Upfront Update: From Serenity (Ovation) To Surreality (BBC America) - Simon Applebaum

By TV / Video Download Archives

Talk about your opposite ends of spectrum. You can't see for yourself that demonstrated better then the activity at these two gatherings, both happening last Thursday.


Venue: For this performing arts/culture service, it was a return engagement to Core, the midtown Ovation+TVManhattan social club, for a press breakfast. A year ago, Ovation used a room with mod cubic walls, but little personality beyond that. This time, Core provided a stately, library-like space with bookshelves in front of the windows and paintings throughout. Breakfast itself was OK--bagels, bacon, eggs and the like. Grade: 4 Jacks


A short two-act play in nature. For act one, programming chief Kris Slava and ad sales chief Liz Janneman reviewed the channel's recent fortunes, pushing over 50 million households this year and launching three theme nights, including a "Best You've Never Seen" collection of first-run scripted acquisitions on Saturdays. "Our overall theme is that art has no limits, no boundaries, no equal, showcased with connection, emotional storytelling," Slava explained with support from well-produced video clips. As act two, Ovation offered a question/answer session with the principals of its latest original series, A Chance to Dance, about the formation of a new U.S. dance company that will give its premiere performance in New York later this summer. Engaging the press in very engaging manner: producer Simon Lythgoe and famed "Ballet Boys" choreographers Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt. Grade: 4.5 Jacks

News: Only one new series is confirmed to run this summer or fall beyond A Chance To Dance (which was announced a few weeks ago)--documentary Motor City Rising on Detroit's growing culture scene. Studio Lambert, the people behind Undercover Boss and Secret Millionaire, are developing The Art Factory, dealing with famed architectural design venture Silver Hill Arts. However, Slava disclosed that with the channel crossing the 50 million homes threshold, producers are approaching their doors with new scripted/unscripted series ideas. "Does the word avalanche mean anything to you?" he said. "I've got six or seven scripts on my Kindle waiting to be read." The channel is hiring its first-ever executive in charge of series development, and Slava expects to commission scripted programs eventually. "In a year or two, international co-production may be the backdoor for us to get a domestically-produced and written program made," he added. Grade: 2 Jacks

Host: Slava and Janneman divided their chores up with ease, cool and smooth talking points. Grade: 3.5 Jacks

Overall Grade: 3.5 Jacks Solid event on all counts, except for a deficit of programming news.

BBC America

Venue: Skylight Soho, located near the Holland Tunnel, is the kind of open space where anything can be staged. In recent years, Skylight has played home to Digitas' annual NewFront event and BBC+Americamemorable upfronts from Bravo and TruTV (Kid Rock's 2010 mini-concert was one of that year's upfront highlights anywhere). With BBC America going solo with an evening event for the first time (after years with little or no mention at Discovery Communications' presentation), and "Party From the Other Side" the theme, everyone wondered what would be pulled off inside Skylight. Grade: 4.5 Jacks

Presentation: Let's say it was surreal, IMAX scale, all over the place. From opening step, you went through what I can only describe as Moulin Rouge meets Victorian dance hall en route to merry noir England with a touch of wild American west, surrounding you. In the main room, a woman in wedding dress rests on a large ring draped with Union Jack flag high over a square bar, while at least two women are soaked in candlewax at sides of the bar. Nearby, another woman carried a large white python for people to touch and take IPhone photos of (as well-behaved a snake as you'll see, and yes, not poisonous). Other women hung from hoops overhead, while a dancer (named Muki, who I met later) pranced all over the floor, doing ballet steps with ease (give her double props for staying in character and nice technique amid the crowd and that uneven floor). And let's not forget the fortune tellers and tarot card predictors in the side hall, the multi-cuisine food court in another section (but spaced so it was easy to drop your plate if not careful exiting the court), that unnamed swing band that had you wishing there was a space to dance on the spot, a feathery strip-tease, a fire dance sequence, and near end, a disco dance with people bouncing large beach balls off each other (I suspect security pulled the beach balls from the scene at some point). Audacity with a double capital A. Grade: 5 Jacks, despite the food court travails

News: Zero...all BBC America executives did was make brief remarks about their network's current/future course, while acknowledging the crowd. (Copper, the first original drama series, coming August 17, was announced earlier.) Grade: 0 Jacks

Host: Nobody...just those brief BBC executive remarks. Grade: 0 Jacks Overall Grades: 5 Jacks for one of those presentations you'll talk around the water cooler for months; 1 generous Jack for the other elements. Wish at least one new program came to light, along with a better-spaced food court.

5 Jacks - Excellent
4 Jacks - Very Good
3 Jacks - Good
2 Jacks - Fair
1 Jack - Poor
0 Jacks -Worse than bad

Heads Up: Usually, Scripps Networks does a breakfast or brunch affair for its services (HGTV, Food Network, Cooking Channel, DIY, Travel Channel and GAC), originating from Cipriani's across from Grand Central Station. In a change of pace, Scripps went for a late afternoon date inside Foxwoods Theater near Times Square (home to Syfy's 2011 doubleheader of upfront and unforgettable, in many ways than one, Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark performance). Unfortunately, the start time happens as I wrap Tomorrow Will Be Televised, my Internet radio program all about TV. Whatever takes place once I get to Scripps' upfront will be in my next column, along with more on the new Digital Content NewFront trail. Advance apologies if anything gets missed en route to Foxwoods. Until that 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 simonapple04@yahoo.com.

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