Talk about concentration: four, yes, four programmers staged Upfront events over a 26-hour period last week. IFC, Syfy, Cartoon Network and Hallmark Channels (now under the Crown Media Networks parent banner) did their respective things from noon March 22 to 2 p.m. March 23. Keep in mind this is just appetizer for the main marathon course of Upfronts (broadcast/cable/Latino networks) happening mid-May, where events morning, noon and night are the norm.
Here's the first half of this midday-to-midday stretch, with IFC and Syfy leading off. We'll cover the second half in our next column.
Venue: Funky Ace Hotel, near the corner of Broadway and W. 29th St., was IFC's midday setting. The inside lobby reminds you of the Plaza Hotel near Central Park, big space to meet, eat and drink surrounded by shops. IFC used some of the Liberty Hall basement space for its press event, a fair-sized room with old sound speakers lining the front wall. In an unusual touch, lunch was served family-style (big bowls and plates), a la Carmine's near Times Square. You chowed as much Caesar's Salad, penne pasta and chicken as you wanted. Grade: A
Presentation: Befitting the channel's "slightly off" side, Onion News Network main anchor Brooke Alvarez (former Fox News Channel anchor/reporter Suzanne Sena) spoke first, trumping channel executives by announcing her show's season two renewal. "Wonderful coverage and I never get tired of hearing my voice," she noted with a few videos to back up the decision. IFC is fine being a niche channel mixing films with alternative comedy, president Evan Shapiro added, because "niche is the new mass" in TV. "Our voice is crystal clear--smart comedy has an audience." Good-moving mix of network advocacy and clips. Big bonus: a replay of Portlandia's "Do you read?" routine, one of the best TV comedy scenes so far in 2011. Grade: A
News Value: The near-term direction is surreal reality, where alternative comedy emerges from surreal surroundings. Three new series launching this summer demonstrates this: Commercial Kings (starts June 24), about two YouTube videomakers creating local TV messages for offbeat clients; Young, Broke & Beautiful (also June 24) throws the travel show format on its ear; and Whisker Wars (August 5) from Deadliest Catch executive producer Thom Beers goes inside the world of beard or mustache-growing competitions. Long-term, there's more format mixing, from scripted (Bullet In The Face, Greg & Donny) to variety (Comedy Death-Ray) and game shows (Pointless). Quick note: Greg and Pointless are by-products of winning New York Television Festival submissions. Grade: A
Host: IFC executive vice president/general manager Jennifer Caserta handled her balancing act of new show intros and network promotion well. Not easy when you have to follow Brooke Alvarez. Not one bit. Grade: A
Overall Grade: A No flubs, smooth presentation and your stomach was satisfied with all that Caesar's salad or pasta.
And now for Syfy's affair:
Venue: Looks like Broadway theaters will be the new Upfront places to be this year. The gorgeous Foxwoods Theater, on 42nd St. near Times Square, housed Syfy's early evening presentation, and Univision will play the New Amsterdam Theater directly across the street mid-May. Don't be surprised if another network makes such an Upfront effort in-between. Give Syfy extra credit for venue risk-taking. Last spring, the channel used the Museum of Modern Art and its Tim Burton exhibition to make its case; this time out, Syfy treated its audience to a post-Upfront preview performance of Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark at Foxwoods. We're tempted, oh soooo tempted, to join the throng with plenty to say about Spider-Man (Syfy is the musical's media partner), but we'll hold the tongue for another day. Grade: A-plus
Presentation: Be quick has been Syfy's motto all along...keep the speeches brief, the clips plentiful and audiences engaged. A new "Imagine Greater" promo hit the mark beautifully. The difference this time: stress new, new, new. You could understand why, with 15 new series and projects to showcase. However, it would have been nice to devote a few minutes for celebrating new episodes of popular attractions like Warehouse 13, Eureka or Ghost Hunters. A more noticeable flaw: no clip from one of the top new series from next season, the Battlestar Galactica spin-off Blood & Chrome. Couldn't we get more than a logo? Also, when unveiling a trio of half-hour series projects, why no mention of Lee & Me, where Lee Majors plays bionic mentor to a slacker? Has potential, under Weeds creator Jenji Kohan, to be a breakout hoot. Grade: B-plus
News Value: Plenty to digest, starting with a great call by Syfy to greenlight Three Inches, an interesting dramedy by Twin Peaks writer Harley Peyton about someone with the gift to move objects three inches at a time. Syfy went back-and-forth on this due to some similarity to Alphas, also about ordinary humans receiving extraordinary abilities. The alternative reality series lineup looks strong, with Monster Man, Dinner With Deepak (Chopra) and Culture Shock With Tommy Lee especially worthwhile. So strong that you had to skim the press release later to find out about Overthunk, Change The Way You Die, Hi-Tech Hoaxes, Imagination Nation and America's Smartest Kids. Look forward to seeing Smartest Kids, one reality competition where children are inspired to learn and impact the world at the same time. Also look for buzz around Triton, a combo video game/TV series venture coming next year. Grade: A-plus Host: Syfy president Dave Howe is as smooth, fun and relatable an executive Upfront presenter can get. Now we know he can play straight man to Spider-Man, promising to "not be swinging before any tall buildings." Howe knows the value of day jobs. Grade: A
Overall Grade: A-minus The lack of clips and info about several important series coming this fall or beyond dropped Syfy down a presentation peg. Still, throw kudos to the channel for a wide new programming landscape, and another imaginative choice of venue.
Observations from the Upfront passing parade:
*Add FX and Ovation to the newbie list. FX staged its New York Upfront this past Tuesday, and Ovation will breakfast with local press April 6. Details in a later column.
*Nine new series coming in, while 10 series return for season two. That sums up The Hub's outlook for its second year of existence, presented to advertisers last week. Particularly interesting among the new from here: Majors & Minors (music competition), The Game Of Life/Scrabble Showdown (game shows based on classic board games) and Clue (miniseries inspired by the famed mystery game). Breakout hour Family Game Night rolls on, as will The Haunting Hour, Dan Vs., Pound Puppies and Transformers Prime.
*Former California governor and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger has a press conference coming next Monday at the MIP-TV conference overseas. A new TV series is the focus, speculation from various corners suggests it will be a toon. Terminator Prime, perhaps?
Yes, that last item was not Upfront-related. Just thought someone might care.
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. Tomorrow replays are available at www.blogtalkradio.com/simonapple04, and on podcast (details at www.sonibyte.com). Have a question or reaction? E-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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