Upfronts Notebook

News and notes from the upfronts:

NFL broadcast team goes deep
Monday, May 15

The distance from the foot of the stage at Radio City Music Hall to the first row of the first balcony is about 55 yards, sportscaster Bob Costas told the crowd at NBC's upfront presentation. He tried to throw a football from stage to balcony at a runthrough on Sunday and fell short, losing a $100 bet to John Madden, the color commentator on the network's NFL broadcasts in the fall.

Monday, the rest of NBC's NFL team -- play-by-play man Al Michaels and studio analysts Cris Collinsworth, Jerome Bettis and Sterling Sharpe -- joined Costas and Madden on stage, and Costas repeated the terms of the wager. Sharpe turned it down, but Collinsworth, a one-time college quarterback, and the recently retired Bettis took it up.

On his first throw, Bettis tossed a perfect spiral into the balcony, drawing loud applause from the crowd (his receiver appeared to muff the catch, though). Collinsworth got too much air under his first throw, laying up a proverbial wounded duck that fell several rows short. His second attempt, though, landed in about the same spot as Bettis' throw.

No word on whether Bettis collected on the bet.



NBC spreads a new word

In the past, it's been fun to track the number of times NBC executives used the word "upscale" in its presentation to advertisers. Last year, on the heels of a down year for the network, the assembled Peacock personages uttered the word a whopping 24 times.

This year, coming off another season of ratings declines, the word was all but banished from the vocabulary. We only heard it two times at Radio City Music Hall, a decrease of more than 90 percent.

The word this year is "quality," which got six mentions Monday -- four spoken and two bookending a clip package. Another contender is "explosive," which network boss Kevin Reilly used several times to describe the potential of some of NBC's new shows. We didn't keep track, but between a morning press conference and the afternoon pitch to advertisers he must have said it at least five times.



A flight of speculation


Based on a couple of my fellow passengers on the flight to New York Sunday, I'm prepared to say that "What About Brian" and "George Lopez" will return to ABC next season.

OK, granted, this is not the soundest basis for the call, and networks have occasionally changed their minds at the last minute, but "Brian" star Amanda Detmer and "George Lopez's" Constance Marie both headed to New York Sunday, two days before ABC's upfront presentation. However, I'm backed up by reports in the showbiz trades today that both shows will be back for 2006-07.

The pickup of "Brian," should that turn out to be true, is something of a surprise, given its so-so ratings. "George Lopez" wasn't a world-beater this season either, but it's one of only a couple comedies ABC is likely to keep.



NBC jumps the gun
Sunday, May 14

The upfronts officially kick off at 3 p.m. ET Monday, but NBC got a little head start on its presentation Sunday.

During the series finale of "The West Wing," the network teased one of its shows for next season, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip." The inclusion of the spot during "The West Wing" was no accident, as "Studio 60" is the newest project from "Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin.

It may, however, have been a bit disingenuous. The voiceover declared that "the creator of 'The West Wing' isn't done yet," although Sorkin has in fact been done with that show for three years. He and fellow executive producer Thomas Schlamme -- who's also an exec producer of "Studio 60" -- left at the end of the White House drama's fourth season.

The promo focused primarily on Sorkin's pedigree and the high-wattage cast, which includes "Friends" star Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet, D.L. Hughley, Steven Weber and a pair of "West Wing" alumni, Bradley Whitford and Timothy Busfield. It didn't speak to much to the premise of the series, which is about the backstage goings-on at a sketch-comedy show a la "Saturday Night Live."

Given the rate at which NBC has been picking up shows recently, the early promo for "Studio 60" is hardly a surprise. The network ordered the show several weeks ago, and it picked up two other dramas, "The Black Donnellys" and "Kidnapped," well before the upfronts. Word also hit the Hollywood trade papers last week about several other pickups; the full story will be revealed Monday.