Congratulations to Bravo for orchestrating what will likely turn out to be the Upfront event of 2011. Its lavish extravaganza, tied to the telecast last Wednesday night of the finale of Top Chef All-Stars, wasn’t just another great party in what is turning out to be the most exciting cable Upfront season in recent memory. In truth, it was one of the most ambitious and impactful events of its kind that I have attended in more than twenty years of covering the television business.
Above and beyond all else, it made clear that Bravo is much more than a thriving basic cable network. It’s a driving force in popular culture, one that resonates as much with young people seeking escapist reality fare as with the upscale, digitally driven demographics that it cultivates and celebrates.
Bravo isn’t the first network to stage simultaneous Upfront events in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, but it is the first (as far as I can recall) to include live on-air remotes from all three locations on its air as they were happening. Those remotes ran during the actual telecast of the Top Chef All-Stars finale and the program that followed: A special edition of the network’s live talk show Watch What Happens: Live, hosted (as always) by Bravo programming chief Andy Cohen as featuring Top Chef All-Stars winner Richard Blais and runner-up Michael Isabella. I believe this edition of Watch What Happens was the first-ever live, full-length telecast of a television program from an Upfront event.
Even without the simultaneous Chicago and Los Angeles parties, Bravo’s New York event alone would have been one of the season’s best. The venue – three cavernous rooms that comprise the 82 Mercer Space on downtown Manhattan’s Mercer Street – was decorated in sleek style, especially the dining room, in which guests were served the very same dishes that Blais and Isabella were preparing for the All-Stars judges on the finale. Each course was complimented by one of the Top Chef Quickfire Wines. (For what it’s worth, which may not be much, it was the consensus among the folks eating near me that Isabella’s food was better that Blais,’ which included nasty sweetbreads. Some of the guests weren’t sure what sweetbreads are, but after quick searches on their smart phones word spread around the table and they were politely pushed aside. Nevertheless, Blais was by all accounts a talented guy who deserved to win.)
Seated among network executives, advertisers and journalists in the room were dozens of Bravo celebrities (or Bravolebrities, as they are known). They included several stars from The Real Housewives of New York City and New Jersey; Tabatha Coffey of Tabatha’s Salon Takeover; Jeff Lewis and Jenni Pulos of Flipping Out and the upcoming Interior Therapy with Jeff Lewis; Rocco DiSpirito of the upcoming Rocco’s Dinner Party; Rosie Pope of the upcoming Pregnant in Heels; Brooklyn chef Roble Ali of the upcoming Roble & Co., and Project Runway Season 4 contestant Chris March, who’ll be back on the network in a docu-drama series titled Mad Fashion.
Top Chef host and judge Padma Lakshmi was holding court at the Los Angeles event with many other Bravo personalities, including several cast members from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Orange County, along with many Top Chef cheftestants. Top Chef: Just Desserts host and franchise judge Gail Simmons was stationed at the Chicago affair, which was also filled with Bravolebrities.
Overall, it has been an especially robust season for cable Upfront events, as chronicled here by Tomorrow will be Televised producer and host Simon Applebaum. Syfy – which always puts together one of the best events of the season -- incorporated a private performance of the controversial Broadway musical Spider-man: Turn off the Dark into its gala at the Foxwoods Theater. (Syfy is one of the troubled show’s media partners.) ABC Family had its best-ever Upfront presentation at the hot New York restaurant Beauty & Essex. FX brought together the casts and producers of almost every one of its series for a night of bowling and high-end bar food at New York City’s Lucky Strike bowling alley. (As far as the press was concerned, the must-meet stars at that party were Margo Martindale of Justified (the merciless Mags Bennett) and Elijah Wood, star of the upcoming bizarro comedy Wilfred, which will without question be one of the most talked about new television series of the year.) There are more cable Upfront spectaculars to come, including Oxygen on April 4, truTV on April 12 (with entertainment by Maroon 5) and Discovery Networks on April 14.