From the moment an animated “Ted” opened the NBCUniversal upfront, voiced by Seth MacFarlane prior to the writers strike, it was clear this was going to be an abbreviated event. For starters, until a week ago, this was still going to be Linda Yaccarino’s Radio City Music Hall show. But with Yaccarino off running Twitter (“Ted” making a crack about the crazies now at Twitter earned the biggest inadvertent laugh of the morning), it was up to Mark Marshall, NBCU interim chairman, global advertising & partnerships, to make the pitch to advertisers.
“In all of our conversations leading up today, regardless of client or category, there has been one constant…this is going to be a very important year for your businesses,” Marshall said, counting 32 pharma launches, 60 auto releases (including 46 electric vehicles) and over 100 movie releases (“which puts us back to pre-pandemic levels”) this year. “We know this is a competitive year. And here at NBCUniversal, we are built for these moments.”
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But it was also a most unusual upfront for what wasn’t present: Acting talent. Normally an NBCU upfront would feature segments with late night hosts Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers, or bits from “Saturday Night Live” castmembers. Of course, with the writers strike ongoing, and pickets outside the venue, that wasn’t going to happen.
“We are grateful for the contribution writers make to our company and respect their right to demonstrate,” NBCUniversal Television and Streaming chairman Mark Lazarus said to the audience at the start of the upfront. “It may take some time, but I know we will eventually get through this, and the result will be a stronger foundation on which we can all move forward together.”
So instead, NBCU put a heavier emphasis on news. With no actors to introduce segments, it was up to news anchors like Stephanie Ruhle and Andrew Ross Sorkin to promote the company’s scripted offerings. NBCU News Group also got to highlight the NBC News Now streaming service, MSNBC’s Jen Psaki and Alex Wagner, Telemundo’s news operations, CNBC, “Today” and more.
Announcing NBCU’s plans for the 50th anniversary of “Saturday Night Live,” NBC News’ Willie Geist quipped, “If you squint a little bit, I could be Colin Jost.” (He’s actually not wrong.)
New NBC series “The Irrational,” “Extended Family” and “Found” were all touted (along with shows from other NBCU outlets, like Peacock’s “Based on a True Story”), but the network itself was almost an afterthought: Like last year, there was no mention of schedule or strategy. The biggest NBC news of the day was the addition of Reba McEntire to Season 24 of “The Voice” as a coach, alongside John Legend, Niall Horan and Gwen Stefani. To celebrate, McEntire performed on stage.
Getting more stage time than NBC was Bravo, which touted its upcoming “Bravocon” in Las Vegas, and also announced big “Bravolebrity” news for all the “Bravoholics.” (These are all real terms, really used on stage.)
As part of that, NBCU revealed that it has shifted its “The Real Housewives of New York: Legacy” series to an “Ultimate Girls Trip” format on Peacock, featuring former Housewives Kelly Killoren Bensimon, Luann de Lesseps, Dorinda Medley, Sonja Morgan, Ramona Singer and Kristen Taekman. They were in attendance, as were new “Real Housewives of New York” cast members Sai De Silva, Ubah Hassan, Erin Lichy, Jenna Lyons, Jessel Taank and Brynn Whitfield.
The NBCU upfront concluded with Nick Jonas — or as Marshall called him, “my favorite Jonas brother.”
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