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Inside the Racy Disney Upfront: Bob Iger and Amorous Golden Retrievers Take Center Stage

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If there were any lingering doubts that the Walt Disney Co. is now comfortable leaning into the edgier aspects of its increasingly aligned portfolio, they evaporated about 10 minutes into Tuesday’s upfront presentation when Ryan Reynolds promised that eventual Disney+ library member Deadpool & Wolverine would be a boon to advertisers targeting “testicular trauma” and “cocaine content.”

There was noticeably less cursing at the week’s previous upfront events, at least until Jimmy Kimmel took the stage, but the embrace of Hard-R content was apparent from the pitch’s opening moments. Emma Stone, the Oscar-winning star of the Disney-produced Poor Things, was on hand to introduce Bob Iger — and, a month after he won his proxy fight with Nelson Peltz, voice her support for the recently embattled CEO. 

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“I think we’re incredibly fortunate to have a captain like Bob Iger at the helm of the Walt Disney Co., ensuring that the magical essence of imagination and storytelling are at the heart of everything,” Stone said to screams of approval from the corner of the room apparently occupied by the Disney contingent. 

“Today, we’re going to share the incredible projects that we’re working on,” added Iger, “and then later Jimmy Kimmel will be out to tear them all apart. I think he’ll probably be tearing me apart, too.”

Iger’s brief spiel focused on that storytelling — though he acknowledged the “radical changes that have transformed the business,” including their “whole business model.” But he was most memorable in noting what a rare sight it was to see him up there. His decision to grace the Javits Center stage broke Iger’s decades-long stint of sticking it to the upfront audience. His last time speaking for media buyers, he noted, was in 1994 — when he was the president of a pre-Disney-owned ABC. 

Before he departed, he did acknowledge the executives who would usually be on the upfront stage, namely Dana Walden. The Disney Entertainment co-chair was seated in the front row, beside counterpart Alan Bergman. Longtime Walden collaborator Ryan Murphy, wearing sunglasses inside, was seated behind her. It was also the power-producer’s first upfront since he officially departed Netflix, a fact that was alluded to later in the nearly two-hour presentation when Kim Kardashian hyped four new Murphy series coming to various Disney platforms over the coming year.

Let’s not gloss over that bit about the runtime, though. The Disney presentation was an absolute marathon — with probably a few more trailers than necessary. That’s apparently just what happens when you’re selling Hulu, Disney+, ABC, FX, ESPN and several other platforms that selectively diverge and converge depending on one’s streaming or cable subscriptions. 

What seemed to play well were the spots for Disney+ entries from Marvel (Agatha All Along) and Lucasfilm (The Acolyte). There was also a lot of apparent affection for the teaser of season four of Only Murders in the Building, as the upfront audience carries a torch for Steve Martin and Martin Short more than, say, Kardashian. The breakout, however, might have been upcoming FX dark comedy Dying for Sex. A trailer for the Liz Meriwether miniseries starring Michelle Willians and Jenny Slate quickly won over the crowd. 

Having Williams on hand to introduce it didn’t hurt, either. The presentation was most keyed in when it ceded the stage to actors. Where the presentation lagged was during protracted sports segments. Getting Jason Kelce on the roster of Monday Night Football talent and in-house to sell the coming season? More than worth the stage time. Bragging about ABC and ESPN hosting the Super Bowl telecast in … 2027? Not so much. 

But Disney ultimately did what everybody seems to be doing this week — attempting to sell a vibe more than any one sub-brand or new piece of programming. And if that long run-time left a bad taste in any attendee’s mouth, Kimmel did his best to cleanse the palate while making good on Iger’s promise of him absolutely scorching the earth. “We are back in the strong, masculine hands of our once and rightful Bob, just as the prophecy foretold,” said Kimmel. “Poor Bob Iger. This guy, he should be retired by now. He should be off on a yacht somewhere. Instead, he’s here pretending to be excited about a new season of Will fucking Trent.”

Kimmel pulled no punches, neutering the aforementioned cracks about testicles and cocaine in the process. When he looked out into the audience to ask new Golden Bachelorette star Joan Vassos, “Are the kids ready to see grandma get raw-dogged in a jacuzzi?,” Abbott Elementary star Sheryl Lee Ralph’s jaw dropped. There was no camera on Ralph during the subsequent montage of dogs humping in Kimmel’s proposed spinoff, The Golden Retriever, but it’s easy to assume she was similarly scandalized.

Kimmel’s set didn’t end there, but it was perfect punctuation for a day that auspiciously started with Reese Witherspoon clutching a chihuahua. “Take that Legally Blonde prequel,” offered Kimmel.

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