Style and BET divided up the upfront action in New York last Wednesday. Here's your combo recap and review of both presentations.
Venue: Great choice to give attendees of this breakfast event somewhere that matches the channel's stylish aspirations--Diane Von Furstenberg's showroom on Wes 14th Street, near the popular High Line above-ground walkway connecting Tribeca with midtown. Clothes to oogle over by the dozen and purple flowers greeted the guests (mostly press), who were let into a side room with posters of the network's current series. Personalities from Tia Mowry-Hardrict and Tamara Mowry-Housley to Bill Rancic sat with the crowd, and everyone feasted on a breakfast highlighted by spicy potato slices and chicken sausage. Grade: 4.5 Jacks
Presentation: Mostly on point about two points--Style is in makeover mode, and from here on, the network will premiere original series that, in president Salaam Coleman Smith's words, showcase "a celebration of women's collective beauty." The makeover includes a new on-air look and logo, plus "work it, live it," as the tag line, starting this summer. Smith let the original series and state-of-channel clips do most of the talking, as did original programming senior vice president Sarah Weidman. Grade: 4 Jacks
News: Five series will launch before the end of 2012, and as many as six more series now under development may join them. Of the five newbies, the biggest crowd buzz went for Chicagolicious, a Jerseylicious offshoot catching the action at noted stylist AJ Johnson's salon in the Windy City, and Empire Girls, a reality hour pairing Cheetah Girls co-star Adrienne Bailon and former 106 & Park personality Julissa Bermudez, out to land further showbiz fame in New York. Top fashion designer Betsey Johnson and daughter Lulu will be featured in another new series, coming from the Magical Elves assembly line behind Project Runway and Top Chef. So You Think You Can Dance host Cat Deeley and Kimora Lee Simmons have separate series in development. You also might bet on Built, where male models in Manhattan do home remodeling, and Pop Style, a weekly roundup of fashion and culture trends, showing up at some point. Grade: 4.5 Jacks
Host: Smith kept the presentation lively and easy to follow. Grade: 4.5 Jacks
Overall Grade: 4.5 Jacks All elements of this event worked, and you came away with clarity about where Style wants to take its content in the coming year. Be fun to see how high-profile this member of NBC Universal's family of nets ends up next spring.
Venue: Hard to believe we're more than two months into this cycle and just now we have the flexible Best Buy (earlier Nokia) Theater near the corner of West 44th Street and Broadway as a host site. (Come to think of it, why no events so far at stately Gotham Hall down Broadway? Had 2-3 by this time last year, Oxygen among them.) Plenty of seating room, every seat good to see a stage with graphics detailing BET's stature as #1 among its African-American target audience, and a flush of green all over. Thumbs down for being skimpy on the pre-presentation food. Grade: 3.5 Jacks
Presentation: Remember Univision's opening video from last year using words and graphics to detail the scope and buying power of Latinos across the nation? Made such an impact on the audience, Univision went on to play the video on YouTube and get thousands of views there. BET should consider the same course for its "It's not your imagination..." tape, equally as eye-catching and powerful. That was the first of numerous memorable moments running throughout this showcase for BET and sister network Centric. Among them: CEO Debra Lee's off-the-cuff tribute to Dick Clark, only a few hours after the news of his death broke, acknowledging him for what American Bandstand did to showcase African-American performers on TV; Cedric The Entertainer speaking up in the same manner for Soul Train creator/host/producer Don Cornelius; a knockout solo song from Luke James; Tony Rock (Chris' brother)'s quick shout-out for his new Centric series Apollo Live--"Looking forward to the talent on this show. Looking forward to the lack of talent on this show."--and the closing number from singer/rapper B.O.B. Grade: 5 Jacks
When it comes to advocacy for a channel's ad sales, few do it consistently at an upfront show with panache, guts and feistiness as BET ad sales president Louis Carr. His "Twilight Zone" combo satire/throw down of ad industry attitudes toward networks reaching people of color was an instant classic several years ago. Dapper and daring as ever, Carr outdid himself with an extended pitch for deep ad commitments. In the process, he called out networks that are doing, or have announced, reality series featuring African-Americans, with the screen behind him naming names, including Bravo and TLC. "They want to be wanna-bes...they want a piece of the A-A audience, but they don't want to make a commitment (except for) scripted reality of shock and awe," Carr declared. Shortly after, he made a double point out of this statistic: 81 percent of all A-As going to movies last year saw films with no black cast, storyline or lead character. The double point: that audience made a huge contribution to the success of those movies, in spite of the lack of diversity, which Carr expressed outrage over. "You all should be throwing money at this stage," he said to applause. "We are mega-consumers. We are trendsetters, product-talkers. We make a difference on the bottom line." No one, repeat, no one knows how to shock and awe the advertiser community, whether prisoners get taken along the way or not, like Carr. He's so ready for primetime as well, so when will BET or someone give him airtime? Grade: 5-plus Jacks
News: Scripted series will get more of BET's evening schedule in the year ahead, starting with two comedies that promise to split sides: Second Generation Wayans, an Entourage-like program featuring the next gen of Keenan Ivory Wayans' family, and House Husbands, a sketch anthology from Kevin Hart based on the Real Housewives parody presented on last summer's BET Awards special. The bigger news is that BET will finally get an original hour drama on its lineup, with Gabrielle Union starring in Being Mary Jane (from The Game creator Mara Brock Akil). The cast includes Richard Roundtree, Margaret Avery and Lisa Vidal, and will debut first as a two-hour pilot inside a new Premiere Cinema mix of made-for originals, film festival features and independent films. Gun Hill, a drama pilot from New York Undercover co-creator Reggie Rock Bythewood, will get a Premiere Cinema tryout as well. Other new series include late-night entry Don't Sleep with former CNN anchor T.J. Holmes, and The Mathis Project, bringing Judge Greg Mathis together with neighborhood volunteers and police to solve homicides Grade: 5 Jacks
Host: Lee shared the assignment with Carr and programming executives Loretha Jones and Stephen Hill. All were smooth and entertaining. Grade: 4 Jacks
Overall Grade: 4.5 Jacks Solid mix of pitch, programming news and entertainment, with Carr's commentary adding extra spice.
5 Jacks - Excellent
4 Jacks - Very Good
3 Jacks - Good
2 Jacks - Fair
1 Jack - Poor
0 Jacks -Worse than bad
Observation from the passing upfront parade:
***Hulu opened the two-week parade of NewFronts last Thursday, drawing a capacity audience at The Times Center auditorium. Considerably more advertising people and journalists (including this one) were turned away from attending beforehand, demonstrating the interest level in Hulu and the other Web/smart TV content providers doing NewFront events this week and next. Three new series were introduced: Richard Linklater-produced travelogue Up To Speed (coming this summer), dramedy We Got Next (pick-up basketball players face life on and off-court) and animated superhero spoof The Awesomes, created by Saturday Night Live's Seth Meyers. Development projects include Don't Quit Your Daydream and Flow. We'll get to as many of these NewFront events as possible and share the proceedings in future columns.
***About 400 Android application developers entered the interactive TV world this past weekend via Google TV's first-ever hackathons in Silicon Valley and London. Hackathons have flourished the last two years as gathering points for people to fire up their imaginations and create new Web sites, mobile phone and tablet services. Now we've got hackathons with a TV focus. What will get created out of this weekend that you'll find and use on your set? Will Google TV do more of these events and invite the TV industry to participate, and will others follow Google's lead in running similar ventures? All questions everyone involved in the next generation of TV should pay attention to, and help generate answers.
Next up: Ovation and BBC America
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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