For broadcast television executives, upfront week in May is when they introduce their upcoming fall schedules to advertisers, and boast about their creative and ratings successes over the last TV season.
But it’s also time for them to face some uncomfortable questions.
This past week, TV suits got on conference calls with reporters to unveil their new lineups — and while many conversations focused on upcoming series, there were still questions about various controversies.
For example, ABC shelved a February episode of family comedy “Blackish” that dealt with fraught political topics. While the comedy frequently addresses social issues, the network said at the time “there were creative differences we were unable to resolve” between executives and showrunner Kenya Barris.
So during ABC’s upfront conference call on Tuesday, a reporter asked the network’s entertainment president, Channing Dungey, about the incident.
“We have long been supportive of Kenya and team tackling sort of challenging and controversial issues in the show, and we have always traditionally been able to come to a place creatively where we felt good about the story that he was telling, even if it [pushed] some hot buttons,” Dungey said. “I think with this particular episode, there were a number of different elements to the episode that we had a hard time coming to terms on.”
Dungey didn’t elaborate but did address speculation that the problem was two characters arguing about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. She called it “not even really the issue.” Overall, Dungey said, not airing the episode was mutual between the network and Barris: “I think we all feel like that was the best decision overall.”
Elsewhere, a couple of networks faced situations surrounding cast members. Fox recently ran into problems with buddy-cop dramedy “Lethal Weapon,” based on the hit films from the 1980s. In late April, it emerged that star Clayne Crawford, who played opposite Damon Wayans, had become such a problem on set (including “complaints of emotional abuse and creating a hostile environment,” Deadline Hollywood reported) that the future of the series was in jeopardy.
Fox ended up renewing “Lethal Weapon” for a third season, though Crawford is off the show, replaced by Seann William Scott.
“Our partners at Warner Bros. came to us about three weeks ago to tell us that they could not deliver ‘Lethal Weapon’ as we’ve known it before, that there were some real challenges in the cast,” Dana Walden, chairman and chief executive officer for Fox Television Group, said euphemistically on Monday. “They thought long and hard about it. I know that was not their first choice, but that ultimately, these were the circumstances that they could offer us the show.”
Walden called the show’s third season cast “a new dynamic, but a good one.” (Later, Wayans tweeted his displeasure with his former co-star and posted a flier apparently hanging near the set that said “Clayne Crawford is an emotional terrorist.”)
And a few days before CBS’s upfronts, “NCIS” star Pauley Perrette — who recently exited the crime drama after 15 seasons — tweeted that tabloids were making up lies about the reasons she left. Although she didn’t go into detail, she hinted it had to do with “multiple physical assaults” and said there was a “very rich, very powerful publicity ‘machine’ ” keeping her silent.
On Wednesday, CBS scheduling chief Kelly Kahl was asked about Perrette’s allegations during CBS’s call, and he pointed people to the statement the network had issued the day before that said, “Over a year ago, Pauley came to us with a workplace concern. We took the matter seriously and worked with her to find a resolution. We are committed to a safe work environment on all our shows.” He declined to comment further.
NBC’s upfront was largely drama-free, aside from reporters pushing to know answers about the fate of shows including “Timeless” and “Champions.” NBC’s entertainment president, Robert Greenblatt, said he would “honor producers” and make the call after both finish airing for the season.
Likewise, CW didn’t face too many tough questions, though some were puzzled by the network’s decision to pass on a spinoff of “Supernatural,” the network’s flagship show. CW President Mark Pedowitz explained, “We did not feel creatively that the show is where we wanted it to be.”
Meanwhile, the networks highlighted their most promising new series for the fall season. ABC will debut “The Alec Baldwin Show” on Sundays, featuring the actor’s interviews with guests. Comedy “Single Parents” gets the post-“Modern Family” spot Wednesdays, as the show follows a group of, well, single parents raising their young children.
Fox picked up “Last Man Standing” (canceled by ABC last year), starring Tim Allen as a conservative family man who can’t understand why everyone is so politically correct these days. The network also has “Rel,” based on the life of Lil Rel Howery, a breakout star from “Get Out” and “The Carmichael Show.”
One of CBS’s most buzzed-about offerings was “Happy Together,” executive-produced by One Direction’s Harry Styles. The comedy, inspired by Styles’s former living situation, centers on a suburban couple whose lives are upended when a pop star moves into their house. And a rebooted “Murphy Brown” (with Candice Bergen reprising her role as the broadcast news star) airs Thursdays.
NBC is back in business with Amy Poehler, the producer of the comedy “I Feel Bad,” about a woman struggling to be “perfectly okay with being imperfect.” Plus, it ordered the medical drama “New Amsterdam,” focused on an underfunded hospital.
CW is in the reboot game with an updated version of “Charmed,” the 1990s and early 2000s drama about three sisters who are witches. The network is also going back to the familiar with “Legacies,” about the next generation of supernatural beings in the “Vampire Diaries” and “Originals” universe.