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Welcome to our special pop-up TV upfronts roundup. Today through Wednesday, we’re bringing you breaking news and some of the best (and worst) of the main week of TV’s dog-and-pony show, curated by Catie Keck, senior TV reporter, and Parker Herren, Ad Age reporter, delivered directly to your inbox. Get it in your email by signing up here.

They’re back

The TV upfronts returned to their in-person soirees for the first time since pre-pandemic—and the annual ad haggle kicked off with a bang. During the first day, NBCUniversal paraded some of its biggest talents onstage at Radio City Music Hall, bookending its presentation with live performances from Kelly Clarkson and Miley Cyrus. In a pre-event executive call, Fox chatted about its streaming platform Tubi versus linear, how it’s leveraging the NFT market, and more. (Scroll down for details.)

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NBCU’s star-studded event

NBCU showcased its portfolio of fall programming by leaning on the celebrity personalities behind its biggest titles. Andy Cohen teased BravoCon with dozens of personalities from the “Real Housewives,” “Top Chef” and “Vanderpump Rules” reality franchises, among other hit series. Pete Davidson of “Saturday Night Live” joked about getting the media to finally pay attention to him during a plug for his new Peacock comedy “Bupkis.” “Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon dunked on the untimely demise of short-lived news service CNN+, likening it to similarly shuttered streaming dud Quibi.

And Seth Meyers, host of “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” won some of the biggest roars from the event’s audience with jokes on everything from the “Real Housewives” to Peacock’s affinity for reboots—and even the upfronts themselves. “Welcome to upfronts, everybody! TV is the only place where you can lie through your teeth about how great everything is and call it upfronts. Let me be ‘upfront’ with you—half these shows won’t make it through the year,” quipped Meyers. “It’s been three years since the last time we gathered in person for upfronts, and I’m sure you all missed it as much as I did, if not less.”

NBCU teased much of its recent ad innovations prior to its event this week. During its NewFronts presentation, Peacock announced two new ad formats: frame ads that frame programming without interrupting the feed, and an experimental format that would allow brands to place ads within a show in post-production, making them feel like part of the show. And last week NBCU unveiled nine new ad technologies, which lean on QR codes, mobile augmented reality and even the metaverse.

During the final moments of today’s presentation, NBCU’s Chairman of Global Advertising and Partnerships Linda Yaccarino took the stage to shouts and applause before touting the company’s recently unveiled ad innovations. “Advertising has always been a part of our DNA, and our future,” she said. “We have built the future that we promised all of you. And if you’re wondering which is more consistent, our track record or our vision, both have been super rock solid. Because for every single barrier you told us about, we came in like a giant wrecking ball.”

Yaccarino was undoubtedly hinting at the performance that she would introduce to close out the event, with Cyrus performing both “Wrecking Ball” as well as her cover of Madonna’s “Like a Prayer.”

Fox teases portfolio-spanning presentation

Fox Entertainment made the unusual decision to unveil its upcoming programming slate without revealing its fall schedule. During a press call, Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier attributed the choice to the growth of free streaming platform Tubi and allocating upfront time to opportunities across Fox Entertainment’s portfolio. “We talked about our portfolio and the way buyers are buying across it,” explained Collier, “and we thought to focus today on the linear grid was not the right way to go”—although some speculate the scheduling delay may be due to unfinished negotiations between the network and 20th Television on top-performing shows “9-1-1” and “The Resident.”

Fox also announced its blockchain-based animated series “Krapopolis,” which incorporates NFTs and cryptocurrency into the viewing experience. When questioned about the present decline of value for virtual assets, Collier praised the market’s volatility as an asset that would “shake out a lot of people who are trying to just act like it was a gold rush.”

Keep reading: “How Fox is incorporating NFTs into new show ‘Krapopolis’,” from Ad Age’s Asa Hiken

Check out later today for our full coverage of the network’s upfront.

Previously on …

Early upfronts offered a sneak peek of the sort of enthusiastic, schmoozing glamor of the in-person presentations we’re already seeing this week. AMC Networks, which hosted its presentation in early April, treated an intimate group of attendees to a steak dinner in Hudson Yards’ 101st-floor Peak restaurant, a tribute to its offerings’ “new heights.” The starry event put buyers face-to-face with talent such as “Better Call Saul” star Bob Odenkirk and an intimate performance from Oscar nominee Andra Day. In a similar fashion, Screenvision Media presented its theatrical ad opportunities in early May with a side of buttery popcorn, bottomless cocktails, a fireside interview with “Crazy Rich Asians” director Jon M. Chu and a performance from rapper Flo Rida onstage with women dressed as “Avatar” characters.

Netflix’s marketing goliath

Netflix has been building hype for its “Stranger Things” franchise—one of its most popular and beloved shows—with aggressive marketing campaigns and brand collaborations that helped drive conversation around the series even as pandemic delays drove a three-year gap between seasons. A feature for the latest issue of Ad Age dives deep into the streamer’s mega-marketing machine as a clue for how Netflix can build fandom moving forward, as well as how its approach to branding could inform the next era of the company: Netflix with ads.

Read more: Netflix's 'Stranger Things' marketing offers clues to its streaming wars plan

Representation takes baby steps

A new report card from the Association of National Advertisers ranks networks’ cultural relevance for multicultural audiences based on a survey of 68,000 TV watchers. While the report finds little progress in diverse programming, “there is movement in the right direction,” said Carlos Santiago, co-founder of ANA’s Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing. As buyers embark on this week’s upfronts, the report card can “help guide where advertisers are investing in shifting their priorities as they understand that cultural relevance is a key factor to increase their brand opinion and their trust in purchase intent.”

We’ll be back tomorrow with another edition of this pop-up newsletter. In the meantime, keep an eye on our up-to-the-minute coverage at