upfronts 2010

Reviewing the Fox Upfront Presentation: We Have Glee, So We Win

It’s really not fair: The other networks just can’t bring out the cast of Glee to smile and sing whenever things get boring, now can they? The power of Glee is such that, even with Fox’s presentation at the Beacon Theater clocking in at an hour and a half (despite Fox having half as many shows to present as NBC) and the deployment of PowerPoint, the whole affair had a much looser, more confident vibe than the Peacock’s. Obviously, less is at stake for Fox, the No. 1 network, but, man, if it didn’t play like it picked up some really strong shows — and knew it. And, then, there was always Glee, to smooth over any missteps.

The Glee card was played within seconds, when a video montage of the Fox shows quickly segued into an immensely awkward parade of stars. Every important cast member of every show in the Fox stable was hustled out onstage and then summarily hustled off, given about three seconds to smile, wave, and curtsy before having to make way for the next set of actors. The Glee cast was introduced first and the House cast last, a Cliff’s Notes to Fox’s current pride of place. Hugh Laurie stayed onstage and used his British accent to offer a heartfelt appreciation to advertisers, who clapped a lot when he thanked them, because there’s no applause like the applause you reserve for yourself.

Laurie then introduced Fox’s president of sales, John Nesvig, a.k.a. the Human Snooze Machine. There were bar graphs and PowerPoint and … zzzzzz. Nesvig introduced Peter Rice, Fox’s chairman of entertainment, who delivered a less detailed version of Nesvig’s speech, and just when you thought you couldn’t be more sleepy, Glee to the rescue! Jane Lynch, as Sue Sylvester, appeared to introduce and roast entertainment president Kevin Reilly, getting in quips like, “That Irishman is as soft as butter. And quite the lady,” and “Look at his hair. The last time I saw something that sweet and sticky, it came with a coffee and had jelly in it.” The crowd opened their eyes, rubbed out the sleep, and laughed.

Reilly, realizing he had to keep the momentum going, talked about the Glee phenomenon, introduced a video montage of Glee’s greatest moments set to “Don’t Stop Believing”; YouTube versions of Glee songs, the Glee kids on Oprah, at the White House, at the Grammy’s, and, then, never-before-seen footage from upcoming episodes — including the upcoming rendition of “Bad Romance,” complete with amazing, outlandish, Gaga-esque costumes.

Having supplied the audience with its Glee fix, Reilly got to Fox’s other shows, proving to be a much more comfortable and affable host than NBC’s Jeff Gaspin. First up was the buddy-cop show Good Guys, in which Colin Hanks and Bradley Whitford try to break down doors to the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.” Tagline: “Whitford: Hanks: Mustache. Kick some badge.” Looks fun, and it better be, since Fox has committed to it for the summer and the fall.

Up next was the trailer for Lonestar, starring the very hunky James Wolk as a con man in Texas, with a wife and a girlfriend and a father-in-law named Jon Voight. It looks complicated and beautifully shot — and very much the kind of show that the guy who found and championed Friday Night Lights at NBC, Reilly, would be all about. Whether a national audience will be game to watch a bigamist remains to be seen. The audience, at least, seemed open to it, though not as open to it as it was to Fox’s other new drama, Ride Along. This cop series set in Chicago, from The Shield’s Shawn Ryan, stars Jennifer Beals as the chief of police doing some crazy sort of Chicago accent. Still, gritty, cool-looking, and Reilly had to interrupt the applause to get on to the next show.

Of Fox’s four sitcoms, two went over like gangbusters. Keeping Hope, the comedy from My Name Is Earl’s Greg Garcia, about a guy raising his daughter with the help of his family (“It’s going to take a village … idiot.”) mixed funny — the baby’s name is originally Princess Beyoncé — with sweet — Martha Plimpton singing to her, wait for it, granddaughter. (Feel old! We insist!). The mid-season show Mixed Signals, about three men and their relationships, was even more warmly received, getting the most laughs of the presentation.

Now for the other two less popular comedies: One is an animated show called Bob’s Burgers, about which the less said the better. The other was … it’s painful to say. The other was Will Arnett and Keri Russell’s Wilde Kingdon. Of course, Arrested Development got funnier as it went on, so we hold out hope, but the goods on display were not good. Will Arnett plays a rich guy; Keri Russell is “the daughter of one of his father’s former housekeepers.” They knew each other when they were kids,and now have to know each other again, even though he’s a rich jerk and she’s trying to save tribes in the Amazon. There is a very tiny horse. It will get better. (Right? Right?!)

After all this, Reilly still found time to defend Idol (“It may be aging. It is down 9 percent — but most shows don’t even make it nine seasons. I hope I look this good when I age”) and to introduce Terra Nova, the Steven Spielberg–produced project about a family that goes back to prehistoric time to live with the dinosaurs. There’s no cast and no footage, so the audience was shown colorful pictures of dinos, while one of the producers was brave enough to utter the A-word: “We want to do this on the level of Avatar, honestly.”

And then, all done. Oh, wait! We have to bring out the Glee kids again! This time to do a live version of Madonna’s “Like a Prayer!” Was there something about that upfront that you didn’t like? Hold it, Lea Michele and Amber Riley are having a trill off! Were you feeling a little bored? Zomg, Chris Colfer just did an amazing falsetto! Do you have a vague memory of PowerPoint slides? How could you when there is a gospel choir! Just like a prayer! I’ll take you there! Woohoo! Glee! Fox! Best upfront ever!

Reviewing the Fox Upfront Presentation: We Have Glee, So We Win