Upfronts Week Kicks Off With Pickets Circling NBCU, Fox Presentations (UPDATING)
The WGA is into week three of a strike after failing to ink a deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) before the clock ran out May 1. Among the issues the two sides could not come to an agreement on are mini-rooms, the use of AI and streaming residuals.
The WGA has planned pickets at upfront locations throughtout the week, including Disney’s presentation at the North Javits Center Tuesday, the Warner Bros. Discovery upfront Wednesday morning at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, and YouTube’s upfront Wednesday evening at Lincoln Center.
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The WGA had also planned to picket Netflix’s first-ever upfront presentation, which was set to take place at the Paris Theater near the Plaza Hotel Wednesday afternoon. That led to the streamer scrapping the in-person event, which will now be held virtually.
Variety will update this post throughout the week with details about each of the picket lines.
“I don’t know but I’ve been told, NBC has a heart that’s cold,” Writers Guild of America members shouted outside Radio City Music Hall on Monday. The picketers were out in force to making some noise about the writers strike as advertisers arrived to attend NBCUniversal’s annual upfront presentation.
Approximately 200 pickets, which also included SAG-AFTRA members joining the WGA in solidarity, used other chants personalized for the occasion (another one: “NBC, you’re no good, pay your writers like you should”) to try to get the attention of those in attendance at the event. Inside, NBCU carried on with its presentation, meant to launch NBC’s fall schedule and woo advertisers into spending their dollars on spots with NBCU brands. But the stars who would normally be on stage to promote those wares, including late night stars Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers, were not in attendance.
“We are grateful for the contribution writers make to our company and respect their right to demonstrate,” NBCUniversal Television and Streaming chairman Mark Lazarus said to the audience at the start of the upfront. “It may take some time, but I know we will eventually get through this, and the result will be a stronger foundation on which we can all move forward together.”
Lazarus came out just after the crowd was treated to a recorded musical performance by Seth MacFarlane’s titular foulmouthed teddy bear from “Ted,” in honor of the upcoming Peacock series based on the film. The bit included a crack about “crazies” at Twitter, which drew huge laughs in the room for the coincidental fact that NBCU’s Linda Yaccarino has just exited the company to become CEO of the social media platform. (Lazarus mentioned Yaccarino in his remarks, wishing her well in her new gig.)
But while Ted was there, MacFarlane was not, and Variety has confirmed his bit was recorded prior to the strike. A package featuring interviews with NBCU creators and writers including Amy Poehler and Dick Wolf, which was also recorded ahead of the strike, ran in lieu of those WGA members appearing in person. (An on-screen disclaimer reminded everyone in the room of that fact.)
Talent that did walk out on stage included “Today” anchors Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb, “Vanderpump Rules” star Ariana Madix, the new and old stars of “The Real Housewives” franchise, “Access Hollywood” host Mario Lopez, NBC News’ Willie Geist, CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin and Telemundo’s Rafael Amaya. Additionally, Reba McEntire, who was revealed to be joining “The Voice” Season 24 as a coach, performed mid-presentation, and Nick Jonas closed out the show.
The WGA picket line outside Fox’s upfront presentation at the Manhattan Center was a more muted affair, with about 75-100 pickets marching in a circle on one side of the venue’s main entrance. That may have been due to the fact that were a separate group of protesters on the opposite side of the main entrance there to protest Fox News taking up some of the prime picket real estate.
Regardless, the WGA made their presence known outside the venue as Fox pitched advertisers on their lineup inside. All of Fox Entertainment’s big name scripted stars opted to sit out of the event, though the company still trotted out a number of big names like unscripted powerhouse Gordon Ramsay and Fox Sports stars Rob Gronkowski, Michael Strahan, and new addition Derek Jeter.
Fox Entertainment CEO Rob Wade was the only one to formally mention of the strike onstage. “We all hope the writers strike will end soon, but we’re more than prepared to lean in to serve our audiences with a fantastic schedule of original unscripted content,” Wade said. Later on, Fox News star Greg Gutfeld joked about the fact that he has the only late-night show on TV at the moment, as others like “The Tonight Show” and “The Late Show” have shut down due to the strike.
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