Upfront Update: TV March Madness From Participant's Pivot And FX - Simon Applebaum

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A pair of Upfront presentations--one unveiling a new channel from the soon-to-be remnants of two, the other an expansion of what one channel already offers--brought the March portion of New York Upfront season to a close last week.


Venue : The lower-level auditorium at Museum of Arts and Design, the Columbus Circle landmark that was given up as a home for anything only a decade ago. Small and classy, Pivot owner Participant Media chose the space as a symbol of how any project can arise out of seemingly insurmountable circumstances. (Editor's Note: A later presentation included a delicious buffet luncheon atop MAD, attended by Pivot management and program stars and hosts.) Grade: 4 Jacks


Presentation : A press-directed affair for Pivot, a channel aimed at the millennial generation fusing current nets Halogen and The Documentary Channel August 1, covering more than 40 million homes. In comprehensive fashion, Participant TV chief Evan Shapiro tracked the thinking behind launching such a service and its importance to multichannel operators. "This is the next greatest generation," Shapiro declared. "People age 15-34 represent 60 percent of the 18-49 demographic--the audience cable operators are at risk of losing" if they decide the Internet or over-the-top venture provide a better value. Pivot wants to give this audience options to deal with social issues, using the motto "It's your turn." Audience focus group videos were mixed with previews of original series ahead and live mini-interviews with some talent involved, including actor/Web entrepreneur Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the subjects of Newark-based reality effort Jersey Strong. Several talent interviews and at least one focus group portion could have cut to the chase quicker, to keep the full presentation from running over an hour and making some audience members restless. Grade: 3,5 Jacks( Editor's Note: The later event was tighter and more focused, with the participating talent "on their game". The audience included advertisers and distributors.)


News : The channel will offer at least 300 hours of original programs in year one, and the majority of what was showcased looks appealing to its target community. One is Gordon-Levitt's HitREcord on TV!, a new-generation variety series mixing live performances with collaborative short films and videos, based on the successful collaborative site www.hitREcord.org .(Editor's Note: HitREcord represents the first truly different variety program sinceRowan & Martin's Laugh In , and has the potential to be a break out hit for Pivot.) Others include Jersey Strong; which focuses on a dynamic cross-gang couple and an engaging gang lawyer and her wife; nightly forum TakePart Live; Will, Moulin Rouge writer Craig Pearce's take on William Shakespeare's journey to adulthood; and Raising McCain, a traveling talk/documentary with commentator Meghan McCain. Also ahead: Univision's news unit co-producing 10 documentaries on Latino issues (to be presented simultaneously in English and Spanish on both nets), and a week-long examination of millennials this fall (covering primetime and latenight), co-organized withRolling Stone magazine. Grade : 5 Jacks


Host : Shapiro had a tremendous amount of information to present and handled that function well for the most part. He's one of the most engaging TV executives speaking in public, equally adept on general media matters as what's up at his channel. Grade: 4 Jacks( Editor's Note: Shapiro's double shout out to Jack Myers' book Hooked Up and its relevance to the Pivot millennial focus earned him 5 Jack's in this editor's analysis.)


Overall Grade: 4 Jacks There's a lot to focus on with this millennials-directed network, and the presentation suffered from getting unfocused in a number of places.

Special side note : There was no question-and-answer period for journalists immediately after the presentation, and no opportunity for them to engage with either executives or talent as well. That was due to a separate advertiser presentation scheduled back-to-back with the press edition. Also, a number of reporters were told they could attend lunch and hobnob with available execs and talent. That turned out to be untrue, and that left some bad taste with those impacted. In fairness to public relations people working on the event, lunch was not mentioned in the announcement journalists (including this one) received in advance. Still, given the magnitude of Pivot's launch--and the event was billed for press--a formal Q&A period or some other way reporters could immediately get comment from execs and talent, should have taken place.

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


Venue : Cipriani's combo restaurant/atrium across the street from Grand Central Station. Home of many an upfront over the years, attendees first feasted on breakfast in the side room, surrounded by FX logos and show photographs. (The egg white mushroom omelet was especially good,FX Networkalong with plenty of tables and sofas to eat from.) Then came the first of several curveballs no one expected, a main presentation room part Cinerama, part Hayden Planetarium and part retro one-ring big top. Visuals were flashed on a wide circular screen, while the audience seated themselves on plastic clear or white chairs. You never saw Cipriani's ever like this. Grade: 5 Jacks

Presentation : Some present came expecting FX parent News Corp. to divide the channel in two--one featuring comedy, the other drama. News Corp., via Fox ad sales president Lou LaTorre and FX president John Landgraf, threw a shattering curve on that thinking off the bat. Yes, FX will spin off a second channel known as FXX Sept. 2, but instead of both nets separated by genre, they'll aim for different target audiences (FX 18-49, FXX 18-34). Both services not only will program original comedy and drama, they will expand into limited series (8-10 episodes a year, two/three years max) and miniseries. If that wasn't enough, Fox Movie Channel (rebranded as FXM a year ago), will now target adults 25-54 and expand from Fox movie library offerings (with limited commercial interruption) into limited series, eventually presenting four per year (one per quarter). The ultimate aim: 25 or more original scripted series across all three channels within three years. "We're going to double down," Landgraf pointed out. "This is the tip of the iceberg (for all three networks). Top Hollywood projects are flying throughout doors--literally." Show videos and graphics projected on that Cinerama-like screen fleshed out the points, without backup from talent appearances. Grade: 4.5 Jacks

News : FXX begins with four original comedy series, three moving over from FX (It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, The League, and a daily version of latenight Totally Biased With W. Kamal Bell). The fourth will be selected from several pilots under development. Upcoming from FX: The Bridge, a crime drama involving U.S. and Mexican police, adapted from an overseas format, and first limited seriesFargo, based on the Oscar-winning movie, with directors Joel and Ethan Coen executive producing. In contention there: Tyrant, marking the TV debut of Oscar-winning director Ang Lee, and The Strain, a next-level vampire drama overseen by Guillermo Del Toro. At FXM, a reworking ofGrand Hotel by acclaimed film/theater director Sam Mendes is among the limited series or miniseries in consideration. Grade:5 Jacks

Host : Landgraf did the majority of the talking, with LaTorre on at the start and finish, and Fox Cable Entertainment executive vice president of ad sales Bruce Lefkowitz around near the finish to discuss FX Now, a new video-on-demand venture available for multichannel operators and mobile through TV Everywhere. Rarely budging from a woodcut, rustic podium of network logos sandwiched together, Landgraf moved the pace along.Grade : 4. Jacks

Overall Grade: 4.5 Jacks Delivered big news value (led by those curveballs) in a mesmerizing manner.

One more side note : FX did hold a question-and-answer session with reporters after their presentation, involving Landgraf, LaTorre and Lefkowitz. What's more, the session was open to reporters around the country via phone connection.

That's a wrap on March. A big assortment of April events begins this week.

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

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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