NBC Introduces Its Fall Lineup

May 15, 2001, 12:00 AM EDT

NBC's upfront presentationRadio City Music Hall;After-partyRockefeller PlazaMonday, 05.14.01, 4 PM onward
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It was a sales presentation packed with stars, but in the end it was still a sales presentation. Kicking off a week of upfront events—the promotional gigs where television networks present their fall season to advertisers and journalists—NBC's event clocked in at more than two hours, a tiring length, even when packed with appearances by network stars Kelsey Grammer, Martin Sheen and the whole Today gang.

The Saturday Night Live band played a jazzy set as guests entered Radio City Music Hall, where NBC constructed a set with a large screen that stretched the length of the stage. Then the presentation began with a series of clips of old commercials, including Mikey trying Life cereal, the California Raisins dancing in white gloves and the Coca-Cola kids teaching the world to sing. (The net was buttering up an ad crowd, remember.)

Next NBC vice president of sales and marketing Keith Turner welcomed everyone, and presented a well-edited set of clips of past NBC shows and stars—Johnny Carson, Bob Hope, Howdy Doody, Seinfeld, Golden Girls—all with patriotic music swelling in the background, plus some scripted remarks from Kelsey Grammer and Jesse L. Martin about the importance of television. It was all a blunt, but effective way to get the audience thinking about the time they've spent in front of the TV. (We did notice, however, that there were no clips from The Weber Show or Third Rock from the Sun, two NBC shows that got cut from the lineup.)

After NBC West Coast president Scott Sassa made a speech consisting largely of the phrase “We're number one in...” (followed by just about every television measurement), new NBC Entertainment president (and former Today executive producer) Jeff Zucker introduced the actual lineup, going through each night of the week, showing charts and clips and introducing cast members from many of the programs. Zucker's claim that the network is sticking to what it knows is successful was shown by the long snippets from the network's six new programs, including Scrubs (like ER as comedy) Emeril (the Food Network's Emeril Live as comedy) and Law & Order: Criminal Intent (Law & Order as, well, more Law & Order).

Zucker also added some stunts infused with his quirky touch. One highlight: A round of The Weakest Link where the show's host, Anne Robinson, grilled NBC execs Zucker, Sassa and Marianne Gambelli, and Saturday Night Live's Darrell Hammond doing his Bill Clinton shtick. (A sample: “What was the biggest bomb ever dropped?” “The XFL.")

The funniest moments came from two stars from NBC's funniest show, Will & Grace. Eric McCormack and Sean Hayes presented suggestions for making the network more gay, including changing Meet the Press to Press the Meat. Unfortunately, their fun appearance came late in the show. By the time they arrived (during the presentation of the Thursday night lineup), the event was already dragging, and there were still three more nights to get through.

The big finale included bringing the casts of most of the network's shows to the stage, including The West Wing, Ed and all three Law & Order series, (but no one from Friends or Just Shoot Me, and just one from ER) lined up across the stage.

Chad Kaydo

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