Commentary

Upfront Critique: Fox

  • by , Featured Contributor, May 20, 2009
If you were walking around Midtown Manhattan Monday and saw huge balloons on nearly every street corner - and a couple of dozen cheerleaders on 55th Street - don't worry. It wasn't a revival of "Up With People" (or as we used to like to say here, "Up Yours, People"). Fox has joined the "Glee Club." You may be seeing something about that in an everywhere near you, soon.

The 2009 upfront season is upon us. This year, in a major shift in upfront protocols, Fox actually kicked the week off. In response, several liquor manufacturers have asked for a federal bailout.

The beginning of the afternoon was quite sedate, especially by Fox standards. This critic was quickly ushered up a set of stairs, then across a lobby, then up more stairs - many more stairs. I haven't seen that many stairs without the elevator option since a friend got a great deal on a walk-up on the 1,751st floor sometime after college. At least Fox didn't require their attendees to help carry their fold-out couches up while we were there with the promise of beer afterwards. The beer was a given, since this was Fox, after all.

After a night at base camp somewhere on landing No. 8, I bravely made my way up to the summit. There, I was politely told that the usher back on Earth neglected to mention that I should stop at the Mezzanine. So I descended back down, secure in the knowledge that I somehow was important enough to enjoy richer oxygen levels.

As I reached the Mezzanine, it became apparent that the usual advantage to a seat there is protection from the rain. At a Fox upfront, I felt secure in the knowledge that this would probably, at best, afford me some protection from Kiefer.

Okay, after they've weeded out the rest of the Fox stars (and you had to feel a little bad that there was so little applause love shown to the poor kids due to be overexposed in "Glee") - there he was, Mr. Twenty-Four, smiling and happy, then threatening to meet us at the bar. But also threatening that time might soon be running out on this franchise. I don't know, what do you think: "I don't know how many more times I'll have the opportunity." And then getting misty over the family that they've built there - they've had 15 children on the show. Smart money has Fox developing a reality show for next summer pitting Angelina Jolie against Madonna for adoption rights ("When Celebrities Adopt").

Happy Kiefer leads into Fox sales chief Jon Nesvig who explains why broadcast is better than cable. That's what happens when you go first, Fox, you have to set the stage for your side. Take one for the team, if you will. Having him borrow from their NASCAR deal by having him wear all the broadcast networks' logos on his fireproof jumpsuit might've been over the top, though. But he was briefly on stage with Kiefer, so better safe than sorry.

Nitpick: "Fringe" is the No. 1 new show in C3 ratings. Perhaps the abbreviated pods of "remote-free TV" may have had something to do with that, Jon? They're only going to use that "strategically" next season, although it was a "worthwhile experiment," so it remains to be seen if that C3 success holds with more ad inventory.

Fox's brand new (yet Fox veteran) Peter - Peter Rice - comes out on stage next and drops in a "21 Jump Street" callback. He neglects to mention that Johnny Depp hasn't returned his calls, but did send a nice basket of muffins (although they had been sent to Paula Abdul originally, who in turn, dumped it into his convertible in the Fox lot. She then denied that she even knew how to drive, so it couldn't be her.)

New/old Peter manages to make the point that as many people see "American Idol" on a given Tuesday airing than went to see the movie "Iron Man," then follows that up with the equivalent of "Harry Potter" on Wednesday. Is he foreshadowing "American Idol: The Movie"? Or is he just trying to show the power of immediate reach on "Idol?"

Sadly, Kevin Reilly drop-kicks him off the stage before we get a chance to find out. Mr. Reilly, New York Giants fan. Michael Strahan - former New York Giant, current Fox football analyst, Fall 2009 sitcom star. Mike gets his own ensemble family show this fall (yes, he plays a former football player...), airing Fridays, followed by interminable "Til Death" at 8:30 followed by the far-fetched return of "Dollhouse" for another season.

Some fan. Mike hasn't had this weak of a line around him since he was an NFL rookie, not a Fox rookie.

But the biggest programming notes from this presentation: lining up the schedule to be Idol-esque throughout the year with "So You Think You Can Dance" joining the fall on Tuesday and Wednesday, "Fringe" moving to brutal 9 pm Thursday, and Seth McFarland stalking "The Simpsons" on Sunday, aiming to truly dominate animation on the night like a young slugger telling the perennial all-star that "it's time to go, Pops."

"Glee" will get most of the critical buzz for the network for the next "can't miss" hit, although it has as much potential to be the next "Freaks and Geeks" as it does being the broadcast version of "High School Musical". "Fame" fans should be excited, but by now they're outside of Fox's demo. It should be interesting to see if America will be excited about a scripted "American Idol" dramedy.

Come midseason, the plucky hope offered by the kids of "Glee" will give way to the plucky dysfunction of the "Sons of Tucson" and the plucky "Fringe" meets "Ghost Whisperer" vibe of "Past Lives" and the plucky "Third Time's the Charm" for a Mark Valley-fronted hit with the testosteroney "Human Target."

But that's all there is for now. Time to marvel at the tourists marveling at the cheerleaders outside of the City Center Theater - all cheering for and with "Glee." Too bad that they probably all watch the CW.

Oh, by the way, note to Fox: love the black leather couches.

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