It seems like Jimmy Kimmel’s annual roast has been a highlight of the upfronts forever. It’s been around for a while — Kimmel has been insulting networks, executives and ad buyers alike for the past 12 years. But it is not the longest upfront tradition, not by a long stretch.
In 1996, in his first upfront at CBS as president of entertainment, Leslie Moonves, ever the showman, gathered journalists the morning of the network upfront presentation for a breakfast where he revealed the fall schedule. It became an annual thing, and 19 upfronts later, it still is going strong. Some things have changed — Moonves runs CBS Corp. now, and the magnet board has been replaced by a computer. But the schedule unveiling ceremony and the menu — bagels and lox — have remained the same, and Moonves is still there every year to kick things off.
A year earlier, in 1995, the Endeavor agency was less than 2 months old. Co-founders Ari Emanuel and Rick Rosen went to the upfronts to see clients — Rosen staying with his uncle, Emanuel with friends. People took them out to dinner the first two nights but on the third, they were on their own. With no money, their options were very limited. Rosen had a Peter Luger credit card, so they decided to go the Brooklyn steakhouse for dinner where they were joined by fellow Endeavor co-founder David Greenblatt, Dean Valentine, then president of Walt Disney TV, and attorney Jim Jackoway. From five, the dinner party grew to 10 the following year and soon became a tradition. It never expanded too much — 135 attended this year’s 20th anniversary dinner — but that is by design. The organizers keep the event exclusive — open only to top-level network and studio executives as well as clients with new shows. That exclusivity has made the Endeavor — now WME Peter Luger dinner — one of the hottest tickets during upfronts.
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Going back even further, to the early 1990s (some pinpoint the year as 1994), then-NBC SVP Primetime Series Jamie Tarses decided to throw a karaoke party on Sunday, the night before the NBC upfront presentation. Organized with the help of her assistant (now Amblin TV co-head Justin Falvey), the party was held late Sunday night at a karaoke place in Koreatown, attended by fellow NBC executives like Karey Burke, Flody Suarez and Steve McPherson.