When Upfronts Took No Prisoners

The faded logo adorns a threadbare t-shirt then NBC Entertainment chief Brandon Tartikoff handed me during an interview I had with him in 1984, just after he unveiled some of the new shows he planned to put on the network's fall schedule. One of them, "The Cosby Show," would catapult NBC back into first place, and would usher in its "Must See TV" era.

It's one of several upfront artifacts I treasure from the glory days of prime-time network TV, when one big hit could change the fortunes of a network, as well as the upfront television marketplace.

That was only my third upfront, and I would go on to interview Tartikoff many times during his reign at the peacock network, but that was one of my two favorite moments as a trade reporter.

Another came nearly a decade later, after Tartikoff had left NBC and was an independent producer pitching new shows at the TV industry's annual NATPE conference, which to me was always part of the prelude to the upfronts.

The funny part about that meeting is that Tartikoff was pitching me. Or, I should say, my team, at a new advertiser-backed studio that my then boss Jack Myers had created.

Half-way through his pitch, Tartikoff must've made the connection that I was trade journalist, pointed to me in that "what are you doing here" way.

I raised my hands and shrugged my shoulders in that "beats me" way.

That was the last time I saw Tartikoff, but the memory has not faded nearly as much as the decades old t-shirt has.

I've got lots of upfront memories like that, including the time I was sitting with some big ad execs in the balcony of Carnegie Hall when Jonny Carson announced to the world that he was stepping down as host of "The Tonight Show."

I always preferred sitting in the balconies of Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, or Avery Fisher Hall so I could see how the audience in front of me reacted to what was going on on-stage, but one year, when I arrived a little late for the start of CBS' upfront at Carnegie Hall, I started to make my way into a lounge showing a closed-circuit feed of its upfront presentation when long-time CBS marketing exec Anne O'Grady spotted me.

"Come with me," she insisted, turning me over to an usher and telling him, "This many is very important, please make sure he gets a seat during the next break."

As I stood their in the back of the dark concert hall, then CBS sales chief Joe Joe Abruzzese joined me in the queue.

Abruzzese had just stepped down from doing the upfront's introductory remarks on stage and was waiting to be seated himself, but the usher took me first, and sat me in an empty seat in the front row next to the rest of the NBC brass.

I had no idea where Abruzzese got seated, but I figured it was somewhere behind me and I dared not look backwards.

It was the one and only time I sat in the orchestra of a network upfront presentation.

There are lots of little moments I think about, like the time Fox accidentally ejected one of the most powerful media buyers on Madison Avenue -- Irwin Gotlieb -- from an especially confusing upfront the network held in Central Park.

Or the time after a CBS presentation when I went up to another big media buyer and asked him what he thought of the presentation, which included a new prime-time show called "The Nanny."

"I could see right up Fran Drescher's dress," he said, making me wonder what other ad execs and media buyers were really thinking during all those upfront pitches.

1 comment about "When Upfronts Took No Prisoners".
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  1. Andrew Ettinger from Mediacom, May 12, 2023 at 9:01 a.m.

    By taking the shirt, you took No Prisoners.

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