Upfronts by night became the practice last week, with E! holding court Monday and Scripps Networks' sextet of lifestyle services (Food Network, Home & Garden Television, Travel Channel, Cooking Channel, DIY and Great American Country) in fashion Tuesday.
Venue : For its "poptimized" event, the network converted Manhattan Center's upper-level grand ballroom floor into a plush, swinging pad akin to a modern update of the penthouse set on those late 1960s Playboy After Dark episodes. (You can imagine Hugh Hefner greeting guests to that distinctive Cy Coleman piano theme.) Plenty of sofas and lounge chairs throughout the room, plus couches arranged in V-formations, all decorating black-and-white striped carpeting. Champagne was served pre-presentation; truffle pasta and codfish post-presentation. En route, attendees could check out red carpet activity outside or take 360-degree "glam cam" videos in the main lobby. Grade: 5 Jacks
Presentation : Network personalities, instead of executives, did all the pitching, inviting all to embrace the network's mandate to "inspire and entertain the pop culture (fan) in all of us."
"Popularize your brand, optimize your reach," chimed main host Ryan Seacrest. The appeal was delivered in variety-show style, incorporating performances by hot pop band The Wanted (doing their hit Glad You Came twice--once on the red carpet, the other on stage while that truffle pasta was getting served), show videos and quickie interviews with celebrities at their couches. The Soup host Joel McHale hit the laugh meter with a shout-out for his new Investigates spin-off series. "Like my hero Brian Williams...we'll open up Honey BooBoo's mom and see what's in her colon." Chelsea Handler got a mixed reaction for her monologue--some punch lines hit the funny bone, others the floor. Grade: 4 Jacks
News : The world of WWE's female wrestlers at and away from the mat gets showcased in Total Divas, coming July 28. Love and Other Contact Sports, another new summer series focuses on the relationship between Denver Broncos wide receiver Eric Dicker and fiancé/music star Jessie James. Count on CBS NFL commentator Boomer Esiason to watch. "I don't know about you," he told his CBS Sports Radio commentary audience the next morning, "but my DVRs already programmed and I can't wait." Scripted drama fans will have to wait until next summer for E! to enter that marketplace, but three pilots will be produced this summer from at least eight projects in development, Seacrest's The Stand-In among them. Other scripted contenders: Songbyrd, Expectations and Fortunate Son (co-executive produced by House of Cards star Kevin Spacey). Grade: 4.5 Jacks
Host : Seacrest is as smooth and unflappable as hosts get. The Energizer bunny of upfront ceremony masters so far. Grade : 5 Jacks
Overall Grade: 4.5 Jacks Eye-catching surroundings matched well with a well-paced rundown of the network's course.
(Two special notes : A) Writers Guild of America reps passed out pink flyers near the venue, inviting guests to support Fashion Police writers on strike for a new contract. The guild reps did not ask guests to avoid the event. B) Initially, all journalists were relegated to the floor above the ballroom, not allowed to hobnob with guests and celebrities below. As told by several upset journalists (and not confirmed by E!'s public relations people), a determination was made that having everyone on the floor, in light of the couch arrangement, was a fire hazard. After some protested, E! did allow a number of journalists to visit the floor post-presentation. )
5 Jacks - Excellent
4 Jacks - Very Good
3 Jacks - Good
2 Jacks - Fair
1 Jack - Poor
0 Jacks -Worse than bad
Venue : Alice Tully Hall, on the corner of Broadway and W. 65th St., home for years to Univision's annual upfront. The building was given a facelift two years ago along with the rest of Lincoln Center, one benefit being as grand a lobby as any in NYC. Video screens were all over the auditorium, and in the lobby, to give everyone a nice view of the stage. Also in the lobby: a monitor with real-time tweets from people watching the event in their seats or elsewhere via remote feeds. More than 30 hosts and personalities from various channels spread around the lobby to meet fans or nosh on a versatile collection of dishes, including Peking duck rolls, chickpea burger sliders and chorizo kabobs. Grade: 5 Jacks
Presentation : One of the better opening videos so far highlighted what people get out of Scripps' selection of lifestyle nets. "Life is celebrated here, life happens here, life lives here," remarked one personality. Advertisers can count on each network to engage its audience deeply, while audiences can be sure the formats they've come to know will not be redefined down the road, noted national ad sales president Steve Gigliotti. Key network executives followed his address with upcoming show highlights, plenty of video clips at the ready. Near the finish, one annual practice Scripps has (which other networks should consider in their upfront appeals) is showcasing unique multi-approach campaigns by individual advertisers. A nice touch for 2013: giving time for Fisher Nuts' first buy on Food Network, using one of Chopped's judges as spokesperson. Grade: 5 Jacks
News : Dozens of new shows check in over the coming year among Scripps' six channels. Picking out what will end up the most noteworthy for viewers is one tough brainbuster, but here goes, assorted by net. On HGTV: Brother Vs. Brother, Undercover Overhaul and Renovation Raiders. Food's trio: Food Court Wars, Cutthroat Kitchen and Grocery Games. DIY's celebrity-topping trio: The Rev. Run Project, Vanilla Ice Goes Amish and Bronson Pinchot Saves America. For Travel Channel: Get Lost, Adam Richman's Fandemonium and Backroad Gold. Choices for Cooking Channel: Pizza Cuz, Tripping Out With Alie and Georgia and Donut Showdown. GAC's top pick: The Willis Clan. Grade: 5 Jacks
Host : Even, lively and engaging work from each executive, starting with Gigliotti and ending with executive vice president Jon Steinlauf. Grade: 4.5 Jacks
Overall Grade: 5 Jacks.
Outstanding in every aspect. More great news: Alice Tully Hall plays home to at least one more upfront showcase next month.
Next up: MTV and movie theater ad distributor Screenvision
Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned!
Simon Applebaum is producer/host of Tomorrow Will Be Televised, the radio program all about TV. Tomorrow runs live Mondays and Fridays at 3 p.m. Eastern time, noon Pacific Time on www.blogtalkradio.com, with replays available at www.blogtalkradio.com/simonapple04. A weekly TV series edition will soon premiere on the new UBC-TV network.
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