Venue: Beacon Theater on Broadway near W. 74th St., which thanks to renovation by owner Madison Square Garden two years ago is a national treasure. The art deco designs either side of the stage are a treat all by themselves. MTV kept things mod and bright on its white stage, including animation of its logo (inside a ball) that moved from stage to center screen to screens in any direction. Great fancy yet unobtrusive projections during the musical performances. Grade: 5 Jacks for the Beacon/4 Jacks for MTV's use of it.
Presentation: As kinetic and rapid-fire as one can get, after a jarring note. With only a "watch your back" warning from an off-stage voice, the entire seven-minute trailer from “Scream” (the horror movie series adaptation two years in prep at the network) was offered at the start, featuring Bella Thorne (former “Shake it Up” co-star) as opening victim. For some attendees, the extended clip A) had them wonder what they were attending or B) getting unsettled stomachs due to some bloodletting near the end. Thorne showed up on stage afterward, assuring all was OK. "I'm honored to be a part of ‘Scream,’ even if I die six minutes in," she said. From there, a mix of MTV show personalities and executives introduced clips, announcements and ad appeals, while many in the audience snapped selfies with their smartphones.
MTV president Stephen Friedman touted the network's ability to reach Millennials anywhere via online and digital campaigns tied to individual programs and specials like the annual Video Music Awards. With new research showing its 18-34 target base wants more layered, involved programming of any genre, more than 85 projects are now in development, most ever at any time in MTV history. And what would this latest gathering for a Viacom-owned channel be without the implied swipe at Nielsen's rating mechanism? The honor fell to co-host Carly: "If the system worked, MTV would be No. 1 on infinity. It would track people everywhere ... (including) their toilets." Grade: 3.5 Jacks
News: The lion's chunk went to series starting this summer, led by “Scream’ beginning June 30. Half of the eight newbies highlighted will debut before Labor Day – “Scream,” “One Bad Choice” on July 9 (consequences of key decisions teens make) and the pair of “Todrick” and “Girl Code Live” on August 31. Todrick catches the exploits of dancer/choreographer/organizer Todrick Hall, while “Girl Code Live” is a talk/variety/sketch comedy spinoff of the popular franchise. On the flip side, no dates were released about anything new planned for fall and beyond, including much-ballyhooed fantasy “The Shannara Chronicles” (based on the Terry Brooks novels with Jon Favreau among the executive producers), “Follow the Rules” (Ja Rule's family, unscripted), “Middle of the Night Show” (celebrities forced to host a talk show on the spot with no prep when house band and production crew land in their bedrooms) and “Greatest Party Story Ever” (animated recollections of party incidents). Also on the way: A reboot of “America's Best Dance Crew” connected to the VMAs. As for that lineup of 85 projects bubbling under, just one went public, involving Vine stunt videos maker Logan Paul. Grade: 3 Jacks
Host: All on stage made the most of their time. For Viacom Music & Entertainment Group president Doug Herzog this was homecoming time. Herzog moved up the ranks at MTV during the 1980s. "I may be OG [an Old Guy]," he said, "but MTV has not aged with me." Superstar Jessie J in red jumpsuit let a three-song set rip at the end, including her megahit "Bang Bang." She's the frontrunner for best musical performance of the Upfront season. Oh, and can someone at MTV reach out and offer her a weekly variety series? Soon? She's got the talent and character to fly with one. Grade: 3.5 Jacks for the host/5 Jacks for JJ
Overall Grade: 3.5 Jacks Beautiful venue, the pace and Jessie J's workout made the event go. On the other hand, left the Beacon with mixed feelings about leading off with the “Scream” clip and disappointment with the lack of detail about those 85 projects in development.
Special Note: Nothing said about MTV2, MTVU and related digital channels. A press release on what's new and coming would have been welcome.
Next up: Scripps Networks
A quick reminder of our Jacks grading system:
5 Jacks = Excellent
4 Jacks = Very Good
3 Jacks = Good
2 Jacks = Fair
1 Jack = Poor
0 Jacks = Worse than that
More observations from the Upfront passing parade:
Nominee for swag trend of 2015: books from authors represented on a network. Ovation distributed their book bag swag last week, National Geographic Channel/Nat Geo Wild the week before.
Nice to know that in this weird year of networks pulling back from Upfront events, downsizing them to press-only functions or dropping off altogether, you can always count on FX's annual bowling party, which took place last Wednesday at Lucky Strike Lanes on the corner of 42nd St. and the West Side Highway. Lots of stars and FX show creators/producers celebrating strikes and spares, fun food and great loose atmosphere. Plus unexpected moments that made the night, like watching the child stars of “The Americans” show off their skills at pool or table tennis. Long may FX bowl an April evening away.
Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned!
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