After a record number of New York upfront events and networks participating in them over the last three months, we're over the finish line for 2012. Here's the final threesome we've caught in person.
Venue: In a year where many locations housed upfronts for the first time, The CW held court in the newly-refurbished City Center on West 55th Street, known for its array of dance performances and the popular "Encores" series of Broadway musical revivals (with a few, notably Chicago, returning to the Great White for return engagements). City's look is classy, plush and intimate, with CW spicing things up via cut-out styled images of its lead talent and a disco soundtrack. Grade: 5 Jacks
Presentation: Fans of previous CW upfronts remember Katy Perry's live performance of California Girls off the bat two years ago, insuring all, yes all attending were wide-awake for the pitch ahead. New pop/rap sensation Flo Rida went the same route, kicking things off with a medley of recent hits led by Good Feeling, CW President Mark Pedowitz, continued the theme in his opening remarks, noting that this "is a transforming year" for his service. "We have variety, quality and strength across the board...and we're still in the 18-34 business," Pedowitz said, referring to CW's target audience.
He kept the clips plentiful and limited post-clip banter between show stars to a sentence or two to move the pace along. Grade: 4.5 Jacks
News: Breaking on several fronts. First, the entire 10-hour schedule will launch in October, a month behind other broadcast networks. Second, three hour-long dramas will premiere that month, all with varying degrees of promise: Arrow (based on the Green Arrow superhero from DC Comics), Beauty & The Beast (remake of the 1980s CBS favorite) and Emily Owens, M.D. (quirky medical drama paired up with renewed rookie drama Hart Of Dixie). Third, in a big trade of nights, America's Next Top Model, which pulled a huge ratings fade this season, goes from Wednesdays to Fridays, trading places with Supernatural. And Gossip Girl will get 13 more adventures before wrapping for good.
Grade: 4.5 Jacks
Host: Pedowitz comes across smooth and clear, whether about individual series, the network's tone in general, or insisting (in a post-presentation Q&A with reporters, something every channel should do) that online views and social media feedback is a better barometer of CW's fortune than low Nielsen ratings. Grade: 4.5 Jacks
Overall Grade: 4.5 Jacks The CW's presentation style functions better in a cozy, intimate forum like City Center than Madison Square Garden or even Jazz At Lincoln Center's spacious Rose Hall
Venue: Some votes for most unique 2012 upfront setting should go to Instituto Cervantes, the Spain-oriented educational and cultural center on the east side of 49th St. Beautiful small outdoor patio for cocktail receptions and artwork along the hallways. Unfortunately, the center's basement auditorium is also small with a front brick wall, which Vme dressed up with posters and a monitor in the center. The room barely managed to give everyone attending comfy seats, so anticipate a new location next year. Grade: 3.5 Jacks
Presentation: Twinkly opening video kicked things off, reeling off facts about the Latino market while pointing out the characteristics making this audience worthwhile to serve. Fun line from the narrator: "Most people know two words in Spanish--si, hola, or Sofia Vergana...sorry." (The Modern Family co-star ended up the focus of at least three upfront showcases last week. That a record?) From there, Vme executives and talent harped on characteristics separating their net from both other Latino channels and TV in general: focus on lifestyle and Latino icons in all walks of life through nonfiction content; weekly dramas and miniseries vs. nightly telenovelas; lighter commercial load (6 minutes an hour against 12-13 on most channels) and sponsor participation with public service elements (using a Clorox campaign inviting kids to develop healthy habits, whose online spots picked up several million views). "It's about breaking the mold, and sometimes refusing to use a mold, " chimed national sponsor sales managing director Court Stroud (candidate for best new executive speaker at upfront events) Grade: 4 Jacks
News: Under new general manager Alvaro Garnica (formerly from Plural, the production company behind the groundbreaking Univision weekly drama Al Filo De La Ley/At The Edge Of The Law), the channel will boost the amount of U.S.-produced or developed nonfiction fare. Journalist Marian de la Fuente will handle two series--Desaparecidos/Missing, investigating the more than 500,000 U.S. Latinos who disappear each year, with help from online and social media resources, and Mujeres con Pantalones/Women With Power To Bring Change. Destinos con 1,2,3/Destination 1,2,3 looks like another new series grabbing attention, as three experts explore the same metropolis from separate viewpoints--history/culture, offbeat leisure options and shopping. And Oscar-nominated actress Adriana Barraza will participate in Una Vida en Escena/An Actor's Life, doing interviews and role-playing with actors at her studio in Miami. Grade: 4.5 Jacks
Host: De La Fuente shared duty with writer/comedian Orlando Urdaneta (host of Entre Paginas/Between The Pages, another upcoming series about the literature scene). Enjoyable and pleasant, even when a technical glitch or two popped up. Grade: 4 Jacks
Overall Grade: 4 Jacks This channel looks like it's on the move up, with the kind of series in play and a "Be Different, Be You" theme to build on. Start the search for a bigger 2013 upfront space now. Vibrant as Institute Cervantes is, there's no way this location can handle the volume of people likely to show up next spring.
Tr3s: MTV, Música y Más
Venue: Stands to reason that on the final week of upfront season, someone would use a place close by the popular High Line walkway near the West Side Highway, the in area for 2012 presentations (Style, Oxygen, AOL, Nuvo TV, etc.). This time out, it was Highline Ballroom, occupying the second floor of a building next to a Western Beef market on 16th St. A saloon-like floor decorated like a carnival for the occasion, with a trolley on one side of the floor and a bar featuring "Ricardo's Tacos" on the other. Those beef and chicken tacos from Ricardo's served post-presentation, BTW, were tasty with or without the chips, but how could you forget the salsa or dipping sauce alongside? Grade: 4 Jacks
Presentation: The focus throughout was on offering more bilingual/bicultural programming with a personal touch. One example was showing The Ricardo Laguna Project, about the popular BMX bike rider and his family exploits in Las Vegas. After the clip, Laguna came out behind the curtains along with his mom and dad. "Welcome to my life," Laguna flashed with a grin in both English and Spanish. P.S. Laguna's reality series, which premiered last fall, comes back this fall. For a finale, Juanes, the Grammy/Latin Grammy-winning star coming off an Unplugged special, let it rip with his band in a mini-concert. Put this up for best 2012 upfront musical performance. Grade: 4.5 Jacks
News: Eight new series will premiere in the 2012-13 season, with Culture Swap (Latino and non-Latino trade lives and families), Ultimo Ano (a thriller novela with direct involvement by the Population Media Center) and Latino Boot Camp (young people discover their roots by visiting locations throughout Latin America) early standouts. Another is Golden Boys, dealing with boxers trained by former world champion Oscar De La Hoya. Grade: 5 Jacks
Host: Actor/producer Wilmer Valderrama moved things ahead while staying personable...and urging more diversity in TV. "I worked on That 70s Show at a time when there were few Latino roles on TV," he said. "We need to do better, and do better creating TV that reflects the nature of all Latinos. There's a new generation out there, and it's paving the way." Grade: 4.5 Jacks
Overall Grade: 4.5 Jacks Every element came off extremely well, even (to a fair degree) the tacos and chips. Next time, ask the venue's caterer to dish the sauce out.
5 Jacks - Excellent
4 Jacks - Very Good
3 Jacks - Good
2 Jacks - Fair
1 Jack - Poor
0 Jacks -Worse than bad
Remember our "questions for the week" piece? We'll come back and answer those questions, based on what transpired last week, next column.
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 email@example.com.
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