Sundancing with Reality - Simon Applebaum

By Simon Applebaum TV / Video Download Archives

Most television networks engaged in this annual upfront rite use formal events to score points with advertisers and the press. Some networks create special presentations just for press, either as the place to make the case or adjacent to their main event. Sundance Channel kicked off the press-only round of 2011 activities with a mid-morning breakfast March 1. Here's what came across:

Venue: Simple elegance inside the Ganesvoort Park Hotel's third-floor Park Avenue Ballroom, on the corner of Park & E. 29th St. Podium stage right in the front of the room, monitor in the middle and a nice food selection...bacon, eggs and bagels for some; cantaloupe, honeydew melon and other fruits for others. Grade: A

Presentation: Three new words to take home and muse about from this one. From the mouth of Sundance/IFC president Evan Shapiro comes"nichification," demonstrating TV's present and future course of different network strokes targeting different folks, and "brandscapes," a way to calculate both the environment and cultural connectiveness of channels. "We cater to an audience that's curious, that's adventurous and smart," says Shapiro of Sundance's brandscape. Picking up that ball, Sundance executive VP/general manager Sarah Barnett contributes "poptimists," as in people plugging into pop culture with optimistic aplomb. Got to love the word creation, along with each new program highlighted with clips had the program's key protagonist reacting live. Nice pace and zero fluff. Grade: A-plus

News Value: Solid with two reservations. The solid part was Sundance bringing on six new reality miniseries between late March and year's end, all of them with possibilities to draw considerable audiences. All On The Line kicks things off March 29, where Elle magazine creative director Joe Zee coaches fashion designers down on their luck who must transform their reps around or bust. The thread to most of these series: building entrepreneurial, innovative products or services mixing substance and humor about the process itself. Watch out for Quirky, about a company launching new merchandise an unfashioned way, and Diva Of Distressed, featuring brash billionaire Lynn Tilton's campaign to rescue on-the-brink companies throughout America's heartland. Reservation one: no mention of two other new reality shows in Sundance's pipeline (Love/Lust, presenting backstories of famous products, and Neumont, showcasing the famous whiz-kid university. Bigger reservation two: no follow-up on last February's big upfront push into original scripted series. Still no word on the fate of four projects in development--Triple Crossing (geopolitical espionage set in South America); The Clinic (hospital pushing the bounds of human testing); Fear Of Flying (adventures of a poet, based on Erica Jong's novel) and Shutterbabe (female photojournalist on assignment in danger zones across the globe).

"Some thrilling announcements coming up" was all Barnett would say about the status of those projects, or others Sundance may have approved since. Grade: A-minus.

Host: After her lexicon contribution, Barnett kept things moving steady with the clip/guest react approach. Left time for press Q&A for the talent as well as herself. Grade: A

Overall Grade: A Compact, as in under an hour, presentation that fleshed out Sundance's new plunge into reality series. If you wanted updates on the scripted shows showcased last February, take this grade down to A-minus, or B-plus if your disappointment boils over.

More upfront observations from the passing parade:

*Turns out The Hub will do its own upfront thing later this month. The combo Discovery Communications/Hasbro-owned channel is clearing March 24 for its debut upfront event in NY, with additional ceremonies happening elsewhere in late March/early April. Now that The Hub sees a separate presentation from Discovery's mammoth affair April 14 worthwhile, will Oprah Winfrey Network and the new 3net channel with Sony and Imax as stakeholders follow suit?

*Inventive venue, good food and a great throng to mingle among. A&E delivered all three with its Breakout Kings premiere party last week near the Javitz Convention Center in NY. If that wasn't enough, the house DJ pressed all the right musical buttons (many tunes hinting at Kings' portrayal of cons catching fugitives), and not at the expense of busting eardrums among the crowd. The show and its cast look great on camera and in person.

Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned! Simon Applebaum is host/producer of Tomorrow Will Be Televised, the Internet radio/podcast-distributed program about the TV scene. The program runs live Mondays and Fridays at 3 p.m. Eastern time, noon Pacific time, on BlogTalk Radio (www.blogtalkradio.com), with replays 24/7 at www.blogtalkradio.com/simonapple04. Podcasts are downloadable to any mobile device off ITunes.com and other Web sites arranged by Sonibyte. Have a question or reaction? Send it to simonapple04@yahoo.com.

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