Know it's just early February, but here we go again...upfront city.
Yes, we're back to the annual extended rite of TV networks big and small staging events all over Manhattan (and for some, other cities). There are two goals in mind. First, woo more advertiser dollars for the season ahead, and second, encourage the press to cover your content more comprehensively.
Late February is the usual starting time for this cycle, and mid/late May the usual conclusion with all the broadcast networks, the key Spanish-language programmers and some cable channels in one huge blitz of a week. Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Disney's kidvid services usually kick things off, but no so this time. Remember, this season has been anything but usual so far, and probably won't be the rest of the way. Count on a few networks you haven't seen before play ball (Sundance Channel will begin next month with a press breakfast), and maybe some action among video-on-demand, HD, 3D and interactive services.
Who led off this year? TVOne and MTV, both running presentations last Wednesday. MTV didn't invite much press (including yours truly) to see their Hammerstein Ballroom gathering. However, TV One, going the lunch course while MTV did nighttime, spread the word for press to nosh with the network's celebrities and sponsor contacts. Why jump in the fray for the first time? "There's a growth pattern in cable networks where you eventually feel confident enough to show off your programming beyond your core viewership," president/chief executive officer Jonathan Rodgers explains backstage before show time. "That's when you get the opportunity to do an event like this." How did they do? Let's break it down and break out our first upfront grades for 2011:
Venue: Cipriani, across the street from Grand Central Station, plays host to many an upfront. You know you can count on the food there...but what surprised everyone was having a seat on plush white sofas with orange pillows, each with a word relating to TV One programs (reality/cool/drama/laughter/family, etc.). Better yet, you could take the pillows home, and most did (some stocked up on two or more). Grade: A-plus
Presentation: Smooth, moved well, good connection to "Experience Black," the channel's new tag line. Great idea to bookend the musical performances by band Mint Condition (near the beginning) and Bell, Biv, DeVoe (with a hit medley at the finish). Another nice touch: shout-outs to show creators/producers in the audience, so they could get acknowledgement. Grade: A
News Value: No big new fall shows to go public about. Still, worthwhile primer on what the channel already runs, including first-ever scripted comedy Love That Girl from executive producer Martin Lawrence, and NAACP Image Award nominees Unsung, Washington Watch and TV One On One. Grade: B-minus
Host: Christopher "Kid" Reid made the max of his on-stage time with some choice zingers. A few: "If you've seen my show (Way Black When), give me two finger snaps and a head nod. The white people are struggling already."..."(We'll talk about) some new shows (senior vice president of programming Toni Judkins) just thought of in the taxi coming over from the store." After the Bell Biv DeVoe medley: "Some people that don't normally move was moving. Irv the accountant was moving." Grade: A-plus
Overall grade: A TVOne threw down the gauntlet for every other upfront festivy to match or top.
Latest observations from the passing parade:
*The comeback of Beavis and Butt-head, Teen Wolf as TV series and how Skins would be showcase were the main MTV upfront headlines. But take note of two other series--one on MTV, the other on sister net MTVU. This Is Awkward is the MTV entry, a dramedy about a high-school girl who draws attention when an accident leaves half her body in a cast. MTVU's newcomer is Quiet Campus, following life at Galludet, the famed institution with all deaf/hearing-impaired students. As someone who knew Galludet students while living and learning at American University in Washington, D.C. during the 1970s, I'm all for a TV series about this remarkable locale. Indeed, this is way overdue. Love to see this program, if well-done, find its way to an MTV simulcast.
*The Kennedys finally has a new TV home, more than a month after History Channel gave its 8-hour miniseries set for this spring the boot. After HBO (with its own Kennedy drama project), Showtime, Starz, FX and DirecTV all turned down the chance to run it, independent ReelzChannel went to bat and cleared it to run on their primetime schedule early this April. Reelz reaches about 60 million TV households, about half of all TV households nationwide. Half, and better than nobody. Kudos to Reelz for letting us determine for ourselves if The Kennedys is a worthwhile TV program or not. Kudos also to BBC America and Tribune Broadcasting for also stepping forward with offers to run the program.
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/Fridays at 3 p.m. Eastern time, noon Pacific time, over www.blogtalkradio.com, and on replay via www.blogtalkradio.com/simonapple04. Podcast and sponsorship details available at www.sonibyte.com. Have a question or response? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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