Upfront Update: A+E Sails on the Great Hudson Ship - Simon Applebaum

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Unorthodox measures were the takeaways of last week's upfront action in New York.

For USA Network, holding court last Monday night at Lincoln Center tent grounds, the stars did all the speaking, while the executives did all the schmoozing. Headliners of USA hits from Psych to just-renewed Fairly Legalsummarized for attendees the channel's most ambitious slate of original series output ever--two summer premieres (Suits and Necessary Roughness), two fall/winter 2012 debuts (Common Law andEden), and 13 shows in development, including comedies for the first time in years, and excluding reality series (upon peril of alerting competitive copycats).

A+E's presentation, originating from the ultramodern IAC Building next to the West Side Highway and the Hudson River last Tuesday night, went one step further. All the new programming details were disclosed beforehand, whether involving A&E Network, History Channel or Lifetime. Instead of saving news for this, company executives treated the crowd to a new logo (with + replacing &) and tag line ("Life Is Entertaining"), followed by a feature mini-concert from Grammy and Oscar-winning performer Jennifer Hudson.

Here's the review of A+E's effort:

Venue: Much about the IAC Building's lobby commands your attention, from the 120-foot long video wall stretching into the performance area to the aqua box sofas all over. A+E went all out to make the max of the space, including colorful blue and orange chandeliers hanging all over to nicely-separated food and beverage stations (so the crowd didn't cluster so big in one spot). Waiters lined the main entrance with blue vodka/lemonade glasses. Best food: veggie and chicken dumplings, coffee-flavored chicken or pulled pork served in small glasses, both garnished with lettuce. Big downer: not enough seats and tables in the performance area for the crowd on hand. Most people wanting a good view had to stand the whole time, or move up or down the video wall to see the action captured by a camera crew. Grade: B

Presentation: Thanks to all that programming news released earlier, A+E CEO Abbe Raven and ad chief Mel Berning kept their remarks short, focusing on the "Life Is Entertaining" motif and intent to deliver "better networks, more targeted content" in Berning's words. Just one video on display, the obligatory multi-network montage, en route to Hudson and opening act Dan Men. Appreciate the desire to cut the verbage, however, don't think people would mind Raven or Berning devoting a minute or two to recaps of what's coming from A&E, History and Lifetime, especially if they didn't catch the press releases earlier. Not if you accompanied the verbage with snapshots or videos. Grade: B-plus

Performance Special: Hudson has graduated from dreamgirl to real star. She belts out songs like no one's business (her new I Remember Me CD is tremendous) and has the crowd's support at every turn. Before her remake of the Mac Davis favorite I Believe in Music, Hudson promised to hear the audience join in the chorus. Sure enough, she steps off the stage and had anyone close to her mike warbling (most in good form). Her set was so sensational that no one, no one felt cheated they didn't hear And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going, her patentedDreamgirls showstopper.

A boy band parody for some, a button-down/hardhat boomer pop trio for others, Dan Men led off with a fun set. Lots of energy and a willingness to take no prisoners, whether rap while hula-hooping or Shakira gyrations. Have two questions for the lead singer: why go scatological on your last song (nice cover of Total Eclipse of the Heart) and load up on F-words? Was it really necessary? Remember the crowd you're entertaining. Grades: A-plus for Hudson; A for Dan Men until the last song, B- with the last song.

News Value: With all the series announcements released in advance, looked like this event would be devoid of news. Not quite: Berning divulged that "big plans" for diginets Biography Channel, Lifetime Movie Network, History International and History en Espanol will be launched this fall, with considerable new content at each channel sure to follow. More on all that closer to launch time. My question: is anything ever going to happen to Lifetime Real Women, the Lifetime spin-off service that runs like the Energizer bunny with very little publicity and almost no outside promotion? Grade: B-plus

Overall Grade: B-plus. Hudson's star turn was the engine running this show. Take more time (not much more) to pinpoint forthcoming network highlights, plus make the performance space more comfortable, and the grade makes the A zone.

Take a deep breath, people. We're heading into next week's barrage of broadcast net/cable net/Latino net presentations. All kicks off next Monday with NBC and Fox, and among us MediaBizBloggers, we'll break it all down for you net by net. Keep your eyes on this site--it's going to be a wild marathon.

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. Replays are available 24/7 at www.blogtalkradio.com/simonapple04, or on podcast (downloadable to any mobile device) through ITunes.com and other Web sites arranged by Sonibyte. Have a question or reaction? E-mail it to simonapple04@yahoo.com.

Read all Simon’s MediaBizBloggers commentaries at Tomorrow Will Be Televised.

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