ABC Upfront: Jimmy Kimmel’s One-Liners Kill, Awkward Dancing Abounds

ABC Upfronts 2015 2016
Heidi Gutman/ABC
ABC Upfronts 2015 2016

In the 10 years since losing Monday Night Football (and the massive promotional platform the NFL provides), ABC has steered into the skid; under entertainment president Paul Lee, the network concentrated on drawing in women and families and, as of last season, pushing on-screen diversity.

The strategy has served them so well that the first three nights of their week have gone virtually untouched, scheduling-wise, and they’re greeting the 2015-16 season with a mix of “stability and ambition,” as Lee put it Tuesday afternoon at ABC’s upfront presentation at Lincoln Center.

Of course, ABC did technically finish the season in third place in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographic. Lee tried to lay claim to the No. 1 spot anyway, because if you discount sports and only stick to “entertainment” programming, ABC was totally No. 1. (At least he had the presence of mind to make a joke about the selective stats: “There are lots of creative and clever ways to say you’re number one. ‘We’re number one between 9 and 9:30 among adults age 32 named Jeremy.”)

But ABC doesn’t care as much about numbers. It cares about branding: “Smart, emotional, inclusive.” It cares about connection: “The passion of our storytellers and fans defines us.” That doesn’t always translate to ad dollars, so the brass spent a good chunk of time touting the riches of its viewers (“most upscale audience”). And if all else fails, at least they’ve got Shonda Rhimes. “My contract states I have to announce a new Shondaland show every year,” Lee deadpanned.

Jimmy Kimmel: Upfront Slayer

ABC has trotted out Jimmy Kimmel for the last 13 upfront presentations. There’s a reason for this: The guy kills it every time. This year’s set started with a genius upfront spin on Jimmy Kimmel Live‘s “Lie Witness News” segment—asking a passerby, “Have you missed American Idol since Fox canceled it in 2012?” and getting a flat “No” in response; a German tourist expressed enthusiasm when asked, “Are you looking forward to CBS’ new reality show The Amazing Master Race?”—and then rolled gleefully on from there. No mere recap could do justice to the zingers that flew so hard, so fast. Here are the best ones:

  • “Quick recap: As far I understand it, a grown man with a degree from Oxford University stood on this stage and told you he was excited about The Muppets.”
  • “I talked to Bob Iger, and with The Avengers and Star Wars, we don’t need money from you this year.”
  • On NBC and ABC’s mutually exclusive “We’re #1!” claims: “One of them is lying to you, and I’m here to tell you: It’s us.” … [Brian Williams] was suspended for basically doing what we’re doing to you right now.”
  • “NBC is bringing back Coach. I’m glad because I lie awake staring at my ceiling, wondering what Coach’s been up to the last 18 years.”
  • On NBC Entertainment chair Bob Greenblatt’s performance of “And I Will Always Love You” with Dolly Parton at the NBC upfront: “Dear Bob, we’re glad Dolly Parton will always love you, because after what you made us sit through yesterday, no one else will. Signed, Everyone.”
  • On NBC’s Dolly Parton TV movies: “Really making a strong play for that urban demographic.”
  • “We’re doing very, very well since we started to acknowledge minorities exist. Except for The Bachelor: We’re gonna keep that one white.”
  • “We’re so diverse that when CBS drives by us, they lock their car doors.”
  • “CBS is now going after young viewers, and how do you get young viewers? Three words: Marcia. Gay. Harden.”
  • Without American Idol, “We would never have known that Steven Tyler is actually a bunch of scarves tied around a boner.”
  • “ABC has two hashtags: #TGIT, Thank God It’s Thursday; and #OFITROTW, Oh F— It’s the Rest of the Week.”
  • “Back when there were three networks, we could put anything on the air. Now we have to compete with nipples and dragons.”
  • “At ABC, we don’t recycle ideas. We work tirelessly to bring you terrible new ideas.”
  • To soften up the AdBros even more, he brought out 10-month-old daughter Jane. “I think she’s pooping. We can sell that to them, they buy that sort of thing.”

The Catch Pitches a Hit

Shondaland does it again. Mireille Enos’ The Catch caused a great conflagration at Lincoln Center with its sizzle reel (not that we expected anything different.) FBI thriller Quantico, “Oh look, more murdered women” drama Wicked City, mystery The Family, and Bible-based Of Kings and Prophets (apparently King David was the “original rock star” according to Lee) did not set anything aflame, but the incredibly soapy Oil certainly did. Either there were a large group of very excited producers in the audience, or Madison Avenue loves it some ABC suds.

Perhaps most surprising was the tepid response for The Muppets, a reaction perhaps stemming from years of low ratings for mockumentary-style comedies that were not Modern Family. The Real O’Neals didn’t fare much better. No, it was Ken Jeong’s multicam Dr. Ken that got huge laughs—there was applause even before the clip rolled—and midseason comedy Uncle Buck got a similarly enthusiastic reaction.

This Is How We Do It [If By “It” You Mean “Awkward Dancing”]

Given that ABC’s motto this year was “#HowTo,” it wasn’t necessarily inappropriate to bring out Montell Jordan to do an ABC-modified version of “This Is How We Do It.” Subbing in lines like “ABC does it like nobody does” and bringing out all your talent to dance onstage while the attendees awkwardly file out doesn’t make it appropriate, though.