Yesterday afternoon around 2:30 p.m., ad buyers, TV executives, and journalists were filing into Radio City Music Hall for the "NBC Primetime Preview," scheduled to begin at 3. The ad guys strutted in packs—peacocking, handshaking, saving seats. (At the network upfronts, the increasingly antiquated introduction of the fall schedule, there's a weird fixation among these frat guys and sorority chicks on saving seats. It's like spending four days on a middle-school bus.) To keep the seat-savers entertained and edified while waiting for the show to start, NBC flashed reminders of its recent ratings triumphs across a projection screen. It was a short list.
Friday Night Lights—the underwatched masterpiece miraculously given a second season—is "tied for the #2 median income among all primetime network series." Heroes—the risky fantasy hit that's evidently inspired the network to cook up more risky fantasies—is "the #1 new scripted series among adults 18-49." Plus, rich people enjoy NBC's comedies. That was about it for boast-worthy broadcasting.
How bad are things at NBC? Last month, it had its worst ratings week in, essentially, the history of ratings weeks. Then, the week after, the numbers were even lower. In the Sunday-night-at-10 slot, it was behind Univision. As for its Internet strategy, well, we also learned that "Jay's Garage"—a Web project regarding the car collection of the Tonight Show host—has engaged "thousands of car enthusiasts."
Around 3, the presentation began. "I did a great job," said the woman behind me, touting her own seat-saving skills. "You should have seen me fight people off." We laughed at a video featuring the cast of 30 Rock absurdly hyping NBC's multimedia opportunities (Tina Fey: "Send me a text message to vote on what I should say next"), and then Kevin Reilly, the president of entertainment, took the stage. He got his mea culpa over with quickly enough—the phrase "big fat disappointment" lit up the screen—and then he introduced five new hour-long shows.
Journeyman: Peach-scented science fiction. A dude, baleful and sandy-haired, has this space-time-continuum problem. It lost me the second that U2's "One" came on the soundtrack.
Life:Faux-brainy cop show. An LAPD officer gets out of prison, back on the force, and down to the dirty business of speaking in Buddhist koans and zany existentialist jokes.
Lipstick Jungle: From the Candace Bushnell novel. If the clip is at all representative, the show will consist of Brooke Shields and her clique of high-powered female friends walking in uncomfortable shoes, but also sitting down (either on sofas or behind desks), hooking up, and dropping brand names.
Bionic Woman is a remake that, if we're lucky, will have a bit of La Femme Nikita. "This looks terrible," said a voice behind me, missing the point. This show may well exist on a plane where the awesomely terrible is equivalent to the terribly awesome.
Someone in reality programming—which last year NBC called "alternative programming" and this year mentioned as "alternative reality"—has a brilliant crassitude. Of the coming game shows and voyeur spectacles, the dance-crew competition World Moves ("witness the joy … and the struggle") and the fortysomething-vs.-spring-chicken dating tournament Age of Love ("So, will he pick a kitten … or a cougar?" "RAWRR.") really stood out, the first for having an impossibly bad title, the second for its sisterly good nature.
Execs kept coming forth with promises of Web content and whatnot. The football guys—now including MSNBC's Keith Olbermann and the Giants' Tiki Barber—did their thing, then made way for Dick Ebersol, the president of NBC Sports, who promised 2,400 hours of Olympics coverage from Beijing, a utopia where you can watch boxing on your BlackBerry and track and field by your backyard pool. He then showed a video to get us pumped for swimming and gymnastics and women's beach volleyball. Then there was a glitch, and the video started over—swimming and gymnastics and women's beach volleyball. And then it just paused. A voice behind wondered, "Maybe we can watch the rest on our cell phones?"