For almost 16 straight years, ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel has been recruited to playfully roast his network and its rivals at the annual upfronts presentation to advertisers.
After excusing himself last year to tend to his newborn son who had undergone open-heart surgery, Kimmel returned Tuesday to ABC's New York upfront in awards show-presenting form.
Gamely described by Ben Sherwood, president of Disney-ABC Television Group at the onset as "our annual act of ritual network executive humiliation," Kimmel took aim at the pending Disney-Fox deal and the TV industry in general.
But as promised, he reserved most of his fire for his network bosses.
"Somehow we have more people watching this upfront right now than most of our 10 o'clock shows," Kimmel told the crowd shortly after taking the Lincoln Center stage.
Referencing his absence from the upfront presentation last year, Kimmel began with an update on his son, who just celebrated his first birthday and he said was "doing much, much better than network television." He took a shot at Fox's introduction of advertising "JAZ pods" the previous day ("sounds like something you'd use to wash leotards") and mocked NBC for its Chicago fixation in its block of Dick Wolf-produced procedurals that will make up its Wednesday slate.
"You ever hear of Denver?" Kimmel asked. "They have a fire department too."
Kimmel also made fun of ABC's mini-crisis in losing hit producer Shonda Rhimes ("Grey's Anatomy," "Scandal") to Netflix. "[She's] an amazing talent and person who changed the face of this network," he began, "and now that she's leaving for Netflix, I can honestly say on behalf of everyone here at ABC who worked with her for so long: We hope she rots in hell."
Unlike his late-night show, which has seen a ratings bump from an occasional turn toward political material, Kimmel primarily focused on the state of his industry. He touched on the huge success of"Roseanne," adding that the high ratings proves "the older and crazier you are, the more today's audience likes you. That's why we're so proud to introduce our new series, 'Gary Busey Proves 9/11 Never Happened.'"
Kimmel also mocked TV's spate of reboots, including "Murphy Brown" on CBS: "That's right, CBS knows what millennials want and they'll be damned if they give it to them".
He added, "I'm kind of excited about 'Murphy Brown'.I think it's refreshing to see anything brown on CBS," a dig at that network's long-standing lack of cultural diversity.
But his principal target was his own network. Kimmel reserved some barbs about the canceled "Quantico" and the magician-centered "Deception" ("It was such a good idea," he said dryly), and "Marvel's Inhumans." "Somehow we managed to have the only unsuccessful project with the word 'Marvel' in the title," Kimmel said.
He then turned his attention to a few of the network's new programs for the coming season, including the oddly titled action-comedy "Whiskey Cavalier."
"Should we cancel it now, or would you rather we wait until you left the room?" he asked.
Kimmel then turned his focus toward TV's latest marketing buzzwords, including data-mining, "shoppable moments" and block-chain, but closed by advocating for a level of Zen-like acceptance for the industry's troubles.
"Here's what I think we should do: Just let these stupid shows wash over us, clap politely and let's just go get blackout drunk together," he said. "Our president is a lunatic, and we're all going to die."
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