Year in and out, you know when Discovery Communications stages an upfront event in the springtime, it's going to be a spectacle. Cannot help but be when 13 channels are involved to some degree.
Venue: The one thing we always say in this column about an event originating from Jazz at Lincoln Center's Rose Theater: everything from technical production to after-party food is top-notch. The rare thing we don't: the show starts late. In Discovery's case, an unheard-of 40 minutes late at least. For Rose Theater and all involved, a super error. Grade:4 Jacks
Presentation: Down to a science by now--executives from various Discovery channels introducing what's ahead in rapid-fire fashion, helped by arguably the best-edited preview clips of any ceremony and quick intros from channel personalities. (Discovery learned a few years back not to make a long event longer via guest mini-interviews by their top brass.) The opening video showcasing every Discovery net remains a model for how you showcase a company in less than two minutes. Plus, for a change of pace, TLC led off with the event's first-ever dance performance, highlighting young Irish step-dancers who, naturally, will be the subject of a series on that net next year. They and the inventive routine they did in colorful costumes brought the house down. Nice touch by Discovery CEO David Zaslav to mention in passing The Hub (which had its upfront early last month) and Discovery's Latino channels (having their own turn next month). Meantime, 3net, the 3D joint venture with Sony and IMAX, flashed their logo and received no mention from Zaslav or anyone else. True, 3net did a special River Monsters screening with Animal Planet a week earlier in New York. But when will 3net highlight its offering in full for the NY crowd? Unplanned fun moment: Susan Lucci's off-synch slap of Investigation Discovery chief Henry Schleiff. And yes, Oprah Winfrey showed up, promising all attending that her network is gathering mo after a roller-coaster 2011. "I can see the summit, but still in the climb," she said. "We'll make the summit in 2014." Grade: 4.5 Jacks
News: Where do you start? With Discovery Channel alone, there's a series team-up from Mark Burnett and James Cameron (Robogeddon, so late-breaking it didn't make the official press release, or post-event roundups in the trade press); Robert Redford executive producing a documentary (All The President's Men Revisited); a pair of series bound to be breathtaking (North America and History of The World), and competition via Top Engineer. Breaking Amish looks a winner among TLC's 55 new/returning series in 2012-13. Celebrated actor James Woods will come to Science Channel as host/executive producer of This Changes Everything, checking out the long-term consequences of such prospects as synthetic biology to habitable planets, while Ricky Gervais continues his association with the service, started with two seasons of An Idiot Abroad. Top Hooker, off Animal Planet's video, promises to go where no fishing competition has dared go. At OWN, lend an eye to Six Little McGhees, about the sextuplet family from Ohio. If meeting the parents (Mia and Rozanno) at the after-party is any indication, plenty of people across the nation will fall in love with their foibles. Just ahead of all that, effective Memorial Day weekend, is diginet Planet Green turning "red, white and blue" in Zazlav's words, to Destination America. Grade: 5 Jacks
Host: Just about every top Discovery network executive took a turn at some point, none overstaying their welcome. Grade: 3.5 Jacks
Overall Grade: 4.5 Jacks Even at 40 minutes late, Discovery generates a memorable event and plenty of new programming to consider investing ad time on.
5 Jacks - Excellent
4 Jacks - Very Good
3 Jacks - Good
2 Jacks - Fair
1 Jack - Poor
0 Jacks -Worse than bad
Now some observations from the Upfront passing parade and beyond:
--Bravo maintained its habit of limiting press for its upfront last week to a pre-ceremony red (or here blue) carpet display, where the carpet walkers and their PR can opt to meet you or not. This time around though, credit Bravo for listening to criticism from here and other places that its programming executives spoke extensively to the TV crews and avoided all others last year.
Executive vice president of programming Andy Cohen was fair to all, and with me, declaring his channel's commitment to a scripted series debut in 2013. "This will be the year it happens," he said. Efforts over the last three years to develop an hour-long drama never reached pilot production because "we want to get it right… we didn't want to be in a rush." The contenders this time: 22 Birthdays from Universal Cable Productions and Blowing Sunshine from executive producer Jason Ning.
--ABC Family's March upfront luncheon ends up a blown opportunity to score valuable press. Beforehand, the network advised no press would be invited, and only stars from returning and new series would be on hand. Then after the fact, you learn that the creator/producers of ABC Family's best work, such as Brenda Hampton from Secret Life Of The American Teenager and Libby Weiss with Switched At Birth, did a panel discussion that a few trade press reporters were on hand to highlight. If you're going to have that panel, which I heard was well-done, how about having the widest press audience exposed to it and the participants? A case of crossed signals that cost ABC Family valuable coverage where it counts most--the press viewers read and watch.
--Another after the fact matter we didn't know was CMT, owned by Viacom, having an upfront last week at the Museum of Art & Design, with The Band Perry doing three tunes for the crowd. Big highlight: the channel will try animated series for the first time with Bounty Hunters, coming early 2013 from Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Larry The Cable Guy.
--Imagine Park promises to be a top attraction at The Cable Show in Boston next month. The exhibit, an expansion of the well-received The Park project last year, will include The App Pond, a showcase for new interactive TV applications workable for tablets and smartphones, and Start-Up Alley, displaying new Boston-based companies with TV and broadband ambitions. Even better, in association with the Applications Developer Alliance, teams of students around the country will be invited to create new services in 48 hours at the show, in an Imagine App Challenge similar to the popular hackathons happening at various Web/mobile start-up festivals. However, the students will be invited to create mobile or tablet applications. Given this is The Cable Show, the focus is TV and you want to empower more interest and development of interactive TV services among students, why is the end game of this worthy project mobile/tablet apps? NCTA and ADA, there's time to reroute the process in a TV direction. Do it.
--While on Applications Developer Alliance's radar screen, kudos to them in advance of their involvement with Appnation, an event during Internet Week New York next month showcasing interactive TV apps along with mobile/tablet services. Once more, exposure to ITV possibilities can motivate ADA's community to go for them. Once more, wish Internet Week NY was not conflicting with the parade of broadcast/cable/multicultural channel upfronts that week.
--Congrats to all the TV winners of The Peabody Awards, media's equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. From Game Of Thrones to Jeopardy!, CNN and Al Jazeera English's Arab Spring coverage to Homeland, and Treme to Parks & Recreationand American Masters, there's no unworthy winner in this group.
--Due to a spelling error, my Cartoon Network upfront column misidentified Stuart Snyder, president/COO of Turner Broadcasting's animation unit. Apologies to him, his unit and you.
--Mike Wallace, one of the most unique people ever to face the nation via TV, passed away last weekend at age 93. From The Mike Wallace Interview to Biography to CBS Morning Newsand special assignments globe wide for CBS News in the 1960s, to 40 years as 60 Minutes correspondent and investigative journalist/interviewer for the ages, he leaves behind an incredible body of journalism that will flourish for, and enlighten, generations ahead.
Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned.
Simon Applebaum is producer/host ofTomorrow 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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