How Upfronts 2022 became the Covid Superspreader Event – ​​Deadline

Late-night presenters are brought in by networks to provide comic relief at their pre-launch presentations. But it turns out Seth Meyers was only half joking when he told the thousands who packed Radio City Music Hall for the presentation of NBCUniversal: “What a historic space to be able to tell people that you got Covid.”

Ten days later, Covid cases are sweeping through the ranks of those who attended the marathon of events in New York last week. Top-level executives at virtually every major network and studio were impacted, along with support staff who worked on the presentations, as well as media buyers and reporters attending the series of events.

The subject will inevitably be raised in every conversation this week that has involved someone on the front lines amid what is likely the biggest Covid outbreak in the higher echelons of the television industry since the pandemic began.

The first in-person Upfronts in three years, which turned into a superspreader event, is not given the coincidence of the unfortunate timing of the celebrations amid a surge in New York and not very strict Covid protocols as companies across the country have lifted restrictions quite surprising. TThe majority of attendees did not wear masks most of the time and while we heard some executives were being tested daily as part of their own company’s guidelines, none of the unconnected guests had to take a Covid test throughout the week. (Vax cards became mandatory at all venues.)

On Monday, the first day of the Upfronts, New York City health officials urged people to wear masks when being in densely populated indoor spaces, but they didn’t go as far as mandating it, and for the next few days at the events, aimed at ad buyers, not many masks were seen.

The NBCUniversal upfront, which began at Radio City Music Hall with lavish production numbers featuring dozens of performers, and the Fox event (mostly pretaped) at Skylight on Monday were largely mask-free affairs, as was the Disney event in Basketball City on Tuesday, where the majority of attendees huddled in bleachers in the back, behind key executives and top advertisers seated on couches and tables in the front.

Warner Bros. Discovery held its event Wednesday morning at the theater in Madison Square Garden, but it wasn’t until Paramount Global’s bash at Carnegie Hall later that day that attendees were made to don their masks by those allowing entry , and then reminded to put on the masks throughout the event.

Similarly, the CW urged those in attendance to wear masks during their run at the New York City Center.

And then there were the parties. They ranged in size from relatively small for CW and Fox, to medium for NBCUniversal and Disney, to large for Paramount, where hundreds of revelers hung out in the nine stories of the former Barney’s building in New York. Given their nature of social gatherings involving food and drink, the parties were virtually mask-free.

There has been talk that positive Covid tests may have sidelined some presenters who were due to appear at the upfronts, but as these are not announced in advance it’s hard to tell. The only confirmed case was ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel, who had to make his annual roast virtually instead of delivering it to the room.

While the magnitude of the Covid outbreak associated with the upfronts only became clear this week, there was a general sense of inevitability among last week’s participants, who had accepted that there was a strong possibility of catching Covid when New York nearing the orange high alert. As one industry player told Deadline at the time, it felt like the “risk of doing business” these days.

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