This is a world of slumming millionaires and poopy-mouth parents, of horny fat people and murderous bitches, of val-gal assassins and plane-crash survivors trying to get back home. (No, not those plane-crash survivors! A whole new batch.) This is the world of the 2010-11 television season, and we got a beguiling, amusing and perhaps slightly horrifying peek at it last week.
Every May, broadcast TV bosses gather in New York to ply potential advertisers with copious quantities of free food and liquor and a tantalizing — or, sometimes, not — glimpse at the fall schedule in a weird mixture of bacchanal, commerce and shamanism known as the upfronts.
Upfronts are the most glorious time of the television year, since none of the new series has yet bombed or undergone gazillion-dollar production delays while their stars try to escape jail or rehab. Every show looks heart-poundingly dramatic or head-bangingly funny or soul-shatteringly sentimental in the tightly edited preview reels provided by the networks.
Well, almost every show. At Fox’s upfront, the crowd was noticeably unparoxysmic with laughter over “Running Wilde,” the network’s prize new comedy. “It seemed strangely, you know, unfunny,” one perplexed attendee said. Fox programming chief Kevin Reilly, who a couple hours earlier had called “Running Wilde” “the coup of the year,” suddenly began mixing his vodka with Maalox.
Other moments of hilarity, bravado, idiocy and gastrointestinal distress from the upfronts:
—HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN
Television is all about art, except when it’s about money, which is ... well, always. Last year’s upfront had all the vivacity of a “CSI” morgue, because nobody was buying advertising. But last week, things were on the upswing, give or take a 300-point drop in the Dow.
“We may not be entirely out of the woods, but advertisers seem to be feeling pretty confident that there’s a rebound here,” said Joe Uva, Univision’s chief executive officer. “We’re expecting a pretty robust upfront — sales up possibly 20 percent.”
The best indication of a healthy economy was the willingness of the networks to abuse their advertisers. “I know you have money this year, by the way, so don’t try to act poor,” late-night host Jimmy Kimmel warned the audience as he introduced ABC’s presentation.
NBC actually seemed to be inciting its advertisers to kill one another, with the “Sunday Night Football” crew’s touching off mayhem in the Hilton ballroom by tossing autographed NFL balls into the crowd. Though Alec Baldwin, in the guise of the sleazy network exe he plays on “30 Rock,” saluted the genius of advertisers: “Who else could convince Americans to get insurance advice from a bleeping duck?”
But don’t worry, the networks haven’t lost track of the unemployed or economically battered. There’s something for you guys, too. NBC’s new sitcom “Outsourced” is a merry tale of a company that fires all its employees and replaces them with low-paid substitutes in New Delhi.
—A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME WOULD SMELL, UMMM, NEVER MIND
The most fascinating new offering — at least to linguists, scatologists and Luddite prophets of the destruction of Western civilization by the Internet — is a CBS show based on a Twitter feed of salacious insults from a choleric old man.
In CBS press releases, the show’s name is written “$#! My Dad Says”; on the air, it will be said as “Bleep My Dad Says.” The actual Twitter feed from which it’s drawn substitutes a word associated with intestinal byproduct for the “$#!”
Any way you spell it, the show is likely to be CBS’ most memorable moment since Janet Jackson’s nipple ran amok during the Super Bowl. Here’s a typical message from the Twitter feed: “You seen my cellphone? ... What’s it look like? Like two horses bleeping. It’s a phone, son. It looks like a phone.”
—THAT’S WHY THEY CALL IT THE BOOB TUBE
Maggie Q, the martial-arts star of the new CW series “Nikita,” was lost in awe as she entered the stage of the network’s presentation at Madison Square Garden. “I don’t think any of you understand how good-looking it is backstage,” she told the audience. “It’s really intimidating. I had to push the A-cups up a little bit.”
“Nikita” is about a teenage CIA assassin — or, as CW programming boss Dawn Ostroff called her, “an empowered woman.” Over the years, Ostroff has also used “empowered woman” to refer to the vindictive rich teenagers of “Gossip Girl,” the conniving wannabes of “America’s Next Top Model” and the hoochie dancers of “Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll.” By next year’s upfronts, surely, she will be announcing “The Manson Girls: Feminist Fables For Our Times.”
—GREAT MOMENTS IN MARKETING
NBC’s promo for “Law & Order: Los Angeles” featured footage of Rodney King’s beating by police officers, followed by the tagline: “Should be a riot.”
—GREAT MOMENTS IN JOURNALISM
After The Hollywood Reporter’s James Hibberd sneaked into a rehearsal of NBC’s presentation — his reportorial excellence enabled him to file a scoop, that one of the NBC bosses planned to make a joke about getting frequent-guest points for holding their upfront at the Hilton — the network banned him.
And when Telemundo revealed that it’s planning a Spanish-language version of “Grey’s Anatomy” titled “A Corazon Abierto” (An Open Heart), reporters feverishly demanded to know how you say “McDreamy” in Spanish. Telemundo executive Peter Blacker, ever mindful of the First Amendment, promptly replied, “El Guapaton.” That probably translates closer to something like, “The Hottie,” but whatever.
—HOW MUCH WILL ABC MISS ‘LOST’?
ABC screened so many clips of “Lost” at its presentation that it looked like a new show rather than one that was leaving the air Sunday after six seasons. But don’t worry: The network has a new drama, “No Ordinary Family,” about a clan trying to find its way home after surviving a plane crash. This one’s in a jungle, not on a desert island. So, it’s like totally different.
—HEALTH-CARE REFORM AT LAST
All four of the new medical dramas from last season — NBC’s “Mercy” and “Trauma” and CBS’ “Three Rivers” and “Miami Medical” — were canceled. The only new slice-and-dice showcase is ABC’s “Off the Map,” in which half-naked doctors and nurses paw at one another in a South American jungle hospital. It’s produced by Shonda Rhimes and should not be confused with her other ABC shows, “Grey’s Anatomy” (in which half-naked doctors and nurses paw at one another in a Seattle hospital) or “Private Practice” (in which half-naked doctors and nurses paw at one another in a Los Angeles hospital).
On the other hand, it was a good upfront for lawyers and murderesses. (Note: These are separate categories.) There are flashy Vegas lawyers (CBS, “The Defenders”), eccentric storefront lawyers (NBC, “Harry’s Law”), renegade populist lawyers (NBC, “Outlaw”), steely criminal-justice lawyers (NBC, “Law & Order: Los Angeles”) and real-human-being lawyers who chum around together when not kicking the crap out of one another in court (ABC, “The Whole Truth”).
If you find this trend dismaying, do not under any circumstances turn on a TV at 10 p.m. on Wednesdays, when “The Whole Truth,” “The Defenders” and “L&O: Los Angeles” are all in session. But even jaded lovers of lawyer jokes (Q: How can you tell if a lawyer is well hung? A: You can’t get a finger between the rope and his neck!) will be glad to know that there’s adequate legal representation available if all the homidical women on Spanish-language TV need to cross over. The heroine of Telemundo’s “La Reina del Sur” (The Queen of the South) is a vicious narcotrafficker, of Univision’s “Cuna de Lobos” (Cradle of Wolves) a corporate wife who becomes a corporate boss after turning her husband into compost. Or, as The CW would say, she empowered herself.