In just three years, the annual winter combo upfront ceremony for Disney Channel, Disney XD and Disney Junior has become one of the season's most unique. It's the rare situation where advertiser and media observers can bring their small fry along and enjoy what pops together.
Venue : Staying in the Times Square area, Disney moved the proceedings from the crowded Hard Rock Cafe to Hudson Theatre, a Broadway-type showplace (which you're amazed is not used for Broadway shows) Comedy Central and other channels frequently use for specials. The left side of Hudson's long lobby, connecting the doors to the theater, was converted into a red-carpet proliferating with Disney talent (Good Luck Charlie co-star Bridget Mendler, Austin & Allly co-star Laura Marano and a life-sized Phineas from Phineas and Ferb, to name a few). Inside the theater, Radio Disney staff kept the kids entertained with games and music on stage, as others feasted on hot dogs, chicken fingers and veggie burgers from the back. Grade: 5 Jacks
Presentation : Disney Channels Worldwide president Gary Marsh did his best to play straightperson against Crash, the brash puppet half of XD's popular Crash & Bernstein. Thanks to Crash voice/puppeteer Tom Lagasse, it wasn't easy. Try receiving a "faced" from this puppet in front of your media peers. Nevertheless, Marsh spread the philosophy that all three networks will continue their emphasis on aspirational comedy and animated series, with (in Disney Channel's case) the occasional made-for musical (Teen Beach Movie, premiering July 19) and sensitive family drama ( Cloud 9. running next winter). Disney sprinkled their pitch with musical performances from Mendler (a pair of songs accompanied by keyboard and guitar), up-and-comers Chloe & Halle, and Ross Lynch (Austin & Ally's other co-star), doing an energetic dance routine from Teen Beach Movie. Grade: 4.5 Jacks
News : Marsh confirmed a new Star Wars animated project is under development for Disney XD. "We hope to share more with you very, very soon," he added. A pair of new Marvel-centric animated half-hours featuring The Avengers and a family of superheroes based on The Incredible Hulk will premiere this summer. At Disney Channel, a new group of 19 Mickey Mouse animated shorts begin June 28. Also coming there between this summer and next: live-action sitcom Liv & Maddie ("our Patty Duke Show," Marsh noted), comedy/adventure toon Star & The Forces Of Evil and Wander Over Yonder from the creative mind of Craig McCracken of Powerpuff Girls fame. Three animated series will join Disney Junior over that same period--Henry Hugglemonster, Sheriff Callie's Wild West and The 7D (the Seven Dwarfs as imagined by some of the brains behind Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs)
Grade: 5 Jacks
Host : Marsh handled the recurring interruptions from Crash well...well, almost all the interruptions. Almost lost it post-"faced." Grade: 4 Jacks
Overall Grade: 4.5 Jacks The mix of treats on stage and en route to the stage left adult and child alike satisfied. One hitch: much of the series premiere news came with inexact dates (summer 2013, early 2014, etc.).
5 Jacks - Excellent
4 Jacks - Very Good
3 Jacks - Good
2 Jacks - Fair
1 Jack - Poor
0 Jacks -Worse than bad
A few observations from the passing parade:
Boldest prediction/predictor this week: Jay Samit, president of online video chat service ooVoo (which should consider a TV version to rival Skype and a possible linear chat channel from former NBC executive Tom Wolzien). "I believe Netflix will have a new owner in the next 90 days," Samit offered Tuesday during the annual OnMedia conference from AlwaysOn Network. He declined to hint the owner. Samit also called cable a business "in decline," going nowhere with the millennials and under crowd making mobile their communications device of choice. Whatever TV remains in this environment will be "more audience-involving," he said.
Biggest surprise of a solidly-run OnMedia: no panel on smart TVs and the consequences on both TV in general and the Internet. We'll have to wait another year for the subject to come up again at this forum. By that time, smart TVs could be a big deal, and the people putting OnMedia's content together would do their audience a disservice not giving the topic major attention.
With former Fox/FX/Warner Bros. executive Matt Chesniss coming aboard WGN America as president/general manager, look for this once notable superstation (runner-up in TV households behind WTBS) to start the trek to super original content hub. New Tribune CEO Peter Ligouri, who had Chesniss on his FX team back when, is clear about causing that result. You could see a scripted primetime series launching there this fall.
Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned!
Simon Applebaum is producer/host of Tomorrow Will Be Televised, the radio program all about TV. Tomorrow runs live Mondays and Fridays at 3 p.m. Eastern time, noon Pacific Time on www.blogtalkradio.com, with replays available at www.blogtalkradio.com/simonapple04. A weekly TV series edition will soon premiere on the new UBC-TV network.
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