This week marked the end of Upfronts Week in New York. If you don’t know what Upfronts are – and it’s cool if you don’t, I only knew the term from Lisa Kudrow’s shortlived HBO show, The Comeback- it’s a yearly ritual where all the TV networks put on a show to pimp out their upcoming season to advertisers in New York. It’s purely an insider’s event: they fly their major stars, show runners and executives to the East Coast for a week long affair of boozing and schmoozing with the sponsors who bankroll them. For the masses not involved in either industries, this week is better known as the time when renewals and cancellations are announced.
I was lucky enough to get a press invite to the USA Upfronts presentation this year. It was my very first Upfronts, and it also happened to be the very last event this year. The USA Network is one of the few cable channels to do one, and certainly it’s the cable network with fanciest venue- this year’s was held at Alice Tully Hall of New York City’s Lincoln Centre, better known as the home of the New York Philharmonic. Of course that’s probably because, as repeated multiple times during the presentation, USA is currently the highest rated cable network in the US.
USA TV posters featured inside the Alice Tully Hall
Glitzier Upfronts typically include some kind of musical performance or comic routine. The USA Network had both: performances from Mark Ronson, the Dap-Kings and Erykah Badu, as well as a genuinely funny monologue by Bruce Campbell. The show itself is basically like a very, very awkward awards show, if you can imagine such a thing.
Erykah Badu (who replaced Jennifer Hudson last minute) killing it onstage after the presentation.
Two actors come on stage every few minutes to present a little video segment on a new show (Graceland! Political Animals!), or some warmhearted corporate slogan (USA doesn’t stand for hate!). Like an awards show, there is a lot of poorly scripted banter. Unlike an awards show, that is literally all there is. There are no genuine, unscripted moments, ever. The only laughs happened when the actors messed up reading the teleprompters. I have a degree in screenwriting and know people who went on to make big bucks writing award show banter, so I always feel bitter when I have to witness stuff like that which I could do better myself. But I digress.
Of course the Upfronts parties are where it’s at. The big networks hold theirs at fancy restaurants and steakhouses across New York. USA held theirs in the lobby of the theater where they put on their show. It was a bit crowded, but I couldn’t complain. There was booze and food, and it satisfied my ultimate event requirements: there were both a photobooth and swag. Okay, so their gift bag contained a T-Shirt and some postcards- but who doesn’t appreciate a free T-Shirt to sleep in? It’s the simple things that make me happy.
The crowds outside the Lincoln Center afterparty
Photobooths on the other hand are pretty much de riguer at happening events these days. I am known to haughtily complain on twitter if I am at an event and there isn’t one. USA did one better by hiring photographers with
polaroid cameras Fujifilm Instax cameras to mingle amongst the crowds, asking if anyone wanted a picture taken. My one complaint was that the photographers weren’t so much photographers as mildly competent models from a low level modeling agency. I had to ask one of them this because my photo with Matt Bomer came out with my face half cut off.
Which brings me to to the fact that I did something which I never, ever do, which is, I walked around and asked actors to pose for photos. Yes, like I was some tourist or something. As I might have mentioned before, I went to film school, and as a rule, am trained to remain stony faced around famous actors, no matter how good looking they may be. God forbid I act like some fan or something lest they recognize me later on in life. But the Upfront crowd was full of ad industry types with no such pretensions. The actors were essentially paid to hang around, fake small talk and pose for photographs. It was a little sad, actually, but that’s what you got to do. So when in Rome, I figured. Like a Pokemon Master, I collected Polaroids with Matt Bomer, Tim DeKay, Mehcad Brooks, Christopher Gorham (I commended him for his performance in Popular), and Gina Torres (who is depressingly skinny in real life). My one regret was that I couldn’t find Piper Perabo, and that I didn’t have the guts to interrupt Bruce Campbell’s conversation for a photo.
All in all, I had a blast at USA Upfronts. Here’s to the future, where I hope to attend many more of them, hopefully at least once as a showrunner or writer.
**note from Sabrina – I can’t explain how jealous I am that Jessica got to meet Matt Bomer. SO SO GREEN WITH ENVY.