Upfronts -- May 18

The Phone Call

Our story begins not on the 59th floor of a New York skyscraper, nor in the cushy L.A. offices overlooking palm trees and sandy beaches, but in the heartland of America: Chicago, Illinois. After meeting up with my old high school friend, Doug Ciocca, at his Morgan Stanley office downtown, we took a train north and settled into our upper-deck seats at the afternoon Cubs/Braves game. It was a crisp Friday afternoon, the sun was shining, the beer was flowing, the smells and sounds of America's pasttime were in the air... and I was on my cell phone with my agent in L.A. "No! We haven't heard anything!" came the exasperated voice of Hilary Steinberg, the administrative assistant. "Why do you keep calling?" Oh, the love. So, I shut off the phone and let the Cubs' 9-0 trouncing of Atlanta take my mind off the still-undisclosed decisions about ABC's fall lineup.

[Oh Grow Up logo]

[Morgan Grace & the Cioccas]

With the Cioccas: Doug, Morgan Grace, and Kara

After stopping in to hang with the Cioccas, including the newest, Morgan Grace, Doug gave me and friends Glenn Kessler and Amy Canter a ride back to our hotel. Once seated in the car, I turned my cell phone back on. I pushed the little voice mail button on the phone, and what should appear, but one message waiting. It was my agent's phone number and the words, PLEASE CALL. We all tried to remain calm. Maybe they were just low on pictures and resumes, maybe they just wanted to know when I would be back in L.A., maybe they were just calling to let me know my life was about to change. Really, it could have been anything.

"Hello, this is John Ducey."

"Just a second." Yes, it was Hilary again. No, she did not question why I was calling. There was even a hint of glee in her voice. Of course, she's not allowed to break the news, but a hint of glee is usually a good sign.

"Ducey?" my agent, Joel King, asked.


"Hey, Ducey, how are you?" asked Nina Pakula, my other agent.

"I'm good."

"Well, you should be very good since ABC picked up your show for the fall schedule! They bought 13 episodes!"

The rest of the call is a blur. It was a discussion of celebrating the news and going to New York and flying first class and realizing a dream and so many exciting and crazy things. Meanwhile, in the car, my three friends tried to remain calm until the conversation was completed. After that, the celebration began. Other calls were made, of course, to parents and friends, letting them know the news, sharing with them the excitement and joy. As we drove down Lake Shore Drive, between the city and Lake Michigan, the biggest news of my life was slowly sinking in. A role on a sitcom every week. Every week. Every single week. Cool.

We returned to the Sheraton Hotel and joined Evan Cohen, then ordered five different shots, one per person and hopefully one per year the show is on television. They included a Cuervo, a kamikaze, a Yagermeister, a lemon drop (Evan), and a Jack Daniels. We toasted the past efforts and the future possibilities, but mostly we toasted the moment. Forgetting everything that has come before and all of the unknowns that lie ahead, both good and bad, it was a time to take in the excitement of the achievement. For one pure instant, as the Cuervo 1800 rolled down the back of my throat, a pure sense of achievement and accomplishment washed over me. This was a big dream. Today it came true.

[Chicago celebration]

Kessler, Canter, Ducey, Cohen, Ciocca

The Flight

My alarm went off at 4:45am. (That was the low point of the trip.) The town car arranged for by ABC picked me up at six. We made one stop on the way to the airport to pick up Joel King, my agent, who would be my fellow adventurer on this whirlwind trip to New York City for ABC's announcement of their fall line-up. We checked in and discovered our seat assignments: 1C and 1D. If nothing else, at least we would be the first ones there.

Once aboard the aircraft and settled into our first class digs, we began to take in the folks around us. ABC had a lot of money invested in this one flight. If we went down, every night of television would have been affected. We had seen Bill Campbell in the terminal. He is starring in ABC's most-promising new drama, Now and Again. Looking around the cabin, we also had A.J. Langer and Steven Eckholdt from it's like, you know. Rebecca Gayheart of 90210 and Noczema fame, plus Brad Rowe and Sasha Alexander, two hot up-and-comers, all star in one of ABC's new fall dramas, Wasteland. Paula Marshall, from last year's failed Cupid and the brand new Snoops was seated with her companion Bruno Campos (Jesse, other network). And sitting in 1C was little old Johnny Ducey, just happy to be getting a hot towel and a bowl of fresh fruit. Exciting as it might have been, though, it was only the tip of the celebrity iceberg.

Upon reaching Newark, we deplaned and proceeded toward baggage claim. As the escalator lowered us into the arrivals area, an arc of limo drivers appeared before us. At least a dozen men in black were holding up signs, awaiting their charges. We located DUCEY and got our bags. Off to the city...

The Welcome

The first evening belonged to us. I had dinner with a couple of people from the show and my friends Evan and Amy who live in New York. After we finished, we went over to the Royalton Hotel where the production company was having a little celebration party. People from Greenblatt/Janollari as well as ABC were all there drinking and chatting. One exciting thing about the evening was that it was the first time many of us had seen each other since the taping of the show and, more importantly, I guess, since the announcement that they were going to pick us up. So the reunion was a happy one with lots of hugging and back-slapping. We were all quite proud of ourselves and of each other for having reached that point, the eve of the official announcement. We all had a very nice time basking in that glow.

One surreal moment occured as a couple of us were leaving the hotel to head over to the party. With the arrival of all the limos during the day, I guess word had spread into some underground circles that there were celebrities staying at the hotel. When we walked out of the hotel lobby and hailed ourselves a cab, a few autograph seekers approached us. "Are you guys anyone famous?" came the question. Stephen turned and offered me up for the slaughter. "This guy right here is very important. You definitely want his autograph." We all ended up signing. I'm not sure if that counts as an official first autograph request. "Are you guys famous?" I think we'll still be able to walk the streets unnoticed.

The Upfronts

[Photo op]

"on file"

The main event occured the following day. By 2:30pm, a handful of stretch limos had started to gather outside the Trump International Tower. Many ABC celebs needed a lift over to the New Amsterdam Theater for the Media Presentation. With the limos came a collection of passers-by who all stopped passing by to see what the commotion was about. At 3pm, I went down to the lobby and hopped into a limo with Joel, my agent, Ryan Reynolds, from Two Guys and Pizza, and Erik von Detton, from the new show, Odd Man Out, who also had his agent with him.

At the theater, the limo dropped us off at the back entrance where one might assume we could slip quietly into the theater. Incorrect. Lined up outside the stage door were photographers from various newspapers and magazines. Our next duty was to stand and pose for each of the 10 or so photographers. And while this was everyone's duty, not everyone got equal attention. Keep in mind I have just stepped out of a limo with the famous Ryan Reynolds and the cute 16 year-old Erik von Detton. That put me at a firm third in importance. So while the photographers snapped away at the other boys, I just stood there waiting to be given the OK to go inside. At the last minute, a couple of the photographers got a picture of me and took my name. "Well, now we have you on file," one of them said to me. (Yeah, the circular file.)

Inside, the ABC stars and their wives/husbands/agents milled about chatting and socializing. There were happy reunions going on as cast members were getting together for the first time in a month or so. This is where the celebrity quotient peaked. From Sunday through Saturday, this is who I remember seeing...



Gina Gershon, Paula Marshall

The Practice


Lara Flynn Boyle, Kelli Williams, Steve Harris

Monday Night Football


Al Michaels, Boomer Esiason



Diane Sawyer, Sam Donaldson

Spin City


Richard Kind

it's like, you know


Jennifer Grey, AJ Langer, Steven Eckholdt, Chris Eigeman

Dharma & Greg


Jenna Elfman

Sports Night


Josh Charles, Peter Krause



Gordon Clapp, James McDaniel

Once and Again


Bill Campbell

Two Guys and Pizza


Ryan Reynolds, Richard Ruccolo

The Norm Show


Norm McDonald, Laurie Metcalf

Drew Carey Show


Drew Carey



Rebecca Gayheart, Brad Rowe, Sasha Alexander

The Hughleys


D.L. Hughley

Odd Man Out


Markie Post, Eric von Detton

It was a veritable ABC smorgasbord and in the middle of it all, I mostly hung close to Joel, my agent, and the guys from my show. There was also a live feed from the theater stage where, at 4pm, the presentation of the fall season began with a rousing Drew Carey dance number. Drew Carey, the face of ABC and our fall lead-in, gave a little opening talk to the advertisers and the show was underway.

We got the basic idea of what would happen on stage while we were down in the holding room. As they progressed through the nights of the week, they would show clips from various shows on that night and then bring out the casts at the very end. The actors would walk onto the stage, wave or nod (or do nothing) as their names were read and then move back off the stage. That was all that was required of us. That's when I decided it would be OK to have a beer instead of the water I was dutifully sipping on.

They were reaching the end of the Tuesday night spiel when a young woman came and tapped us on the shoulder. "You guys are next. Time to get into place." We followed her up to the wing of the stage and as we moved into position, up on the big screen began the Wednesday night clips. And when I say the Wednesday night clips, I mean about five minutes of Oh Grow Up scenes and nothing else. All of the other shows were returning shows and they had opened the night with Drew Carey, so it was all promoting our show. The collection of clips was put together very well, very cute, well-planned and timed. The response from the audience was great. It felt very good. As the clips ended, we began our walk onto the stage. We were behind all of the other Wednesday night casts so we just followed in step. We stopped on the stage. I heard the name John Ducey announced, raised my hand a tiny bit and within 10 seconds it was all over. The official release of Ford unto the world had been achieved.

[The Whole Gang]

The Reception

After finishing our walk across the stage, we were quickly herded into a limo and sent over to the reception. Again, photographers greeted us as we emerged from the limo as well as a couple of television crews. Our cast ended up in front of the E! interviewer and we spoke with her for about five minutes.

Once beyond the media we could see the massiveness of the spread. Three seperate tents with buffets and bars and plenty of room to stroll about and mingle. Around the outer edges of the tents were tables, each with a different show's name above it. One of the first ones was ours. It wasn't completely clear at this point what exactly would happen at these tables, but for now, we were early arrivals and could just hang out.

[in the tent]

[Media Man]

Michael Kassan

It was during this down time that I spoke with Michael Kassan, the President and COO of Western International Media, one of the largest and most important buyers at the event. And how did he and I end up in conversation? Coincidence? Fate? Some nifty P/R? No, I happened to have spent much of the last five years tutoring his three kids in calculus, physics, SATs, the works. So, I got a glimpse of the event from the opposite perspective. Who would have thought that after all that tutoring my one connection to the industry would be through an advertiser?

The rest of the media guests began to filter in over the next couple of hours. At one point during the evening, I made my way back to the Oh Grow Up table. There was Rena, doing what we were all supposed to be doing, taking Polaroids with the guests one at a time. I jumped in and joined the process. Off to the left, a small line of people waited to say hello and then get a Polaroid snapped. The photo would then be put into a tiny ABC folder with the ABC logo under the freshly snapped photo. Walt Disney has nothing on this operation (except, of course, charging $12.99 per photo). I don't know how long Rena was in action before I walked up, but once there we did about another hour of photos, I would guess 200 or so meetings and greetings and shootings. And while this may end up being something I dread, it was really quite enjoyable. Rena is such a professional and fun person to be around, she made it very light and entertaining.

When we finally ended the Great Polaroid Marathon '99, our time at the reception was just about over. There was a private dinner/second reception scheduled elsewhere that only ABC people would be at. We rounded up the Oh Grow Up troops and got back in another limo to head across town. Our first night in the spotlight had come to a close. Again, we were the darlings. We were the new hope, one of only six new shows, one of only three new sitcoms. So everyone had very nice, encouraging, flattering things to say to us all night. It's odd to think that this might be our peak. This little five-minute showing to a theater full of advertising executives in New York City may be the best this show ever does. There is still a lot of uncertainty ahead. For now, it's nice to have everyone say that we're so great and important. Just enjoy the moment. And man, this was a good moment.

[Publicity, baby]

Joel King

Go on to Affiliates Reception

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