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Upfronts: A humbled NBC presents a new slate of action-loaded dramas and relationship comedies

May 17, 2010 | 11:24 am

NUP_140184_0183 Self-deprecation was the theme of the day for NBC as the network rolled out its fall schedule for media buyers in New York. The annual upfront presentation was held in a low-ceiling ballroom of a Midtown Hilton rather than the usual grand environs of Radio City Music Hall. “It’s because Radio City is … being painted,” said "30 Rock's" Jack Donaghy, a.k.a. Alec Baldwin, in a video opening.

Noting the network’s tagline was “more colorful” led Donaghy to a contorted analogy that he concluded by saying: “NBC would like to be your potentially dangerous hot Eastern European hooker.” All righty then!

NBC Universal Television Entertainment Chairman Jeff Gaspin — who said one perk of the locale was that he was racking up Hilton rewards points — took the stage expressing gratitude for his post. “A job like this only comes along every eight months or so,” he quipped.

Turning serious, Gaspin and NBC Primetime Entertainment President Angela Bromstad touted NBC’s new slate of shows as a lineup that will return much-needed buzz to the network. The new series mostly fit in two categories: explosion-riddled action thrillers and quirky relationship comedies.

On the action front there’s “The Event,” a thriller featuring Blair Underwood as the president of the United States caught up in a “24”-style political conspiracy. There's an assassination attempt, CIA cover-up and prisoners housed in a mysterious Arctic facility. The disappearance of a woman draws her fiance, played by Jason Ritter of "The Class," into the chain of events.

“Chase,” a Jerry Bruckheimer drama, features a tough-as-nails female U.S. marshal who doesn’t hesitate to jump off a bridge into a muddy river to catch a suspect. The married couple in “Undercovers” also leaps out in midair – in their case, out of a plane as part of a secret mission that brings them back to the CIA after retiring from spook life. “Nothing spices up a marriage like a little sexspionage,” declared the voice-over in the promo, a montage of “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”-style escapades. And then there’s “The Cape,” a drama about a Batman-like vigilante from the executive producing team of Gail Berman and Lloyd Braun.

To balance out all the testosterone, NBC is offering up a slew of new relationship shows: “Perfect Couples,” about three couples who deal with conflict very differently; “Friends With Benefits,” which follows the romantic travails of a group of twentysomethings; and “Love Bites,” an anthology-style series. The network is so excited about “Love Bites” that it showed advertisers a clip that ran more than 10 minutes in which a schlumpy tattoo artist played by Greg Grunberg (“Heroes”) seeks to seduce Jennifer Love Hewitt (playing herself) on a cross-country flight. The series is “sure to be one of the buzzed-about shows of fall season,” Gaspin said.

Other confident assertions by Gaspin: that “Outlaw,” a drama about a gambling playboy ex-Supreme Court justice played by Jimmy Smits, “can get audiences back at 10 p.m.” In the promo reel, former Supreme Court Justice Cyrus Garza returns to private practice and helps spring a man who has been wrongfully convicted of a crime. After the man gratefully thanks him, Garza replies: “Who said you were the only one who needed saving?”

— Matea Gold

Photo: NBC Universal Chairman Jeff Gaspin at the NBC's Upfront presentation Monday. Credit: Paul Drinkwater / NBC

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