Simon's Upfront Reviews: Univision, Telemundo, ESPN, NCM and More

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Roughly half of the events happening in New York last week--bringing the 2013 upfront season to a close--came from TV ventures directed at the U.S. Latino population.

The rundown on four of them follows, along with reviews of the Upfront presentations from ESPN, cable nets, NCM and selected broadcast networks. Read all my Newfront and Upfront reviews here.

Univision - 5 jacks

Venue : New Amsterdam Theater off Times Square, home to the Tony-winning Broadway musical Newsies. Univision has made this place upfront home the last three years. Easy to see why: gorgeous space, easy to see from anywhere and brightly lit stage. Grade: 5 Jacks

Presentation : It takes skill to address multiple topics in a single bound, and make the wholecome across so entertaining. For Univision, the topics in no particular order--reward increased viewership on its flagship channel with more advertiser support; spread the wealth to a variety of networks, showcase ways to reach English-speaking Latinos (such as the upcoming Fusion channel co-owned with ABC and programming ventures with Participant Media's millennial-targeting Pivot network and VEVO) and promote new shows for all its Spanish-speaking services. If that's not enough, parlay the "failure tax" mantra espoused by A&E's event the week before into "Why pay more for less?"--advertisers spending more upfront money for underachieving/underperforming channels. All were addressed in a variety of effective ways, from a building blocks demo by executive vice president Steve Mandela to chief executive officer Randy Falco starring in a mock AT&T "It's Not Complicated" message where kids talk back to a questioner. "Less is not more, no matter how you present it," Mandela added. Entertaining exclamation points came from dance group Illuminate, doing a hip-hop routine to The Wanted's hit "Glad You Came" in neon suits, and pop star Enrique Iglesias (although he looked upset with the balcony patrons now and then). Grade : 5 Jacks

News : El Rey Network, the upcoming channel from filmmaker Robert Rodriguez and Factory Made Ventures, will get a strategic investment from Univision, plus the company will serve as El Rey's ad and affiliate sales force. The channel will move up its scheduled premiere from early 2014 to this December, with Comcast systems on board under that company's diversity network initiative. Rodriguez made a surprise appearance at the event to disclose all that news, plus two original drama series (a From Dusk till Dawn adaptation and an action/adventure hour from Fringe/Hawaii Five-O producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci). Separately, a new Flama unit will create original Web and smartTV content aimed at millennials. Flama's first programs will premiere this fall, including Salseras, VEVO's first scripted series. Another quick note: Univision will launch Va Por Ti/Go For It, a competition series to crown a new Latin music superstar. Grade: 5 Jacks

Host : Solid, smooth performance by Univision president Cesar Conde and his executive colleagues.Grade: 4.5 Jacks

Overall Grade: 5 Jacks Home run on every level--format, message delivery, inventiveness and getting it all across in just over an hour.

Telemundo - 5 jacks

Venue : One more time for Jazz At Lincoln Center's Rose Hall near Columbus Circle--undisputed king of 2013 event locales. As always, the technical crew there powerfully set things up for the audience. Here, it's having Telemundo's "T" logo front, center and towering above the stage, with monitors and spotlights on either side. Bravo to this bunch for excellent work all upfront season long.Grade: 5 Jacks

Presentation : Candidate for most improved of any upfront this year. With then-new presidentTelemundoEmilio Romano, Telemundo's offering last May was somewhat rough on both focus and pizazz. Not this time around. A bright song-and-dance opening to a programming montage opened things up, while Romano and his executive colleagues shaped their points better, declaring their net as the fastest-growing regardless of language. More than 1,000 hours of new content this season ahead, plus 2014 Winter Olympics coverage and exclusive Spanish-language World Cup competition post-2015 will keep the mo up. "David is hot on the heels of Goliath," Romano boomed. So did the entertainment, provided by eight-year-old La Voz Kids contestant Fatima and superstar Marc Anthony. Anthony, his backup band, singers and lighting crew, electrify. Grade: 5 Jacks

News : Ryan Seacrest will co-produceSuperstar Showdown, where two top music talents compete against each other in battle royale fashion. Miss Latina USAgives women from across the country the chance for automatic entry in the Miss Universe beauty pageant (co-owned by Donald Trump). Among five new telenovelas coming this summer and fall: Dama Y Obrero/Lady And The Worker, the network's first Los Angeles-produced drama with race relations among the issues explored. Other developments: Entre Grandes Y Chicos/Kids Vs. Grownups, a role-reversal daytime game show; weekly late-night sports roundup Titulares y Mas/Headlines and More expands to weeknights, and Al Rojo Vivoanchorperson Maria Celeste-Arraras joins Noticiero Telemundoearly weeknights as co-anchor, alongside Jose-Diaz Balart. Grade: 4.5 Jacks

Host : La Voz Kids co-host Daisy Fuentes (returning to Telemundo two decades after her breakthrough network turn on MTV Internacional) let it rip--fun, gracious, charming and still with a touch of spunk after all these years. "This is what we dream about, succeeding in America by being exactly who we are," she chimed. Grade: 5 Jacks

Overall Grade: 5 Jacks Well-balanced and focused effort by all involved. If there were any rough spots, you had to look extremely hard to spot them.

Nuvo TV - 4 jacks

Venue : Edison Ballroom on W. 47 St., complete with marquee above the front door. As people arrived at their seats, a "We Are It" video played on a screen, stage center. Grade: 4 Jacks

Presentation : Overwhelmingly, in stark contrast to the majority of upfront gatherings all season long, Nuvo went sermonette in its approach, out to make case after case why ad dollars should go to an English-language service targeting Latinos. This could have come off as giving attendeesNUVO+TVcastor oil or verbal spanking for past behavior. Due to the passionate rhetoric from Jennifer Lopez (named chief creative officer just before last week's event), chief executive officer Michael Schwimmer and ad sales chief Craig Geller, that was largely not the case. "Growing up, I saw Marcia Brady, Rudy Huxtable...but I didn't see me," Lopez explained. "Now I'm in a position to do something about it. The goal is to make this network a major player, in for the long haul, showcasing us (37 million Latinos with English their language preference and rising) without stereotypes." Adds Geller: "Whether you believe it or not, there's a segment of the Latino market you're not effectively reaching." Still, it's not too late to be involved in a marketplace spending upwards of $1.1 trillion a year. Grade: 3.5 Jacks

News : Twelve series will debut over the next year, starting with Gotta Dance (nonfiction series about professional backup dancers), Oribe (profile of hairstylist Oribe Canales) and Rodney's Joy(focusing on Grammy-winning music producer Rodney Jenkins and wife Joy). Extra and One On One host Mario Lopez will develop a new series, format to be determined. LEG Productions will supply 30 hours of original comedy material, while comedian Gabriel Iglecias develops Hey, I'm Fluffy, an animated series. Scripted comedy and drama series are anticipated to launch next year, 2015 at the latest. Grade: 4 Jacks

Host : Jennifer Lopez was engaging throughout, with Mario Lopez making a nice contribution down the stretch via a sit-down segment with J. Lo, and Schwimmer. Grade: 4.5 Jacks

Overall Grade: 4 Jacks With one of the most anticipated showcases of last week, Nuvo rolled the dice on its approach and carried it off.

Tr3s - 4 jacks

Venue : Webster Hall, the famous rock and pop showplace near Union Square. The main hall was turned into a circus, with acrobats, fire eaters and hula-hoop twirlers on stage, a woman on stilts walking through the crowd, popcorn machine to one side and big bar for a big top in the back. Let's not forget the bellydance-costumed woman holding a well-behaved boa constrictor. Shades of that BBC America spectacle last spring with the white python-holding females. Such a good time, people didn't mind waiting until after 9:30 p.m. for the main attraction.Grade: 5 Jacks

Presentation : Throw out the speeches and executive pitches; bring out the entertainment and clips. That's this channel's M.O., sticking with the setting by featuring talent from the upcoming series Familia de Circo/Circus Family. Two members of the brother act running this traveling show introduced some videos and circus talent for a 15-minute stretch, then turned everything over to Daddy Yankee and his own dance carnival for a half-hour of reggaeton on high. Daddy was dandy...very dandy.Grade: 4.5 Jacks

News : Expect more than 300 hours of original series/specials in the year ahead, including casino-set novela Fortuna, the music tour showcaseEn Tour, and Empuje/Drive, a series on health and fitness problems among Latino millennials. Grade : 3.5 Jacks

Host : That pair of circus family showrunners stole the show, especially Jose Alberto. He's one very cool customer. Grade : 4.5 Jacks

Overall Grade: 4 Jacks Pure entertainment, pure fun time for all present.


ESPN - 4 jacks

Venue : Best Buy Theater on W. 44th St. off Broadway, not so long ago a popular stage for upfront events. In previous years, ESPN converted the insides to a mini-football stadium and SportsCenter studio. Last week over an egg muffin-featured breakfast, team mascots and the Brooklyn Nets cheerleaders hobnobbed with guests.Grade: 4.5 Jacks

Presentation : Adopting an "every day is game day" approach, network hosts and executives, stressed the ability to provide maximum coverage of most major sports, from football to what the world sees as football, soccer. President John Skipper heralded the recent deal to launch a national channel of Southeastern Conference sports (fall 2014) "as having the hallmark of everything we do." Irreverency also figured along the way, from Skipper's address to "the elephant in the room" next to the University of Alabama's elephant mascot, to deadpan Kenny Mayne's questioning of Times Square tourists about upfront sales. In other segments, SportsCenter anchor Jay Harris questioned sponsor executives about their multi-approach campaigns, such as Subway's "Fresh Take." Sister net ESPN Deportes picked up some extra love from a spot of Latino sports fan research.
Grade : 4.5 Jacks

News : The big news from ESPN last week--full coverage of the U.S. Open tennis tournament launching in 2015 (replacing CBS on semifinals/finals)--didn't break in time for this event. Both ESPN and ESPN2 will launch one daily series in August: NFL Insiderson football and ESPNFC for soccer respectively. More 30 for 30 documentaries will arrive on ESPN in October, and by next spring, SportsCenter and most studio programs will originate from a new 10,000-foot digital facility in Bristol, Connecticut. Grade: 3 Jacks

Host : Neil Everett and Stan Verrett, SportsCenter's overnight pair from Los Angeles, kept things cool, collected and sharp. Let them lead the way every year. Grade : 4.5 Jacks

Overall Grade: 4 Jacks No lack of material to highlight, and no lack of sports celebs to bring on stage--San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan for starters.

NCM Media Networks - 4 jacks

Venue : The ever-classy AMC Lincoln Square multiplex on Broadway near Lincoln Center. The seats are plush, the decor's attractive. Plus there's a plentiful supply of soda and popcorn for all comers. Pre-show entertainment: upcoming movie posters flashed on the screen to film soundtracks. Grade: 4.5 JacksNCM

Presentation : At rival Screenvision's offering two weeks earlier, the focus was on giving sponsors a streamlined way to buy in-cinema ad campaigns, taking some cues from TV practices like dayparting and seasonality. With NCM (short for National CineMedia). whose pre-feature "First Look" mix of ads and vignettes play in over 19,300 screens, this event, with "The Bigger Picture" tag line, was all about offering more ad opportunities and more unique, as in 3D, ad opportunities. Indeed, 3D figured in a candidate for most dramatic upfront demonstration of 2013. After the audience watched 3D Taco Bell and Nissan ads, followed by a trailer from the upcoming movie Gravity, a public service spot for stray animal care ran on the screen. During that spot, guests were invited to switch from one pair of 3D glasses to another throughout. Each pair corresponded to a different picture on-screen--both matched to the same soundtrack. One picture followed a dog getting care at a local hospital, the other walking around a wasteland. If this process gets perfected, there may be an opportunity for both 3D movie and TV ventures. Just like Screenvision's appeal, NCM at times doubled as ode for more movie attendance, offered by company executives, movie critic Jeffrey Lyons and director Guillermo DelToro, previewing footage from his summer entry Pacific Rim. One sidetrack: comedian Colin Quinn's monologue after an executive heckling routine. Raunchy in many spots, despite some funny material. Grade: 4 Jacks

News : Entertainment Weekly magazine will produce a new red carpet segment for First Look, with editor Jess Cagle on site at blockbuster movie premieres. First Look itself will develop five-minute editions for online, mobile and smart TV display, and introduce an on-screen vignette on Twitter reaction to the latest flicks. Separately, a new Foursquare mobile app will follow local theatre attractions and search/transaction functionalities. Grade: 3.5 Jacks

Host : Enjoyable passion displayed by sales/marketing president Cliff Marks, with nice contribution by the always-informative/entertaining Lyons. Grade: 3.5 Jacks

Overall Grade: 4 Jacks That 3D spot demo elevated this event to another level, leading you to believe 5-10 years from now, being there was being at the birthplace of an exciting content or advertising reality.

USA Network - 5 jacks

Venue : A grand place was selected for the grand finale of upfront event season 2013--Pier 36 on South Street near the Williamsburg Bridge. Google/YouTube had their Newfront event here three weeks earlier, and it's easy to see why. This is one gigantic space with half set aside for thepresentation, half for the after-party (and this half has an outdoor patio along the East River). The presentation stage was as wide as what people see on major award ceremonies, with screens to the right, left and center of attendees. Outside, Twitter users could stand behind the press and tweet endlessly as celebrities walked the red carpet. One after-party delicacy people couldn't get enough of: mushroom toast. Grade: 5 Jacks

Presentation : The network is ready to expand beyond its core "blue skies" kind of original programming and boldly go into other directions--comedy, gritty drama and reality. That was one of three points USA's effort emphasized. Second, when Modern Family reruns arrive this fall, we're going to make the most of it. Co-creator Steven Levitan served up a video of what the series would be like if it was produced on cable, creatively unleashed. In a nutshell, the video didn't disappoint. Third: happy end to upfront season. "We want to thank you for sitting in your 49th darkened theater," one presenter noted near the end, serving notice upfront season 2014 starts X amount of hours from now. For two kickers, the entire Psychcast performed a micro-musical of their series, and The Choir's host "conducted" a rendition of Carly Rae Jepsen's hit "Good Time" from split-screen videos of USA show casts and employees. Grade: 5 Jacks

News : At least seven series will launch on USA over the next year, two each in comedy, drama and reality. Sirensand Playing House are the comedies; The Arrangement and Horizon the dramas, and the new reality trio consists of The Choir, Summer Camp and Partners In Crime. Grade: 5 Jacks

Host : Just like sister NBC Universal net Syfy, on-camera talent gets the majority of host time--in this case, cast members of popular drama Suits. Unflappable to the last second. Grade: 5 Jacks

Overall Grade: 5 Jacks In every way--entertainment value, pace, approach to the message, news and venue--this hit the mark.

ABC - 4.5 jacks

Venue : Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, as serene and classy a space you can get. Don't look for frills (glitzy screens, set designs and wall effects) when you come here. Substance demonstrated on stage rules. Grade: 5 Jacks

Presentation : Off the bat, it appeared everyone was in for an extended Jimmy Kimmel Livecelebration with primetime the afterthought. Kimmel and Disney/ABC president Anne Sweeney headlined the opening segment spoofing Scandal, then Sweeney, live on stage, begins with: "You know what looks so good? Jimmy Kimmel at 11:35 p.m." A heartfelt salute to Barbara Walters' retirement from ABC followed (with an extended standing ovation from the audience), and launch news on a TV Everywhere rollout. Just when you thought otherwise, Sweeney and ABC Entertainment president Paul Lee put primetime front and center, insisting the season ahead will take creative gambles. "If you don't take risks, you don't act boldly, you'll never do something measurable," Sweeney added. Kimmel returned more than midway through the primetime showcase to offer his annual upfront monologue. Grade : 4.5 Jacks

News : Tuesday nights will be all-new this fall, comprising of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., back-to-back comedies The Goldbergs and Trophy Wife, and lottery drama Lucky 7. Rebel Wilson-starring Super Fun Night gets the coveted post-Modern Family slot Wednesday nights, and in a fun touch, Wilson introduced her show's clip reading from prepared notes. "This is the anti-Sex & The City," she said. "Don't worry, I won't be doing a Lena Dunham," referring to the Girls co-star/creator. Once Upon A Time'sWonderland spinoff leads off Thursday nights. (Midseason newbies include Resurrection and Mind Games. No 10 p.m. drama switcheroo's here. Grade: 5 Jacks

Host : Lee moves the proceedings along with charm, ease and aplomb. Grade: 4.5 Jacks

Overall Grade: 4.5 Jacks Despite much more Jimmy Kimmel than normal, almost to the point of overshadowing primetime, the message came through--better primetime ratings will be driven by more creative chances.

Before moving on, as a public service, some choice lines from Jimmy Kimmel's upfront summation at ABC's event:

***"It's time to stop calling this an upfront and start calling it what it really is. Throwing a bunch of (?!?!) at a wall to see what sticks. And guess what? You guys are the wall."

***"The reason we're here is because you are about to invest billions of dollars in a network that rolled a 400-pound comedian off a diving board last week."

***"One of the shows previewed today was written by a third-grade class. Your challenge tonight is to figure out which one it was."

***"NBC actually finished behind Univision this year, and they have an interesting strategy for next year...oppose immigration reform. By the way, how does it work at the Univision upfront? Do they lie to you in Spanish?"

***"CBS has a new show premiering at the end of the month called The American Baking Challenge. That'll get the kids to put down their IPhones."

***"If you're not advertising on Shark Tank you're missing a golden opportunity to connect with the highly desirable lonely failed inventor demographic."

***"The thing that's important to remember is that last year NBC made a show starring a monkey (Animal Practice) and a lot of you bought advertising on it. So clearly none of us have any idea what we're doing."

The CW - 4.5 jacks

Venue : The always opulent, intimate City Center on W. 55th St., home to this network's event for the second year. Welcoming everyone: The Dolls--Mia on DJ turntable and Caitlin on electronic violin, playing to techno-pop tunes for more than a half-hour. Got a nice ovation from the crowd. Grade:5 Jacks

Presentation : CW has a penchant for leading off their show with a music star and memorable tune of the moment. Think Katy Perry several years ago with "California Girls" or Flo Rida last May with "Good Feeling." Duo Icona Pop had their turn last week with a salty version of " I Don't Care." (We won't get into how salty.) Then right into the schedule and clips. Big point: CW embraced multi-platform (TV/online/mobile) before multi-platform was cool, reminded president Mark Pedowitz. Combined ratings from all three mediums matter, and despite being last among the major English-language broadcast networks in ratings, that insistence continues. For example, touting The Vampire Diaries as the #1 broadcast scripted series in social media feedback. One thing CW does better than others with their showcase is give stars of their new shows stage time (not face time from their seats). The stars return the favor by keeping the forced patter down. Grade: 4.5 Jacks

News : Three new series premiere this fall: Vampire Diaries spinoff The Originals Tuesdays, The Tomorrow People on Wednesdays and Reign Thursdays. Tomorrow is a millennial-tailored revival of the Nickelodeon series presented in the 1980s and 90s, while Reign dramatizes Mary, Queen of Scots. Nikita takes a final six-episode run later this fall, while Star-Crossed, The 100andFamous in 12 join the lineup next winter or spring. Also, CW is launching a "Seed" Web/smart TV place for comedies and experimental formats. Grade: 4.5 Jacks

Host : You always sense Pedowitz relishes the chance to speak out about his channel's programming. A seize-the-day kind of presenter. Grade : 4 Jacks

Overall Grade
: 4.5 Jacks Vim is in when The CW take the stage with its showcase. Ditto the funky music lead-ins.

NBC - 4 jacks

Venue : Radio City Music Hall near NBC's 30 Rock headquarters, one of the great entertainment showplaces of this nation. After a year away, The Roots--Jimmy Fallon's house band--came back to deliver the pre and post-ceremony entertainment. They demonstrated again why they rock every night on TV, and why they should move over with Fallon to The Tonight Shownext February.NBCUnfortunately, thanks to Music Hall security setting up two checkpoints outside (one for bags, the other for electronic pat-downs), the line to get in extended down W. 50th St., and around the corner on 5th Ave. Result: many people were scrambling to their seats as the presentation started. Embarrassing. Grade: 4 Jacks

Presentation : Acknowledging that his network had "a rollercoaster" of a 2012-13 season, as in sensational fall (largely due to Sunday Night Football and The Voice), followed by disappointing new series in absentia of SNL and The Voice, NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt promised the crowd "a strong 52 weeks ahead of us," generated by new series and 2014 Winter Olympics coverage from Sochi, Russia. His point was seconded or serenaded (take your pick) by Fallon and outgoing Tonighthost Jay Leno in a spoof of Les Miserables' tune "One Day More." A rare deviation from making points through executive remarks and sizzle reels. Meantime, for the second straight year, the video crew responsible for images on the wide screen above the stage did not have their act together at crucial spots. The spots last year: musical numbers from The Voice and Smash. This year, not one, one, picture of NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke or late-night/alternative TV chief Paul Telegdy during their remarks. They and people in back of the hall or the mezzanine levels, deserve better. Grade: 4 Jacks

News : Half of the dozen new series coming to the network this season ahead will premiere this fall, the other half in 2014, largely after the Olympics. Notable among the fall newbies: The Michael J. Fox Show, with Fox making his series return as a local news anchorperson, and The Blacklist, starring James Spader in a Hannibal Lecter-type turn. Another notable tactic--from both NBC and CBS: switched time periods for 10 p.m. dramas. Revolution moves from Mondays to leading off Wednesdays; Chicago Fire from Wednesday to Tuesdays at 10, andParenthood from Tuesdays to Thursdays at 10. Crossbones, the pirate drama introduced at last year's upfront, finally gets to be seen next year, Fridays at 10. ( Special note: in yet another video snafu, someone forgot to run a Crossbones clip reel.) Two dates to remember: September 9 for the two-weekMillion Second Quiz and December 5 for the live production of The Sound of Musicwith Carrie Underwood. Grade: 5 Jacks

Host : Greenblatt, Salke and Telegdy handled their respective portions well. Grade: 4 Jacks

Overall Grade: 4 Jacks Solid effort upended by security delays, then video crew irregularities. Without both, a half-jack increase.

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