Fox’s Upfront at the Beacon Theater on Monday, May 11, was all about the hit hip-hop soap “Empire.”
Sure, there was a funny pre-recorded video with Rob Lowe – star of the upcoming Fox show, “The Grinder” – where he cajoled advertisers not to pay any attention to online streaming competitors. But even he mentioned “Empire.” “I’m the star and creator of ‘Empire,’ which is based on my life,” he cracked.
The energy level picked up when “Empire” creators Lee Daniels and Danny Strong and producer Brian Grazer came onstage. Daniels, who looked newly slim, thanked his fans and told an anecdote. “I was seeing a friend, Helen Mirren,” on Broadway, and he saw these 70ish black men discussing “Empire.” “And they’re obsessed with this show,” said Daniels. When he asked them why, they told him, “We love this show because it’s about power.”
And then Daniels told the packed audience, “Fox has a special gift. The cast is coming.”
To wild applause, Jussie Smollett and Bryshere Gray (who play Jamal and Hakeem Lyon) came on stage and sang “No Apologies.” Jennifer Hudson joined them for “Whatever Makes You Happy.” Trai Byers (Andre Lyon), Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson – who got the most applause – joined them for a lively rendition of “You’re so Beautiful!” This terrific musical interlude went on for about eight minutes.
Fox executives who participated included Dana Walden and Gary Newman, Chief Operating Officers for the Fox Television Group, and Toby Byrne, president advertising sales, Fox Networks Group.
Fox mentioned that next year would be the 15th and last season for “American Idol.” This was no surprise since that had already been announced, but the reaction from the audience was muted; they didn’t know whether to clap or not. Newman said all the judges – Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. – will return, along with host Ryan Seacrest. Newman added, “Next year, it’s going to be a huge celebratory season-long event with lots of surprises along the way.”
Fox is very high on Ryan Murphy’s “Scream Queens” starring Emma Roberts and Jamie Lee Curtis in a comedy-horror mashup about a sorority house from hell where pledges get murdered. (Before the Upfront, young co-eds in cheerleading skirts yelled out the name of the sorority, and a pink ice cream truck at the entrance had people handing out free treats.)
Ryan Murphy came on stage and promised that there would “absolutely be no singing or jazz hands” in the show. He introduced the huge cast, with Curtis getting the biggest applause. The show also features Lea Michele, Nick Jonas, Ariana Grande and Abigail Breslin. After introducing them he announced, “One of the people I just named is the killer.” Based on the preview clip they showed, the show looks fun. Roberts plays a deliciously bitchy sorority president who reminds me of Sarah Michelle Gellar in “Cruel Intentions.”
One of the most hotly anticipated shows is “The X-Files” reboot. Chris Carter, who created “The X-Files,” came on stage with Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, who made a subdued and very brief appearance. Anderson seemed to cling to Duchovny, and the actors said nothing, possibly because they haven’t even started shooting the show yet.
Buses took guests to the afterparty at the Wollman Skating Rink in Central Park. The “Scream Queens” cheerleaders were back and stood at the entrance where they chanted the name of the sorority. Some of them had knives sticking out of their backs.
Fox always throws a great party, and there were food stations and bars everywhere. The food was mainly comfort, including four different kinds of mac & cheese. Another station had soul food – hush puppies, ribs and fried catfish, while another table featured sushi. There was also a separate area for desserts, including parfaits and ice cream sundaes.
Some of the “Empire” cast mixed with guests in the outdoor area, including showrunner Ilene Chaiken and star Terrence Howard. The beautiful actresses Grace Gealey and Kaitlin Doubleday playfully pouted and posed for photographs.
An executive producer of “Empire” said she had to beg guests to come on the show for the first season. Now celebrities are calling them. Fox already announced that Alicia Keyes, Lenny Kravitz and Chris Rock are scheduled to appear next season, and there will be other big names, possibly some of Lee Daniels’ celebrity pals, she hinted.
The highlight of the party for guests is the opportunity to pose for photographs with the stars of the shows. In past years the lines were always orderly, but pandemonium broke out when the “Empire” stars showed up.
The line got so long and unmanageable that only about a quarter of the people waiting got a chance to take a photograph with cast members. Terrence Howard looked at the disappointed fans and walked up to people and posed for selfies until his handlers dragged him away.
Other big stars with shows in the upcoming season who turned up to take photographs included John Travolta, David Schwimmer, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Sarah Paulson (“American Crime Story”); Will Forte (“The Last Man on Earth”); and John Stamos (“Grandfathered”).