NBC Upfront: Dolly Parton Steals the Spotlight From Mixed Bag of New Shows

2015 NBC Upfront
Paul Drinkwater/NBC
2015 NBC Upfront

It’s generally not a good thing when the only freshman drama a network brings back is something like the over-49-skewing Mysteries of Laura. That didn’t stop NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt from doing a victory lap Monday morning at Radio City Music Hall during the network’s Upfront—that spectacle of ratings charts and sizzle reels meant to sell hundreds of once and future advertisers on new shows and fall schedules. Technically, yes, NBC did “win” the season in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographic (“We did get a ratings assist from the Super Bowl,” Greenblatt acknowledged) so it wasn’t entirely undeserved. Here, our roundup of the rest of the spin, banter, and reactions from the NBC presentation.

The Takeaway: Did You Know the Olympics Are Coming?

The smooth, stabilizing influence of Dick Wolf will continue with all three Chicago: Occupation shows; the other new dramas are in similar veins as The Blacklist. Rather than continuing to throw everything they can against the comedy wall, they’ll hedge a little more (“eventize”) with live comedy, but appears to be holding back its best material for midseason—an example of shifting scheduling priorities.

Perhaps most telling about NBC’s future were the numerous reminders that the 2016 Olympics are “only” 15 months away, and the references to shows as “Premium Video Content” by sales head Linda Yaccarino. (You could almost hear the hashtags in front of each word.) Broadcast is something Greenblatt said they’re still “bullish” about, and he has a point: broadcast networks are still the most prolific producers of content. (They just need to find a better way to pay for it.)

The Reactions: When Both Comedy and Drama Draw Laughs

Reactions to the clips shown for new series aren’t necessarily indicative of a show’s future success. The audience is generally comprised of media buyers and clients, who aren’t exactly John Q. That said, these are the people subsidizing your viewing experience, and their feelings about shows do play a role in how much they’re willing to fork over.

By far the most positive were for Chicago Med, which looks like an easy triple play for NBC, and international crime-mystery Blindspot. And every single midseason comedy—Crowded; Hot and Bothered; Superstore; You, Me and the End of the World—drew huge laughs and quite a lot of after-presentation chatter.

The losers here would appear to be Heroes Reborn, which, despite a pulse-pounding trailer, drew only lukewarm applause (even medical drama Heartbreaker, which drew laughs during what was supposed to be an inspiring moment, managed to elicit a few whoops), and midseason dramas Game of Silence and Shades of Blue were met with polite clapping. In Shades of Blue‘s defense, the show hasn’t begun shooting yet, so the only clip they had was star/executive producer Jennifer Lopez and costar Ray Liotta talking about how morality comes in shades. But when media buyers are laughing at your introduction to your gritty crime drama, that’s not the best sign.

The Best Bits: The Talent Hits the Right Notes

NBC’s biggest star right now is arguably Jimmy Fallon, and late night’s chocolate lab made a brief appearance. “He is now, in many ways, the face of NBC,” said Greenblatt, just before the Face of NBC good-naturedly jabbed him with a “We’re all gonna miss you, buddy. You had a good run,” and followed up with a light knock about the short life of the network’s last pickups: “Five new episodes a week, about the same as a season of an NBC show.” (The real snark from a late night host named Jimmy will come later this week at the ABC presentation, where Kimmel can get vicious.)

Greenblatt smartly saved Neil Patrick Harris for last, as his variety show, Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris, is one of the most advertiser-friendly series of the last few years, at least. (“Don’t just watch the ads—win the ads!” was NPH’s pitch.) To illustrate what the amorphous-sounding Best Time Ever will look like, NPH and the NBC sales team engaged in a bit of post-hoc punking on one of the media buyers in the audience, disguising various middle-aged sales execs as hipsters serving the buyer at a lunch with Yaccarino.

But the real gem at Radio City was, appropriately enough, Dolly Parton. Yes, Dolly Damn Parton came out in a bejeweled dress (“It’s a peacock!” she explained) to lend her legendary charm to the promotion of a series of TV movies based on her songs that NBC will start rolling out next season, beginning with Coat of Many Colors. And after some patter that fell more on the “heartfelt” side of the spectrum, as opposed to the “painfully cynical and awkward” side, she did indeed strap on a similarly bejeweled guitar to serenade the audience with “Coat of Many Colors,” with a lovely little “Anyway, I’m Dolly” as a self-introduction.

The Musical Performances: Never Enough Dolly

“Coat of Many Colors” got a partial standing ovation, but the crowd promptly lost their minds when Greenblatt offered to accompany Miss Parton on the piano for Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” which, if you need reminding, Parton wrote, and which she nailed in her own way. Further backstory for this moment: Dolly Parton goes up to Greenblatt’s house for dinner, and they usually end up drinking and singing at Greenblatt’s piano in his living room. If anyone can get the AdBros to open their wallets, it’s an enchantress like Dolly, so her exhortation to “Get that money out!” might just have been the best play NBC could’ve made this morning.