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upfronts 2010

Reviewing the CW Upfront Presentation: Katy Perry Avoids Catastrophe

At 11 a.m. this morning, Katy Perry got onstage at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, and on behalf of the CW, began belting out "Hot N' Cold" to a room of adults who have had a long week. As one might expect, these be-suited grown-ups appeared unmoved by "you change your mind/like a girl changes clothes," staying seated, immobile while Perry, in sequined sunglasses and a palm-tree emblazoned dress, ran around like it was at least 4 in the afternoon. After the first verse, Perry, who apparently does not enjoy performing for zombies, exhorted the crowd, "Is it too early for you to stand on your feet and have some fucking fun?" By some miracle, it was not. Slowly, the audience seemingly came to the unanimous conclusion that it would like to do the CW a solid and rescue this particular performance from remaining a lame, cringe-inducing spectacle. The entire auditorium took to its feet, where it proceeded to stay, barely moving, for the duration of the song. Who knew the CW had engendered this much good will? Jaded, sleepy adults don't stand up for Katy Perry for just anyone.

After this turning point, the CW upfront moved right along. Perry is some kind of professional, and after performing the miracle of the standing media buyers, she did a little banter with Auto-Tune; performed her new single "California Gurls," the CW's summer marketing song (boosting the track's chances of becoming the song of summer by executive order); and introduced a CW exec as "the fine, the fresh, the sexy." She earned her money.

Dawn Ostroff, CW's president of entertainment, took to the stage, saying the CW is "the cool place to be," in the least cool way imaginable, and unveiled the networks new ad pitch: "The CW is more than TV. The CW is TV for Generation D." (D stands for digital.) Ostroff then talked about the CW's strengths, an exercise that inevitably results in humorous spin, like, "We're the most targeted and efficient buy on network TV," (meaning: only young women watch us), and "we have more Twitter followers that any other broadcast network."

Ostroff then got to the new shows, of which there are few. Nikita stars Maggie Q as a rogue CIA operative out to take down the division that turned her into an assassin and killed her boyfriend. It's like the first seasons of Alias with more bikinis and less banter, and a cool lipstick that can blow up cars. The crowd sort of clapped at it.

Then Ostroff asked "What do Ruth Bader Ginsberg, George W. Bush, and Cameron Diaz have in common?" They were all cheerleaders! And played the extremely long promo for HellCats, or Bring It On: The College Years, or, This is Not the Sue Sylvester Show. The crowd claps a little more.

Then comes the trailer for the reality show Plain Jane, the real-life version of She's All That, in which a mousy-looking girl gets dating advice and a makeover so she can muster up the courage to tell her friend she wants to be more than friends, and then they can kiss by the pool. The audience laughs at parts, and seems to dig it — sure it's a formula, but one that works (at least in teen movies).

At this point, the substance of the show is done, but Ostroff goes through the schedule anyway, trotting out various, pretty CW actors to deliver banter ranging from the extremely mediocre to the professional. Chace Crawford, AnnaLyne McCord, the casts of The Vampire Diaries and HellCats, Tom Welling, and others come out, do a little patter, and head backstage. The only person to make an impression is Maggie Q, who does a lively, partly improvised bit — "You have no idea how good looking it is back there. I had to push the A-cups up a little. We exist." — that is a lot more charming than the Nikita trailer. Finally, Ostroff tells the audience, "In just four seasons, we’ve created a vibrant brand," even though the legacy of the WB is so strong with this network, four is a really generous estimate. She welcomes Katy Perry and all the pretty people back onstage. Over and out.