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Upfronts: ABC's soft sell

May 13, 2008 |  3:44 pm

NEW YORK -- Steve McPherson didn't dance. The "Desperate Housewives" didn't surprise the crowd with a musical number. There was no celeb-heavy after-party.

"This is the first upfront that is BYOB," McPherson, ABC's entertainment president told advertisers at today's upfront. The network delivered a pared-down presentation that was light on razzle-dazzle and heavy on details.

Mike Shaw, who heads the network's ad sales, talked about metrics and the "density" of ABC's ad units, displaying charts for the Avery Fisher Hall audience (charts!). McPherson walked the crowd through the network's stable fall schedule, which includes just two new programs: the game show "Opportunity Knocks" and the police/time-traveling drama "Life on Mars."

The sole entertainment of the afternoon was comedian Jimmy Kimmel, who homed in on the unsettled state of affairs in the entertainment industry when he came out on stage and asked: "Is this the WGA strike after-party or the SAG strike pre-party?" He noted the scaled down nature of this year's upfront. "There's no party, no food, no gifts," Kimmel said. "ABC might be the worst date ever. We expect you to put out, but we're not even going to buy you a drink."

NBC came in for some ribbing as well, including the network's early "Infront" programming presentations. "They're calling it the Infronts this year because they're just in front of the CW," Kimmel quipped.

Now that Jimmy Fallon has been named Conan O'Brien's successor, Kimmel said he's been peppered with questions about whether there are going to be more changes in late night. "When I showed up today, Jay Leno was taking a bath in my dressing room," he said, adding: "There's about a 40% chance you'll see me at the Fox upfront on Thursday."

Despite the uncertainty about the future of network television, Kimmel said advertisers and TV executives should be upbeat. "Things may look bleak for network television with the Internet and the strike and all that, but the fact of the matter is this: TV sets are bigger than ever. Kids are fatter than ever. And gas has never been more expensive," he said. "We have the whole country on their couches right now. If we can't sell them stuff, we should all be very ashamed of ourselves."

-- Matea Gold