March wrapped with two more upfront events to catch last week in New York. Again, we begin this pair of reviews with who went first, namely FX:
Venue: Lucky Strike Lanes, on the corner of W. 42nd St. and the West Side Highway, isn't your typical bowling establishment. Consider it the Apple store of the sport in NYC, with computer scoring of frames, neon-lighted lanes and HD screens above the pins. For the second straight year, FX invited advertisers here for a presentation, followed by a bowl-off against teams from its original series, stars included. Nice touch: FX inviting the executive producers of those shows (and their spouses in at least two cases) to bowl alongside their castmates and mix in with the ad crowd. FX executives hint this will become an annual affair. Those not into bowling had pool tables to vent their competitive juices, and food to chow down. Grade: A
Presentation: Well-paced on one hand; flawed on the other. FX president John Landgraf, joined by Fox Cable Networks ad sales chief Lou La Torre and associate Bruce Lefkowitz, did a good job spelling out ratings growth at the network, then taking attendees on a timeline for new series introductions. However, while there were clips galore on the lineup of feature films ahead (nice breakdown by target audience), only one new series clip was offered (more on that in the next section). When you declare three new dramas will premiere in the coming year, as Landgraf did, and nothing to show about them (even though one pilot was completed), that's a shortcoming. Also, given FX's new deal for college football this fall finalized the week before, someone at Fox Sports could have supplied a brief promo to capitalize on the news. One way to compensate for the clip hole: scenes from the final season of Rescue Me, and upcoming fall episodes of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia and Sons Of Anarchy. Grade: B-minus
News Value: That original series clip getting play was for Winfred, the new summer comedy starring Elijah Wood (looks like a winner). There's three contenders for those original drama premieres right now, and of the three, American Horror Story, co-created by Ryan Murphy (Glee and Nip/Tuck), looks like it will launch first this fall. "The premise (psychological terror/horror) knocked our socks off," Landgraf told me afterward. "We can't put a show on the air that's derivative of other people's shows, and this isn't." He's so sure this series will make it that a writing team is on board to join Murphy and Glee co-creator Brad Falchuk. Outlaw Country (mix of family crime and Nashville music scene, pilot in hand) and Powers (cops police superheroes and supervillians in a future society, pilot to be produced soon) are the other two drama contenders. On the comedy/animation side, Archer creator Adam Reed will collaborate with some of Sunny's writers on Townies, to be produced in Atlanta. Grade: A-minus
Special note: This applecart of drama contenders is subject to be shaken up at any time, thanks to several developments coming to light since FX's presentation last week. An Oliver Stone executive-produced project on "darkhorses"--people in biz planting fake news stories--is on fast track, along with an ex-congressman political drama headlining former The Riches star Eddie Izzard. The Collective, the production company working with Izzard on this show, has two other FX drama concepts under consideration. Separately, the channel is the newest member of New Voices, the union of programmers and the Humanitas Prize organization formed a few months ago to develop series pilots from emerging writers. A progress report on New Voices in a future column.
Host: Landgraf, La Torre and Lefkowitz handed their presentation duties well. Give Lefkowitz extra credit for one last acknowledgment on Lights Out and Terriers, FX's critically-acclaimed new dramas that didn't make the grade with viewers over the past half-year. Both shows "were worth taking the risk" on, and although they failed, "we're proud of them," he said. Grade: A-minus
Overall Grade: B-plus You suspect FX and parent News Corp. will do everything possible not to be flat-footed on the original series clips again next year. In bowling terms, FX threw a gutter ball when it mattered, amid an event clicking on every other cylinder.
Second up: Bravo Venue: The channel went deep in Manhattan's Soho district, 82 Mercer St. to be exact, for its event. Came over as an expanded swanky penthouse floor, with plenty of lush black sofas, purple or green pillows and white tables. Part of the floor was cordoned off for a special TV studio Bravo used for live inserts on the finale of Top Chef All-Stars that night, where fans in NY and other cities could interact with the channel's assortment of reality series stars. Grade: B-plus
Presentation: Two grades on this one. For the presentation itself, incomplete. Bravo did not allow most reporters, yours truly included, to attend the presentation. Instead, a red-carpet area was set up along one corner of the room to conduct interviews with channel executives and celebrities for about 90 minutes. That leads to the second grade: a big F for not having one channel executive talk to yours truly and many other journalists present about the new shows ahead. Executive vice president Andy Cohen (in charge of original programming) did talk to some TV crews, but moved off the carpet before speaking to other TV crews and the print/radio/blogger journalists . Public relations officials assured Cohen would come back and converse before taking down the carpet. He didn't. If Cohen had pressing matters, how about Frances Berwick (Bravo Media president) or someone stepping in? Huge gaff. Grades: Incomplete for presentation; F for Cohen's disappearance.
News Value: Of the 10 new series introduced at this upfront, four deal with relationships mixed with therapy (Interior Therapy With Jeff Lewis/The Therapists/Miss Advised/Project Soulmate). Had Cohen or another Bravo program exec been available, I would have asked about this surge in relationship content and why go forward in this direction. Separately, for the first time in two years, there was no news on scripted series prospects. Bravo has commissioned two pilots in 2009 and 2010, with nothing making the air. Has Bravo sworn off scripted for good, along with if so, why? Two questions deserving an answer in public. We'll raise one more--where was Inside The Actor's Studio? No James Lipton on the carpet, nothing on the award-winning series' future in the press release. Answer please? Grade: B-minus
Host: Couldn't judge because we didn't witness the presentation. Grade: Another incomplete
Overall Grade: C-minus No access to the presentation, for whatever the rationale, can be tolerated if you're able to get the what's so and why so behind a channel's future from that channel's decision-makers. You raise doubts about what's coming if you don't make those decision-makers available somehow, and that's what happened here.
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 and Fridays at 3 p.m. Eastern time, noon Pacific time, over www.blogtalkradio.com, with replays 24/7 at www.blogtalkradio.com/simonapple04. Podcasts are downloadable through ITunes.com and other Web sites arranged by Sonibyte. Have a question or reaction? E-mail it to email@example.com.
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