On Thursday, the USA Network, touting itself as “the No. 1 network on cable for six years running,” joined the growing pool of cable channels hawking their goods to advertisers in mid-May. (Many cable networks unveil their plans in March or April—and this year Hulu, Yahoo, and other digital types joined their ranks.) The USA Network joined the pool with a kind of cannonball dive, in fact. The network arranged for fans to cause a fuss outside of Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hull as actors and advertisers streamed into the week’s final upfront, and it encouraged the audience to pregame the presentation, serving up cocktails before the show.
On the one hand, this bit of hospitality perhaps caused audiences to feel all the more warmly about a pair of earnest reality series: The Moment, where people realize such deferred dreams as conducting symphony orchestras and racing Formula One cars, and The Choir, adapted from the BBC, where citizens of a downtrodden Pennsylvania town lift their voices and, thus, their hearts. On the other hand, well, the other hand had a blueberry mojito in it—and once an ad buyer had polished that off, it may have become more difficult to differentiate among the male actors. A lot of the nondistinct hunks enforcing the law on USA blur together as it is, and my gut reaction to the forthcoming Graceland—about FBI, DEA, and customs agents sharing a beachfront bachelor pad—was to marvel that its leads didn’t already have shows.
USA’s most riveting offering was a two-minute trailer for Political Animals, a six-episode miniseries premiering in July. Sigourney Weaver plays an ex-first lady turned presidential candidate turned secretary of state. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely intentional. All of the nation’s laziest op-ed columnists will be feasting on the program throughout late summer. As such, it would be good manners for them to take up a collection and send creator Greg Berlanti a sumptuous fruit basket posthaste.
At the end of the presentation, Erykah Badu materialized on stage in a silvery robe suggesting a dressing gown sewn for Sun Ra. She performed three songs, then everyone spilled out into the lobby to find something less disgusting than a blueberry mojito to drink.
Upfronts week was over, and we were still lacking for a proper trend. Last year, the advent of Whitney, 2 Broke Girls, New Girl, The Playboy Club, and Pan Am occasioned much brooding and cooing about feminism and femininity. This year we have a bunch of new sitcoms, some of which even look not-unpromising. We have, happily, no new talent competitions chewing up airspace. Forced to stretch, I will observe that we have two new shows, Revolution and Arrow, prominently involving archery, and that, with NBC airing archery among its jillion hours of Olympics coverage (“television’s ultimate unscripted drama”), many arrows will follow those of Katniss and Hawkeye in piercing the cultural air. Buy goggles now.
We had entered the week with Wall Street analysts predicting that broadcasters would achieve only modest increases in their rates, and we left it with modest expectations for keeping ourselves entertained. We had witnessed clips from all those comedies, but we had laughed hardest at Jimmy Kimmel’s stand-up routine at ABC, with its traditional mockery of the whole ritual. “We have no idea what people want to see. If we did, we wouldn’t have an upfront. We’d just put the shows on the air and you’d just mail us a check.”