Kevin Mayer, Disney chairman, direct-to-consumer and international, kicked things off at the Disney upfront, celebrating the various networks joined under the Disney banner, and Disney’s takeover of Hulu. “The power of the advertising portfolio we have put together might be the most exciting thing of all,” he said.
The networks represented in the Disney upfront include ABC, FX, Freeform, National Geographic and ESPN.
Rita Ferro, president of ad sales and partnerships, was out next. She spoke of “One event, one team, all the best brands in media,” and noted that “this powerful portfolio tells stories like no other.”
She plugged “the most powerful brands in local media” in the ABC-owned stations, and said Disney harbors the best storytellers in the business.
“The future of TV is TV,” she said.
ESPN took its turn, as Scott Van Pelt of SportsCenter stepped on stage. “We are what we have been for decades, the place of record for sports fans,” he said.
He shared the strategy of Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN president and co-chair, Disney Media Networks: Expanding the audience, innovating and quality storytelling. “It will always be what we do best,” he said of the latter.
He mentioned The Last Dance, a 10-episode look at the Chicago Bulls of the Michael Jordan era.
Eli Manning and Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants spoke about their experience in the NFL. Barkley said he was learning leadership from Manning.
Reporter Laura Rutledge spoke about college football, and the network's kickoff match August 24, Florida versus Miami. She said the network has made halftime a must-see moment.
She spoke about an ACC network called ACCN, kicking off August 22.
Next up was FX Networks chairman John Landgraf. He spoke about overseeing "the boldest and most acclaimed" programming for adults.
He talked up Fargo, season four starring Chris Rock as a mob boss. Production starts in the fall and it airs in 2020.
Mrs. America features Cate Blanchett. About the fight for equal rights for women, production begins this summer and the show starts next spring.
Alex Garland drama Devs starts in the fall. "We're really excited about this series," said Landgraf.
Comedy Lil Dickey, he said, will “make every top ten list for those 18-34,” said Landgraf.
National Geographic was next, with Free Solo star Alex Honnold climbing on stage. "Presenting on stage is more intimidating than climbing," he said, as he introduced network president Courteney Monroe.
Brain Games is hosted by Keegan-Michael Key. Uncharted, a “travel-adventure series,” said Monroe, is hosted by Gordon Ramsay. The Hot Zone premieres Memorial Day, while Genius looks at Aretha Franklin.
The Harlem Gospel Choir then performed Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman" and "Respect."
Kenny Mayne’s Halftime Show had Mayne making quips about the upfront, and poking fun of some Disney ad sales slides. “I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about,” he said.
In a nod to a network new to Disney, he joked about getting National Geographic magazine as a kid. “It was like Playboy with more scholarly articles,” he said.
Next up was Freeform, with The Bold Type cast sharing that season four is coming.
Tom Ascheim, Freeform president, spoke about the power of millennials. “As they have grown, we’ve grown with them,” he said, noting Freeform’s sophisticated content.
New series include ghost drama Motherland, which counts Adam McKay and Will Ferrell among its producers, Everything's Gonna Be Okay, a comedy that touches on autism; and Party of Five, which Ascheim called a “modern, powerful, extremely topical reboot.”
Ascheim noted that Kleenex might be a good advertiser for Party of Five.
He also talked up Freeform’s holiday stunts, such as 25 Days of Christmas.
Robin Roberts from Good Morning America was out next. She said we are living in “exciting and challenging times,” and GMA offers “that human connection.”
She introduced World News Tonight anchor David Muir. He called Roberts “the heart and soul of mornings in America.”
He reminded Americans that we have more in common than that which divides us. He also plugged 20/20 and spoke of the vast Democratic field vying for president. “Anyone else wanna run?” he joked. “It’s wide open.”
Julie Bowen of Modern Family was out next, introducing Karey Burke, entertainment president. Bowen called Burke “fearless and funny.”
Burke called it “a really big year” for the company, and for herself.
She called The Bachelor “the gift that keeps on giving.” She described ABC programming as “trail-blazing, thought-provoking and entertaining,” and noted a “strong access point” for women.
She said ABC’s strategy includes scripted and unscripted series, and “big” live events.
Describing Tiffany Haddish’s Kids Say the Darndest Things, Burke called the project a dream come true. It will air Sundays at 8 p.m.
Next season will be the final one for Modern Family, and Burke introduced the cast of the long-running comedy and its creator, Steve Levitan. “I am tearing up because I have to fill that time slot next year,” Burke said.
Levitan recalled how 12 years and four network presidents ago, ABC decided to show the entire pilot of Modern Family at the upfront.
“This room laughed in all the right places,” he said. And when Cam and Mitchell introduced their new daughter to the family, “they even cheered. In 22 minutes our lives changed forever.”
“We want to thank you for supporting us so enthusiastically from the very beginning and we plan on finishing strong,” Levitan added.
Burke then introduce Stumptown, a drama starring Cobie Smulders, “the actress everyone wanted.”
She also introduced Grey’s Anatomy, which is becoming the longest-running medical drama in TV history. Next season, there will be more crossover events between Grey’s and Station 19.
“This is our most stable schedule in more than a decade,” Burke concluded.
Burke also announced one midseason show, a drama called For Life about a man wrongly given a life sentence who becomes a lawyer to help others in that situation. It will launch with promotion from the Oscars, she said.
ABC closed its show with late night host Jimmy Kimmel, making his 16th appearance at the annual presentation. Kimmel walked out with a boy, noting that Kenny Mayne had a puppy. “I wanted to bring out something cute too,” he said. “Can you say the darndest things?” he asked the boy.
“I’m going to say some bad words now, so you should go in the back,” he told the lad.
Kimmel noted that ABC has a new entertainment president in Burke. “She asked me to make it clear that the shows you’re watching tonight are not her fault. Blame Channing,” he said, referring to Channing Dungey, Burke’s predecessor.
“Channing went to Netflix, like our viewers,” he said, adding that in Yiddish, that’s called a “Shonda.”
Kimmel joked about all the networks Disney now owns, saying it would soon launch FXXX, which would show nothing but Vin Diesel and porn. He joked about Constance Wu’s outburst after Fresh Off the Boat was renewed: “Only on ABC is getting your show picked up the worst thing that can happen.”
As for replacing Modern Family, “the rarest thing on ABC, a hit,” Kimmel said ABC will run something Generation Z would appreciate, A Guy from New Zealand Playing Fortnite.
He joked about rival networks as well, reminding ad buyers that a year ago they gave Les Moonves of CBS a standing ovation. “That was funny. The network has an eye for a logo and it didn’t see that coming.”
As for Fox, he noted that 18 to 49 was no longer a demo, it was the number of people who still worked there.
And he asked if NBC mentioned that it has the Olympics. “You want a medal?” He added that NBC gave a three-year renewal to This is Us, or as Constance Wu would call it, "a death sentence.”
And he cursed Netflix, noting that it even had the Obamas making shows. “The Obamas are making TV and Trump is running the country. Is this some sort of Freaky Friday?” he said.
For the ad buyers, Kimmel noted there were more and more buzzwords. There’s “first party data,” which Disney collects by putting cameras in Frozen dolls. And Waste, which is when “you send ads for Mercedes to 9-year-olds, ads for Honeybaked Ham to rabbis, and ads for salad to Trump.”
From personal and professional experience, Kimmel rolled a sales tape of how Mercedes sponsors the musical performances on his show. The automaker has committed to a third year for the relationship. “I can be your bitch for the right amount of money,” he said.
Stalling while the stage was set up for a musical performance, Kimmel noted that “you guys have had enough of this bullshit. This has become a sleepover.”
Then noting that some previous musical acts have been dreadful, he said he was bringing out someone great: John Mayer.
--additional reporting from Jon Lafayette
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