’t impacted Fox’s sushi bar or its stock of Bombay Sapphire. The only buzz kills were atmospheric. A weekend of rain had left water seeping up such that the dance floor, with its Slip ‘n Slide aspect, could not be boogied upon. The whole tent smelled like the day-old odor of egg salad.