Disney Upfront Presentation Features Scripted Stuff Near the End

Rita Ferro at Disney upfront
Disney Ad Sales president Rita Ferro at the company's upfront. (Image credit: Disney)

The Walt Disney Co. hosted its upfront presentation at the Jacob Javits Center in New York, with picketing writers protesting outside. Rita Ferro, president of Disney Advertising Sales, came out first. “Storytelling is what distinguishes us at Disney,” she said, adding that “creativity and innovation continue to be the cornerstone” of Disney programming. 

She then introduced her “pick for the athlete of all-time,” Serena Williams. Williams noted how “ESPN has championed my career from the very beginning,” and shared about an In the Arena docuseries focused on her. It will “track my ups and downs both professionally and personally,” she said. 

Next up was ESPN anchor Elle Duncan. “We’ve got the largest sports portfolio anywhere,” she boasted. Duncan said Christmas Day best displays ESPN’s might. ABC has NBA action, and Monday Night Football is on that day too. 

“We’ve got the biggest stars, we’ve got the marquee matchups,” Duncan said. 

Pat McAfee spoke of speaking with Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN president, about moving The Pat McAfee Show to ESPN. “He truly understood what the future of sports media is gonna look like,” said McAfee. 

Hannah Storm was out next to talk about NBA action. She introduced Donovan Mitchell of the Cavaliers, and the two spoke about the 71 points he had in a game in January. After a slow start that day, “Thank God the shots started going in,” Mitchell said. 

Talk turned to the WNBA, where Breanna Stewart and Angel Reese spoke about the upcoming season. “I’m a girlie-girl off the court,” said Reese, “but on the court I’m a dog.”

College football was up next, with Laura Rutledge, Desmond Howard and Dan Orlovsky on stage. Howard teased matchups such as Florida State versus LSU, Texas against Alabama and Notre Dame versus Clemson. 

“It’s an incredible synergy across all of our platforms,” said Rutledge. 

Next out was Caleb Williams, Heisman winner in 2022. “I got a lot of goals I still want to reach,” he promised. 

Orlovsky asked Williams which city he’d like to play in as a pro. “Whatever team picks first,” Williams answered diplomatically. 

Joe Buck and Troy Aikman of Monday Night Football came out next. Buck promised a new look for the show. He said of the schedule being revealed, “This was like Christmas the other day.”

The Monday schedule starts with Bills versus Jets. Aikman has his eye on week 11, Eagles versus Chiefs, a rematch of the last Super Bowl. 

Buck then brought out Damar Hamlin, who suffered cardiac arrest in a game in January. 

“It’s been a roller coaster of emotions, just getting back into the game,” said Hamlin after a standing ovation. 

Hamlin said he has learned a lot about humankind since his injury, noting how “people of all ethnicities, races and religions can come together” in difficult times. 

Peyton Manning was out next. He said for those who don’t want the polish of a Buck and Aikman broadcast, there’s Peyton & Eli, with the Manning brothers breaking down the game in the so-called Manningcast

Manning spoke about live events, including Dancing with the Stars and New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. Manning will again host the CMA Awards this year with Luke Bryan. Bryan, on video, called it “an amazing night of music.”

Next was ABC News. World News Tonight anchor David Muir said, “History is unfolding every day in this country and around the world.”

The DNA of World News Tonight, and ABC News, is boots on the ground, he said, chasing the story where it happens. Muir said ABC News, and parent Disney, are committed to the stories behind  the headlines. 

Muir thanked the stations for providing boots on the community ground, then introduced WABC New York anchors Bill Ritter and Sade Baderinwa. “We get to champion the local hometown heroes that remind us of our common bonds,” said Baderinwa. 

George Stephanopoulos and Michael Strahan from Good Morning America were out next. “It’s such a privilege to wake up and say good morning America to all our viewers,” Stephanopoulous said. 

Jesse Palmer, host of The Bachelor, was next. He spoke about Strahan questioning him about going on The Bachelor when both were NFL teammates. “Dude, you’re a quarterback on the New York Giants,” Palmer said, imitating Strahan. “And you’re going on TV to get a date?”

Palmer then introduced Kim and Khloe Kardashian. The Kardashians has been renewed on Hulu for 20 episodes, they shared, and season three drops May 25. Kim will also be in season 12 of American Horror Story

Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, took his turn on stage. Scripted shows, on Disney Plus, were finally talked about. He teased three Marvel series on Disney Plus: Secret Invasion, which he called a twisty political thriller; Echo, out in November; and season two of Loki, out in October. Tom Hiddleston stars. 

Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm, said it was Lucasfim’s first time in the upfront presentation. She spoke about Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny released in theaters next month, and the Indy Jones catalogue arriving on Disney Plus May 31. 

Kennedy also shared a trailer for The Acolyte, which premieres next year. She also shared clips from Skeleton Crew and Ahosoka. She said of Skeleton Crew, “This series is filmed with wonder and danger.”

Pete Docter, chief creative officer at Pixar, shared on-screen about the series Win or Lose. The show, the first Pixar series, premieres in December. 

Ryan Seacrest, American Idol host, came out to talk up both scripted and unscripted shows on ABC and Hulu as the event neared two hours, including Abbott Elementary, new arrival 9-1-1, Only Murders in the Building and American Idol. He spoke of Disney creating series “that become cultural touchstones,” and characters that are on a first-name basis in households across America. 

Seacrest then teased Hulu’s Oprah Winfrey series Black Cake, which he said “spans continents, cultures and decades.” It premieres this fall. 

Seacrest moved on to FX, talking about The Bear season two, which he called “the largest production in FX history,” and Shogun, which featured some samurai swordplay in the ballroom. The Bear is out June 22 while Shogun is “coming soon.”

A final word from Rita Ferro followed, and the Disney upfront show was done. 

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, the L.A. Times and New York magazine.