Upfront Update: No Failure Tax from A&E

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A&E Networks' family of channels wrapped up this upfront week Wednesday night, as the ad world awaits the parade of presentations on tap next week.

Venue : There are some technical wizards at Lincoln Center with the ability to turn Damrosch Park into a stylish indoor paradise on a dime. They did it for Style's runway upfront during Fashion Week three months ago, and they were at their best for A&E, converting the outdoors into a huge big-top tent, and Damrosch's band shell into a three-screen stage. A&E contributed a host of celebrities from the Duck Dynasty family to the casts of Lifetime's upcoming Devious Minds and Witches of East End, all available for attendee snapshots near the front entrance. Five jacks-plus alone for the star power, along with the delicious sushi and pulled chicken. Grade: 5 JacksA%26E+TV+Networks

Presentation : Just-promoted A&E chief executive Nancy Dubuc promised a short overview of content to come at her networks, making good on that intention by quick, separate A&E, History and Lifetime sections. The prelude: the toughest public rhetoric on broadcast or cable channels at any upfront so far, coming from ad sales president Mal Berning. After getting a clothes makeover from one of Duck Dynasty's clan (with contributions from a Vikings actor and Project Runway mentor Tim Gunn), Berning fired away. "Next week you'll hear our broadcast ancestors make the argument for why less costs more. And no doubt you've already heard from at least one of our big cable competitors who have been busy reworking and re-pricing the plan you bought from them last year, so they can charge you more for it this year. The math says that broadcast erosion is throwing over $1 billion up for grabs in this year's upfront. If you're tired of paying a failure tax, we have lots of successful programs for you to invest in." Minutes later, this from A&E chairperson Abbe Raven, while paying tribute to the behind-the-scenes talent: "We make decisions every day based on the creative process, not on what Wall Street analysts think we should be doing. We'll continue to make bold moves because that's how it's done." Grade: 5 Jacks

News : History, coming off its huge miniseries success of the last year with Hatfields & McCoys and The Bible, will premiere three more miniseries over the next 12 months--Sons of Liberty, Houdini (with Adrian Brody in the title role) and Bonnie & Clyde (simulcast on A&E and Lifetime). Separately, Lifetime Movie Network, Biography Channel and H2 are in for hefty increases in first-run production. What will they produce? Wait until late summer for the details, A&E executives say. Grade: 3.5 Jacks

Host : Solid turns by Raven, Dubuc and Berning...who looks decent in a Duck Dynasty-chosen sports coat. Grade : 4.5 Jacks

Overall Grade: 4.5 Jacks Big everything here, from the tent to the acknowledgment of successful series to perhaps the big new catch-phrase of upfront 2013...failure tax. Oh, and the big sushi.

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

Observations from the passing parade:

*Heard from DirecTV after our review of their Upfront earlier this week. Near the end, I mentioned there was nothing about Audience Network, the exclusive channel for their original programming. That was intentional, because the event's focus was to highlight interactive and addressable ad opportunities, one of DirecTV's spokespeople noted. Besides, Audience Network's primetime programming, now featuring Rogue with Thandie Newton, is commercial-free. Point made, and thank you for the reply.

*Telemundo's got a brand new bag, to quote James Brown, and it's multi-platform in nature Fluency, based in Los Angeles, will produce English and Spanish-language series which will run short-form on the Web, mobile and tablet, and at the start, 90-minute films on Telemundo, mun2 or other NBC Universal-owned networks. First projects: funky romantic comedy La Buena Mala/The Good Bad One and coming-of-age science-fiction Isa. Could Spanish-language TV's first weekly science fiction series come from Fluency's effort? Watch this warp drive.

*Ovation unveiled plenty during a press breakfast Thursday morning at the classy Dizzy's Club space inside Jazz At Lincoln Center. "Art Everywhere" is the new tag line, and nine new series will premiere on the network between June and year-end. Culture Pop leads the lineup with a mid/late June start date. Non-fiction remains the dominant portion of Ovation's content, but scripted material, especially made-in-the-U.S. scripted, will come forward over time.

Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned!

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