Jimmy Kimmel Takes No Prisoners in Annual Upfronts Comedy Set

At least some things in television don’t change. 

Jimmy Kimmel still chews up the business like the late, great Hannibal Lecter, a wonderful man as I’ve heard somewhere recently. On Tuesday Kimmel had the broadcast/cable/streaming business for dinner—or a late-afternoon snack—with a nice Chianti.  

After an unplanned two-year absence due to a case of Covid and the writers’ strike, Kimmel, who is now the signature star of ABC, thanks to running the late-night anchor leg for 21 years (and recently killing it as host of the Oscars), was back at the Disney Upfront presentation Tuesday, slinging his familiar barbs at both his employers and everybody else’s.

“We are bundling,” he said, talking of what’s happening at Disney+ and all the other big streamers. “While from the outside, this may look like an act of desperation, from the inside, it also looks like that. We didn’t want to bundle. We had to. When you’re freezing to death and it’s so cold, you have to get in a sleeping bag with your uncle so you won’t die.”

Kimmel’s state-of-the-business address has become a highlight, maybe THE highlight, of upfront week in New York, a May staple for decades. It has always been a strange institution: lavishly produced sales pitches followed by lavishly loud parties with lavishly extravagant helpings of cocktail shrimp.

The point remains seducing ad buyers into committing money “up front,” as in, before the shows are released to the public; although the path the shows take to getting to consumers is radically different from a decade ago.

Kimmel found his form long ago at his upfront dissection, but he was more confident than ever this time, commanding the stage even inside the cavernous Javits Center. (When you’ve commanded the stage in front of an audience filled with every muckety-muck in Hollywood, a bunch of eager-beaver ad buyers is a breeze.) He was also clearly feeling freer to use comedy-club language when eviscerating the nonsense lingo always spewed at the upfronts.

“I’m so proud of what we’ve done here, being a part of innovations like Disney’s magic words. Until this afternoon, I thought Disney’s magic words were Bibbidy, Bobbidy, we own everything, f-ck you.”

At each upfront Kimmel has been like a hibachi cook slicing up the steak and shrimp, tossing them in the air and grilling them to a crisp right in front of you: CBS was ancient, gathering masses of viewers inside assisted-living facilities; NBC was smug and privileged; ABC was scrappy but desperate; Fox was unethical and unhinged. And he did not spare the ad buyers who put up millions to buy into shows they knew would mostly fail in three weeks.

It was funny because it was (basically) true.

In the streaming era, the message has had to change a bit. Now Netflix is a target. 

“It’s true over the last 10 years, what we’ve come to understand about our audience is they would rather be watching Netflix. Remember when Netflix thought they were above all this? They came in, they destroyed commercial television. And now guess what? They want to sell you commericals on television,” Kimmel said. “Now those smug bee-holes have to lick your nuts like the rest of us.”

One of his main targets, as is his wont, was his bosses. In this case, his once and once-again boss, Bob Iger, the Disney chairman. He could hardly pass up commenting on Iger’s attempt—fleeting though it was—to sell off Kimmel’s home, ABC.

“We are back in the strong, masculine hands of our once and rightful Bob, just as prophecy foretold,” Kimmel said. “Bob tried to sell us last year. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, no one wanted to buy us; no one was interested.”

But he predicted a Disney future where “Bob isn’t going anywhere ever again. We’ve uploaded him to the cloud so that we can live in peace and prosperity under the watchful A of the Iger.”

Still, Kimmel wasn’t giving up on his home network. “We’re launching season five of The Kardashians on May 23d. And there’s nothing you can do to stop us. The new season shows the Kardashians like you’ve never seen them before—assuming you’ve never seen them before. Otherwise it’s exactly the same shit as the last 17 years.”

This season’s big ABC hit The Golden Bachelor will also be back, which Kimmel called “a game show where you can win an old lady.” And he pitched a new iteration of the franchise, a canine version, called “The Golden Retriever.”

With so much else in the world of television barely recognizable from its previous form it’s somehow comforting to have Jimmy Kimmel back, having fun as always with how old the CBS audience is:

“For the 16th consecutive season, CBS was the most-watched broadcast network. They don’t have an upfront anymore, so let’s give them a round of applause. But do it loud so their audience can hear it,” Kimmel said.

“CBS also announced this will be the 14th and final season of Blue Bloods. Oh man, those assholes. Your grandpa has one thing left to live for and they’re taking it away.”

Jimmy promised to be back again next upfront, which at least gives the ad buyers something to live for.

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