The worst possible thing that could happen at a network upfront event actually occurred this morning for TBS and TNT... and it turned out to be the best possible thing that could've happened. In front a packed house of advertisers, media buyers, network executives and journalists, the meticulously choreographed presentation ground to a screeching halt not once, not twice, not thrice, but four times due to technical difficulties that prevented the giant video screens from displaying picture. But what could've been a devastating embarrassment for the networks resulted in a series of live, unrehearsed performances that had more electricity than any of the sitcoms previewed by NBC, Fox and ABC earlier this week.
Unfortunately, before we could get there, we had to sit through the requisite clip package scored to Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" (the unofficial song of 2011 upfronts), Turner sales and research executives rambling about "CPM's" and "receptivity" and "contextual sponsorships" and, worst of all, TBS godhead Conan O'Brien delivering a series of lifeless jokes aimed at the people who pay his enormous salary ("I'm very happy to report that we're already number one in TBS' key demographic: people who can't afford HBO") and, of course, NBC ("I had a great time hanging out backstage with Noah Wyle, Angie Harmon, Eric McCormack, and Jason Lee -- we're having our monthly survivors of NBC meeting").
But then things got interesting. A clip poking fun at TBS & TNT head of programming Michael Wright failed to play, and then a few minutes later, the preview for TBS' new comedy The Wedding Band also couldn't be run, prompting an agonizing stretch of dead time that was finally punctuated by the day's big comedy find: Steve Koonin, president of Turner Entertainment Networks. "I'm going to attempt to do something no TV executive has ever done and that's talk without a teleprompter," he said, before peppering the crowd with endearing schtick ("We had a power surge, it blew something... I'm Jewish, so I have no clue what happened") that had the crowd applauding thunderously by the time he left the stage. Wedding Band's promo then finally rolled, the cast came out and then... the video broke again.
This time it was up to Ray Romano, who was backstage with the rest of the Men of a Certain Age, to come out and deliver an impromptu stand-up routine that ranged from observational humor about married sex at home to married sex while on vacation, with a Cialis joke or two sprinkled in. It wasn't exactly Louis CK quality, but under the circumstances, it was much appreciated. Less appreciated were the clips from Lopez Tonight that followed, which ran without a hitch (natch), though George Lopez himself provided a few lowbrow zingers in person, including topical riffs about Schwarzenegger's love child ("Some people say Maria Shriver didn't know, that she's acting surprised - hey, it's wonderful that somebody in that family can act") and Dominique Strauss-Kahn's arrest ("If your housekeeper at your hotel does a nice job, leave some money on the night stand - don't leave semen").
The final on-stage appearance that stood out was by Kyra Sedgwick, who choked up with teary emotion as she talked about the final upcoming season of The Closer that was a surprising and welcome contrast to the usual awkwardness of forcing actors to come out and engage in painful, scripted chit-chat. It almost made me feel sorry for rooting against her at the Emmys. Almost.
As for actual television programs that were previewed at this upfront, we got to see footage from three of the new series and a presentation about the fourth. Considering that TNT is bringing back Southland for a miraculous fourth season, it's hard to complain too much about anything the network does, though I can certainly try. Not sure if TBS has earned any similar good will, though at least they didn't force me to watch anything related to Tyler Perry today.
Upcoming on TBS
The Wedding Band (summer, 2012)
This is a single-camera, hour-long comedy about a bunch of grown-up dudes with day jobs who live out their musical dreams by performing Seattle's second-best wedding band. In theory, this should be completely clichéd, but the trailer made it look more amiable than it had any right to be and the cast has a certain appeal. It includes the Notorious B.A.G. (a.k.a. Brian Austin Green), Waaaaalllllttttt! (a.k.a. Harold Perrineau from Lost) and Jan from The Office (a.k.a. Melora Hardin). A laugh track would've killed it; as it is, it might be worth a look and listen.
Upcoming on TNT
Falling Skies (Premieres June 19, 9 PM)
You've probably already seen clips from this a million times on TV or in movie theaters, so you already know it's about the aftermath of an alien invasion, it's executive-produced by Steven Spielberg, it stars Noah Wyle and the production values look awesome. The trailer alone is better than the combined three seasons of V and The Event, and the notion of combining sci-fi action with a serious look at how a civilization can rebuild itself is tailor-made for TV's serial nature. We'll find out if the show lives up to the promotion soon enough. And if nothing else, I always welcome any opportunity to type the name Moon Bloodgood, not to mention watch the person associated with it.
Franklin & Bash (Premieres June 1, 9 PM)
Another series that has been previewed to death, this legal drama looks like a David E. Kelley knock-off with slightly less preachiness and plenty more bromance. Or wait, am I confusing this with the recently cancelled The Defenders? Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Breckin Meyer play a couple of "street lawyers" (a term that seems to only exist on TV) who are lured by Malcolm McDowell to a big corporate law firm. Both of the stars are likable personalities, but everything about this reeks of been there, seen that.
Perception (sometime in 2012)
Like Castle and The Mentalist, this series belongs to the subgenre of police procedurals that feature a law enforcement agency that, improbably, can't solve crimes without the constant help of a quirky outsider with a specific talent. In this variation on that theme, Eric McCormack plays a neuroscientist and professor who is recruited by a former student (played by Rachael Leigh Cook, no longer all that) to help the government. The trailer didn't make his abilities totally clear, but they seem to involve being able to see patterns and clues where others don't. He also hallucinates people that he has conversations with in front of confused people. It looked worth checking out, though my interest cool off faster than Patrick Jane's cups of tea.
Major Crimes (summer or fall, 2012)
This spinoff of The Closer stars the great (except on Grey's) Mary McDonnell in her pre-established role as Captain Raydor. I'm not sure that viewers will warm to Raydor in the spotlight in the same way they cottoned to Brenda Leigh Johnson, but then again, I wouldn't have predicted Sedgwick's show lasting seven seasons, either.
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