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May 18, 2010

ABC upfront review: Hey, we had 'Lost'!


If you didn't know any better going into ABC's upfront presentation, you'd think the network's big new drama next season was the one that's airing its series finale on Sunday. 

There were clips of "Lost." Executives praising "Lost." A "Lost" retrospective. And Matthew Fox coming out on stage.

By comparison, Fox is losing an iconic signature drama this year too, one that's also been popular with advertisers (granted, it's not nearly as highly rated nowadays), yet "24" received but a passing mention during Fox's upfront presentation. Fox was focused on statistics from the past and shows from the future -- the ones they can sell.

ABC had a very strong presentation last year capped by showing the entire "Modern Family" pilot. Though some of ABC's trailers this year received a positive response from advertisers, the overall presentation seemed less impactful. Much of the executive speeches were familiar-sounding and upfront generic, not hugely specific to ABC or this year's crop of shows.

At the top of the event, there was a heavy emphasis on digital platforms, which NBC and Fox have largely avoided this year. The upfronts theme until today has been "TV is back," while ABC's was more "the iPad is here." Clips from the famed integration of iPad with "Modern Family" were used, but that stunt caused such a hubbub in the press I'm unsure if it's a proud example.

Entertainment president Steve McPherson, described by ABC TV Group president Anne Sweeney as "passionate and fearless," took the stage. Behind him, a large schedule was displayed of the network's returning shows and open spaces. One by one, McPherson introduced new shows as they filled the gaps. "Look at all the holes," said the colleague sitting next to me, which tells you the problem with graphically presenting a schedule this way.  

McPherson said the network's three goals were to build more comedy, "attack 10 p.m." and create Event TV. But again, CBS and ABC could say the same thing, and Fox could say two out of three (it doesn't program 10 p.m.).

Jimmy Kimmel came out and did his monologue. He killed, he always does. (Kimmel transcript here.)

The trailers: First the good news. I was surprised when "Better Together" landed in the comedy block this fall instead of "Mr. Sunshine," but the trailer changed all that. Advertisers seemed to really like this trailer, the most laughter I've seen yet to a comedy so far this week.

On the drama side, "No Ordinary Family" has a familiar story, but it feels like there's a lot of potential there. Some of the clips showed star Michael Chiklis in character addressing the viewer directly, however, and I hope that's not part of the show's final cut. Especially given its Friday night time period, "Body of Proof" was better than I expected, with Dana Delany compelling in the lead. "Detroit 1-8-7" (hyphens ... why'd it have to be hyphens) looks like the big cop drama it's supposed to be, though I didn't get a firm handle on its quality. The tropics-set "Off the Map" had characters who were sweaty. "Whole Truth" felt melodramatic. "My Generation" is not my kind of show, for better or worse (most shows aren't).

More than the trailers, the crowd seemed to most appreciate the cast of "Modern Family" coming on stage. It's a show they love -- and they can still buy it.



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