Inside the Disney-ABC Upfront: Lots of Networks, an ‘Immersive Experience’ and, Yes, Jokes About Constance Wu

Upfronts 2019: Disney won’t let you forget how just many networks it owns now

TheWrap went to Juilliard on Tuesday — then realized we’d gone too far, turned back around and entered David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center for Disney’s super-sized upfront.

Below are nine things TheWrap took away while in attendance for Tuesday’s presentations by ESPN, ABC and Freeform, as well as company’s new networks FX and Nat Geo.

Find the 2019-20 primetime schedule for the ABC here. Trailers for the broadcast network’s new fall shows are here.

We Missed the “Immersive Pre-Show Experience…You Won’t Want to Miss”
Disney promised if we arrived at its upfront early we’d see “an immersive pre-show experience beginning at 3 p.m. that you won’t want to miss.” We have no idea what that was — perhaps it was some talent loitering around with us regular folk? Unclear, but because we can’t let anything go, we reached out to an ABC spokeswoman for clarification on the thing we won’t want to have missed that we definitely did miss. Even they didn’t know.

Happy Together
Bob Iger, Dana Walden and Peter Rice were all smiles from the audience as Disney’s new collection of TV offerings were laid out on stage.

Iger, fresh off an appearance at the MoffettNathanson summit on Tuesday, returned to preside over his company’s upfront day on Tuesday, and he was accompanied by his new TV leadership team of Rice and Walden. Rice, now chairman of Walt Disney Television and co-chair of Disney Media Networks, and Walden, chairman of Disney Television Studios and ABC Entertainment, officially joined Disney from Fox after the merger earlier this year, and this marked their first upfront presentation in their new roles.

They seemed to be enjoying themselves.

No One Thinks the Knicks Are Getting Zion
Scott Van Pelt opened the ESPN portion of the program, and may we say, he did a wonderful job. SVP got a little help from two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning and newer New York Giants star Saquon Barkley. That’s a hell of a good way to plug “Monday Night Football” to a Manhattan crowd.

Based on the reaction, there were plenty of Giants fans in the audience. There were also plenty of New York Knicks fans, who all tepidly groaned in pessimistic unison when Van Pelt asked if the Knickerbockers would land the first pick of the NBA Draft, which will be Duke’s Zion Williamson, tonight.

We Play a “Brain Game”
One of Nat Geo’s biggest announcements at Tuesday’s event was a rebooted version of the informational “game” show “Brain Games” with new host Keegan-Michael Key.

Key made a brief cameo on stage to play a sample “brain game,” which basically amounted to telling the audience to pay attention to what Ryan Seacrest says in a video and then quizzing us on something else entirely. The upshot was that the brain has a difficult time paying attention to two things at once, a physiological human shortcoming which certainly is not helped by misleading instructions from TV show hosts.

Kenny Mayne’s Got a Puppy – and Jokes
As has become an upfront tradition, ESPN’s Kenny Mayne killed — despite being relegated to the “J.V.” stage at Alice Tully Hall, which is across the street from the Geffen.

Mayne stole a Nat Geo puppy to start his set. Click here to find out where it went from the canine-aided opener.

Tech Guys Fail Julie Bowen
“Modern Family” star Julie Bowen was tasked with introducing new ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke, and she used her time on stage to praise Burke’s experience as a working mother of five. But first, she shared an anecdote about how she filmed the “Modern Family” pilot while pregnant with twins. While gamely describing having to shoot her scenes from behind baskets of laundry, boxes and her young co-stars, Bowen kept looking back at the screens behind her to no avail. Apparently, someone was supposed to show photos of her at the time, but that someone goofed it.

ile pregnant with twins.

While gamely describing having to shoot her scenes from behind baskets of laundry, boxes and her young co-stars, Bowen kept looking back at the screens behind her to no avail. Apparently, someone was supposed to show photos of her at the time, and that someone goofed it.

Karey Burke Recycles Material
ABC chief Karey Burke took the main stage in a sharp red suit. She wore a black shirt underneath the blazer and black shoes.

“Clearly, I was the only one who thought it was a good idea to dress in their network’s colors,” she quipped.

Good stuff, right? Sure, if you’re willing to ignore the fact that she opened this morning’s press briefing with the exact same joke.

ABC Is in on Your Constance Wu Jokes

While introducing her network’s Thursday night schedule, Burke gave a sly nod to the recent controversy surrounding “Fresh Off the Boat” and its star’s negative reaction to the show’s renewal last week, assuring ad buyers that the show is “still starring Constance Wu.”

Kimmel took it even further, throwing Wu’s emotional tweets on the screen. “Only on abc is getting your show picked up the worst thing that can happen to you,” he joked. “Sorry Constance, at least you got 9,300 likes”

John Mayer Showed up Even Though His Show Didn’t

Disney’s seemingly interminable upfront presentation finally came to an end after two and a half hours, but not before a surprise set by John Mayer.

Mayer had his own pilot in contention at ABC this year, the drama “Heart of Life,” which was based on his song of the same name. That pilot was not picked up to series, but that didn’t stop him from showing up on Tuesday to sing a couple of songs.

“We tricked him into coming today by pretending we were developing a show with him,” Kimmel joked before introducing Mayer.

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