The Telefile
NBC's 2011 Upfront Presentation: We're Trying, We're Really, Really Trying

So this network upfront actually broke some news, albeit unsurprising news that no one really cared about, but news nonetheless. Towards the end of the very lengthy two hour presentation, Donald Trump came out to announce that he was going to continue making money on The Celebrity Apprentice and not take a run at the presidency. He made it sound like he was doing us a favor, but I cover entertainment television, so having him stick around on reality TV isn't really helping me at all.

Aside from that, the rest of the presentation was fairly typical, and filled with all the NBC executives reminding us as frequently as possible that The Voice is a big success. I tried keeping count of how often they mentioned the show's name, but they worked it in so seamlessly to nearly every segment that it was almost impossible. And just when I thought they couldn't mention it one more time, they had Christina Aguilera and Cee-Lo come out at the end of the presentation to sing. Fortunately, I was already heading out the door at that point.

Even funny men Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers (who did a song and a "Weekend Update," respectively) got in jokes about The Voice. But while I enjoy Fallon, the less said about his "Comcastic" song, the better (though I did appreciate his zingers The Event and Paul Reiser). Meyers, meanwhile, delivered a custom "Update" that wove in a Teen Mom joke and a predictable slam about CBS catering to old people. The crowd of mostly network and advertising execs loved the CBS dis, but the only bit that made me laugh was about Smash, the new series about the making of a Broadway musical: "Gwyneth Paltrow, if you're listening... they'll call you." Anyway, you probably just want to know about the new shows they previewed, so here goes, before I start babbling about The Sing-Off and how I think that's one of the more underrated unscripted reality-competitions on TV.

Fall Shows

The Playboy Club (Mondays, 10 PM)
If you are in love with Eddie Cibrian's dimples and don't care that he's about as exciting as a block of wood, or if you thought the Playboy Club episode of Mad Men was the best thing ever, then this may be the show for you. But for me, it looked more like the snoozeworthy Swingtown set a decade earlier as opposed to something that will truly capture a bygone era. And actors performing as real musicians like Ike & Tina Turner feels like a desperate attempt to somehow tie into The Sing-Off or (you guessed it) The Voice.

Up All Night (Wednesdays, 8 PM)
Have you seen any comedy about an unprepared couple being thrust into parenthood? Then you can just substitute Christina Applegate in as the stressed-out working mom, Will Arnett as the stay-at-home dad with a mouth like a sailor and Maya Rudolph as the disapproving/inappropriate friend/boss who can't remember the kid's name and drinks a lot. Hope this goes the way Running Wilde... and fast.

Free Agents (Wednesdays, 8:30 PM)
I really want to like this show with Hank Azaria as a recent divorcee who is pretty much helpless about dating until he secretly hooks up with his co-worker (Kathryn Hahn) -- mostly because of Giles. Anthony Head plays Azaria's crass boss who likes to talk about sex, which might be charming if the dialogue wasn't so weakly written. But as far as NBC's new comedies went, this one didn't make me want to throw something at one of the mega screens at the presentation, or sneak out the back door, so consider this a ringing endorsement.

Whitney (Thursdays, 9:30 PM)
A show that did make me want to throw something at the screen? This one. From the laugh track to the watered-down humor of Whitney Cummings, it was just outright painful. Whitney's known for being edgy and irreverent and here she seems clueless and co-dependent. Her character's coupled up and avoiding marriage while engaging in clich├ęs about dressing sexy to keep a man interested. Considering the show's built around her, it's odd how all of the "good" jokes go to her boyfriend, played by Chris D'Elia.

Prime Suspect (Thursdays, 10 PM)
NBC's new chairman of entertainment said that he "can't think of anyone better to play this part" than Maria Bello, but since the character in the UK original was played by Helen Mirren. I think we can all probably think of someone better than Maria Bello. But anyway, the premise of both versions of this show is that a woman has to struggle to succeed in the boy's club of homicide detectives, which might have been compelling in 1992 - before we'd seen all of the CSI ladies and Mariska Hargitay chasing down bad guys for years. But putting that aside, this looks like a decent cop show directed and produced by Peter Berg. Maybe we'll pretend it's still the early '90s as we watch it.

Grimm (Fridays, 10 PM)
I'm going to watch every last minute of this show, and not just because it is from former Buffy and Angel producers David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf, but because with my increasing frustration/lack of interest in Supernatural and with Smallville finishing up its run, I'll have plenty of DVR space for a bizarre "high concept" show on Friday nights. And because it's a cop show, which I tend to love, but based on the tales of the brothers Grimm, which is even better (in only a few minutes, it already looks about 100 times better than that mess with Matt Damon that I'd rather not speak about). The plot is basically about a detective who is a descendent of the brothers Grimm and can see the true natures of people that they keep hidden, like a mild-mannered guy who's actually a big bad were(wolf) kidnapping young girls in red hoodies. Could be fun.


Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea
Laura Prepon is playing a young Chelsea Handler. Chelsea Handler is playing her pregnant sister Sloane. And while I think Prepon is actually pretty great casting, Handler's book about being a boozy bartender who gets DUI's and has quirky friends and roommates has been toned down to laugh-track network sitcom standards. I'm sure my mom will love it, regardless.

This is a series with a That '70s Show alum that I might actually enjoy, because at least it won't be a revamped Two and a Half Men. Anyway, this one has Wilmer Valderrama in a supporting role, and Jason Isaacs in the lead. It's a twisted, complex show that reminds me a little bit of Life on Mars crossed with Memento, in which Isaac's character is living in two different worlds after a car accident. In one reality, his wife lived; in the other, his son. He's got color-coded bracelet's to keep them straight and two different therapists trying to tell him how to fix his brain. Here's hoping this one lasts longer than Life on Mars.

In this single-camera sitcom, Jeffrey Tambor talks about sex like he's an older version of Barney Stinson, while David Walton (from Perfect Couples) plays a contractor who likes to surf and sleep late and Amanda Peet is a workaholic single mom. Peet and Walton flirt a lot. It looks well made and has potential, but there were a lot of empty spaces in between the laughs in the preview.

The title is basically as bad as Cougar Town's, but this single-camera comedy could be watchable. It's hard to say since the best part about the preview was Adam Pally, who also stars in the surprisingly renewed Happy Endings. So, presumably, that part's going to have to be recast, which might change my opinion on the whole thing. Lennon Parham plays Lennon, a loyal friend to her recently dumped bestie Jessica, (played by Jessica St. Clair - they're really creative with the names). Jessica move into the apartment that Lennon shares with her boyfriend and then a whole mess of awkwardness ensues. Yeah, we know, it doesn't sound promising on paper.

The Firm (Sundays, 10 PM)
Remember that John Grisham book? And that movie? It's scheduled for midseason, but hasn't been cast or shot yet. So not much we can say about it. Insert your own joke about Tom Cruise running in a suit here.

Smash (Mondays, 10 PM)
There are going to be 100 million (approximately) people comparing this to Glee, but its really not anything like Fox's hit show. It's more like A Chorus Line or Sharpay's Fabulous Adventure, focusing on the many different dreams it takes to execute a Broadway musical. Debra Messing's a producer who would like to make a musical about Marilyn Monroe (not sure why) and Anjelica Huston is going to help. And former Idol Katherine McPhee, who looks so much better with her dark hair, wants to go blonde again for the part. She's up against Megan Hilty (who was maybe the only funny thing about the 9 to 5 musical), who supposedly has the bombshell look, except that on TV (particularly HD), she really doesn't (I feel bad, because this is probably the first and last time most of the world will get to see her). In general, I like that this show might be a new haven for Broadway people -- the cast already has two guys I love in Brian D'arcy James and Christian Borle. So long as there's no Gwyneth guest appearance, it could be okay.

Check out video previews and analysis of every upcoming new show from ABC, CBS, The CW, Fox, TBS and TNT. Plus: see which pilots deserved to be rejected and which cancellations made us happy.

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