Upfront event season 2012 in Manhattan is now in first gear--a quartet of events to catch last week. We batted .500 on event catching. More about why later.
Venue: It doesn't get any better than Jazz at Lincoln Center's Rose Hall. Every seat gives you a good view, the production values are beyond peer, and no matter the network on display, the stage matches the network's tone. Bright orange in Nick's case, welcoming visitors with an animated display of shapes forming the channel's logo in the center. A two-level background with stairways on either side gave performers more space to move around. There's plenty of space for food and networking post-presentation as well. Grade: 5 Jacks
Presentation: More on the musical side than previous Nick upfronts, in part to showcase a new emphasis on series and projects in that vein. Fast-rising boy band Big Time Rush, about to start year three of their Nick comedy, opened things up with their latest hit, "It Feels Like Everything's Better With You." Best of the bunch: 14-year-old X Factor contestant Rachel Crow, whose version of Cee Lo Green's "Forget You" knocked the place out. Crow has voice and stage presence way beyond her years. She just signed a series development deal with Nick, and off this performance, here's what Nick should put together: a musical variety series where Crow hosts and sings alongside the likes of Katy Perry and Adele. Trust me, she has the props for this. On the other hand, could have done without British boy band One Direction taking way too much time to thank fans following their number. Also, where were Miranda Cosgrove, Victorious' crew and some other Nick faves? Grade: 4 Jacks
News: Where do you start? Offering 650-plus new episodes of new and current programs next season, not counting Nick/Nick at Nite pilots with Scott Baio, iCarly co-stars Jeanette McCurdy and Jerry Trainor, and seven animated pilots, four from FairlyOdd Parents mastermind Butch Hartman. YouTube superstar Fred (Lucas Cruikshank) graduating from 11-minute shorts to the half-hour series Marvin, Marvin. Unveiling Hollywood Heights (formerly Reach For A Star), the nightly telenovela-format hour coming this fall under a Televisa joint venture (and perhaps more in the offing). You get the drift. Grade: 5 Jacks
Host: Nick group president Cyma Zarghami did the honors, staying on point and playing good traffic cop. Extra credit for addressing the current Nielsen ratings controversy between her service and Disney Channel. "We're number one for 17 years and we're not planning to give that up," Zarghami declared. "We have no intention of letting recent (issues) impact our creative efforts." Made her point and moved on. Grade: 4 Jacks
Overall Grade: 4.5 Jacks. Great venue, lots of news and performances to take in.
Crown Media Family Networks (Hallmark Channel/Hallmark Movie Channel)
Venue: Eleven Madison Park is a stately place (one of several banks at the south end of Madison Avenue reconstituted into restaurants years ago) to hold a press lunch. The decor of its upstairs rooms have served Crown Media and reporters well over the years, keeping that streak going last week. As for the food, count me a new fan of amberjack (snapper-like fish) after one dish of it, served with small mushrooms and a pair of brown sauces. Grade: 4 Jacks
Presentation: Staying on the food theme, meat-and-potatoes, delivered swiftly so reporters get maximum face time with Hallmark executives at their tables. Offer an overall view, then dig right into content specifics. Predicting "a banner year ahead," Family Networks CEO Bill Abbott let Michelle Vicary, his programming executive vice-president Michelle Vicary, do most of the talking. Before that, Abbott did something new, crystallizing Hallmark Channel as the celebration point for life's special occasions, and Hallmark Movie Channel as the movie theater for families, all genres welcome. Grade: 4 Jacks
News: For years, when reporters asked Crown Media whether scripted series had a Hallmark home, or ever would, the response was no. Say goodbye to that era next year, when Hallmark Channel sets sail with one, possibly two series, with two-hour pilots Cedar Cove and When Comes The Heart running this fall or early next year. Both come from authors involved in previous Hallmark original made-for films. As for original movies, both Hallmark and Hallmark Movie Channel will serve up the most ever in a single season: 28 on the mothership, nine on Hallmark Movie. As for daytime, Martha Stewart's out; Marie Osmond's new talk/lifestyle hour and a revival of Home & Family, the two-hour series running in the mid-1980s on The Family Channel are in. Another tidbit: The Spirit Table, the Maya Angelou-hosted primetime series announced at last year's upfront, may still surface sometime in 2012-13. Grade: 5 Jacks
Host: All three Crown execs--Abbott, Vicary and ad sales executive vice president Ed Georger--held up their ends of the presentation well. Grade: 4 Jacks
Overall Grade: 4.5 JacksHallmark Channel breaking into the scripted series world keynoted a lot of news to munch over. Especially over amberjack.
A good Hard Rock Cafe crowd of kids and their advertising biz parents were psyched about attending last Tuesday's upfront event for Disney Channel, Disney XD and the new Disney Junior channel launching at the end of this week. Unfortunately, due to the combination of my RSVP misplaced somewhere in transit, and Hard Rock's security people maintaining an apparent policy of not allowing press guests missing from a press list, I was not allowed past the check-in tables and told I could not attend. As a result, no review for this column.
Four extra points: 1) The kids were well-behaved outside Hard Rock at W. 43rd St., no ropes or barricades necessary. Many were there to see the cast of Shake It Up (and wore fashions similar to what the cast wears) and A.N.T. Farm, especially breakout star China Anne McClain (whose performance at last year's upfront was sensational). 2) Totally understand this was a Hard Rock, not Disney call not to be allowed in, and understand Hard Rock's position here. 3) My guess is that Hard Rock did not alert Disney's PR people in attendance that I showed up, even though a request to see two reps who were on-site was made. 4) Disney's PR people were extremely apologetic the day after.
MSNBC had its upfront lunch presentation Thursday afternoon. Small press crowd at a small, fully-booked location. Therefore, no review here. Finally, ABC Family's upfront, happening this Monday night, turns out to be advertiser-only, with their key new programming news announced a few weeks ago.
5 Jacks – Excellent
4 Jacks – Very Good
3 Jacks – Good
2 Jacks – Fair
1 Jack – Poor
0 Jacks – Worse than bad
Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned!
Simon Applebaum is producer/host of Tomorrow Will Be Televised, the weekly Internet-distributed radio program covering the TV scene. Simon cal be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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