Upfront Update: Scripted Leap at Hallmark - Simon Applebaum

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Cover image for  article: Upfront Update: Scripted Leap at Hallmark - Simon Applebaum

Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel, together bound as Crown Media Family Networks the last two years, traditionally kick off the subset of channel upfront events aimed directly at the press. They had their turn last week; how things turned out follows.

Venue : Eleven Madison Park, one of several big bank branches along Madison Avenue (from 23rd to 30th Streets) converted into restaurants in the 1980s. The decor is always attractive, service solid and the eats inventive. Everyone gets a choice of two appetizers, entrees and desert. This time around, yours truly had some juicy scallops, salmon and caramel ice cream surrounded by mini-chocolate cakes. Grade:5 JacksHallmark channel

Presentation : Two deviations from previous years on the part of Crown Media's lead executives. First, offer a running theme, in this case position Hallmark's nets as underdogs that nevertheless hold and expand their viewership. "We're very much under-the-radar as an independent service," president/chief executive officer Bill Abbott maintained. "We sometimes get lost in the mix," added ad sales executive vice president Ed Georger, "yet we deliver some of the most unique value propositions in cable." Both executives, along with programming chief Michelle Vicary, threatened to overplay the theme too much, and stopped short of leaving that taste with all present. Second, Hallmark arranged a live Los Angeles hookup with Home & Family hosts Mark Steines and Cristina Ferrare, leaving time for a short question-and-answer segment. Nice break from the standard pitch-and-videos, then Q&A, format. Other press-centric upfront events might copy this. Grade: 4 Jacks

News : Hallmark Channel will leap from one scripted series to at least four by fall 2014. Cedar Cove, the Andie McDowell-series announced last spring (which starts July 20 as the network's scripted series debut), will be followed by When Calls The Heartnext January, Dead Letters and My Gal Sunday later. All of Hallmark's scripted originals will come from best-selling books (taking advantage of built-in readership), and the recent launch of Walden Family Theateron Friday nights (from Walden Media with Procter & Gamble/Wal-Mart sponsorships) may become a springboard for more original series. As for made-for-TV films, Hallmark Channel will offer 30 premieres this year, HMC 13, including its first original end-of-year holiday effort, Christmas With Tucker, linked to a new "Most Wonderful Movies of Christmas" promotion. Grade : 5 Jacks

Host : Abbott, Vicary and Georger get straight to the point both in their speeches and their reaction to press questions. Grade: 4.5 Jacks

Overall Grade: 4.5 Jacks Crown Media altered the tone and range of their event while maintaining the ambience and of course, Eleven Madison Park's culinary contribution.

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

Sidenotes from the upfront passing parade:

Along with what's coming together as a record number of channels getting into scripted programs, we may see at least one re-enter that marketplace. Spike TV's management claims they are pushing back into scripted as they push to widen their net's appeal beyond men in various demos (and just a month before Comcast's G4 converts into male-focused, scripted-hungry Esquire Channel). Let's see what Spike comes forward with, and whether they'll do so in public. The channel has not done an upfront event in years.

We have more than a few services yet to divulge if they'll do upfront ceremonies, heading into April. One respondee to our event calendar wonders what's up with ABC Family. They did a NY roundtable with their top series executive producers last spring. (Hear it was well-appreciated by the crowd there; most press were not invited.) At this moment, no word from ABC Family on their plans. Ditto TV One, which has done a fun NY upfront lunch at Cipriani's the last two years. Ditto Nickmom, the Nick Jr. primetime/latenight block kicking off last year's parade with a group of female stand-up comedians. Or other cable/satellite services, all those multicast networks, some Latino channels, Asian-American-crafted Mnet and Myx TV and...you get the drift. Will they or won't they? Love to know.

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 onwww.blogtalkradio.com, with replays available atwww.blogtalkradio.com/simonapple04. A weekly TV series edition will soon premiere on the new UBC-TV network.

Have a question or reaction? E-mail it tosimonapple04@yahoo.com, or tweet @UBCSimonTWBT.

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