The 2012 TV Upfronts

Fox: Mindy Kaling, Kevin Bacon, and Britney Spears
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May 15 2012 11:51 AM

The 2012 TV Upfronts

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Fox: The ad buyers aren’t buying Mindy Kaling’s adorkability.

The Mindy Project
Bill Hader and Mindy Kaling in the new comedy The Mindy Project

Photograph by Beth Dubber/FOX.

Just as NBC shined a flattering light on the mass appeal of The Voice and the demographic attractions of Smash, Fox on Monday afternoon treated its newest singing competition and its noisiest buzz magnet as structural support in a launch pad for the fall season. At the Beacon Theatre, executives first patted advertisers on the back for supporting The X-Factor, then rewarded them with a glimpse of a newly hired judge, Britney Spears. You are wondering how Britney Spears looked? Well, considering that she is Britney Spears, a job that has historically involved no small measure of wear and tear, she looked fantastic in her clinging tank dress and trashy dye job. She demonstrated a pulse, an ability to form short sentences, et cetera. Her new colleague L.A. Reid looked upon Britney and Simon Cowell and Demi Lovato and declared: “This is the Rolls Royce of television right here.” I’ve always thought of Brit-Brit as something of a T-Top Camaro, but there you have it.

Soon the execs were lauding New Girl for its ratings, especially among relative youngsters, and treating star Zooey Deschanel as Fox’s new figurehead—the symbol of a network selling its high “concentration of viewers under 40.” Fox’s spin that it is the No. 1 network is predicated on crunching numbers so that we’re talking about people between the ages of 18 and 49, and its claim that New Girl is a “culture-moving comedy” indicates that the show’s core constituencies include people who live on the Internet (it is, tweet tweet, the “most socially-engaged comedy”) and magazine editors who live in New York.

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Thus, Fox is exercising simple good judgment in building its Tuesday-night schedule around New Girl and displaying run-of-the-mill questionable judgment in attempting to replicate its tone. Fox did Mindy Kaling no favors in scripting a staged bit in which Deschanel offered her New Girl’s grating portmanteau tagline—“adorkable”—for use on The Mindy Project. The clip reels for Mindy, on which Kaling plays a doctor who is, impossibly, ditzier than The Office’s Kelly Kapoor, played to a tepid response. The ad buyers weren’t buying it. In contrast, the assembled bros and biddies perked up at the sight of Kevin Bacon in The Following, about a former FBI agent pulled back into it to match wits with a well-read serial killer.

But should we trust the ad buyers? I am compelled to question the collective judgment of people so demonstrably inept at finding a bar with a short line in a crowded room. Fox’s after-party was, as ever, a delightful scrum. The sushi bar was perhaps a couple yards shorter than usual, but in recompense, the network presented a buffet offering treats designed by the stars of one of those shows where celebrity chefs verbally abuse people. Graham Elliot’s hanger steak was slightly tastier than Gordon Ramsay’s short rib sliders, but the line for the steak was notably shorter. Perhaps the crowd was questioning the judgment of Elliot’s side dish: What does it mean to prepare “asparagus ménage à trois”? And who would find it appetizing to eat a vegetable so named when smothered in sauce béarnaise?

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

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