From the Risqué to the Refined, Cable Upfronts Strike a Balance

Comedy Central’s upfront presentation Thursday (March 31), during a busy week for those cable-network gatherings in New York, was definitely the one with the most F-bombs and references to male and female genitalia from onstage presenters.

Amy Schumer’s risqué standup act — referencing certain aspects of her own sex life that can’t be relayed here — set the tone. The Daily Show host Trevor Noah had a naughty take on the current political climate. Comedy Central Roasts host Jeff Ross did a profanity-filled parody of Donald Trump. Broad City’s Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson removed their clothes to reveal nude body suits as the event ended with the network’s on-air stars dressed in bathrobes.

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FX’s upfront gathering Wednesday began with a screening of the upcoming final episode of American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson. Attendees included series stars Courtney B. Vance and John Travolta. FX Networks CEO John Landgraf thanked the various FX and FXX stars and producers who came, saying, “We know that they can make great television … what we don’t know is if they can bowl.” That’s because the night continued with an FX Networks signature bowling party across town from the screening.

Crown Media Family Networks (the two Hallmark channels’ parent), in contrast, entertained about 200 in style Wednesday at the Rainbow Room. Helping Crown CEO Bill Abbott and ad-sales EVP Ed Georger as hosts were Hallmark original-movie stars Lori Loughlin and Candace Cameron Bure. Five for Fighting’s John Ondrasik performed.

When Discovery Communications pitched upcoming slates at a breakfast gathering Thursday, questioners zoomed in on why reality haven TLC had ordered a new Tyler Perry-produced scripted series, Too Close to Home, when those are usually the province of Discovery affiliate OWN. TLC chief Nancy Daniels called it “a big swing,” but said TLC’s audience watches scripted shows elsewhere, so why not on TLC? When a reporter asked if it was easier to control actors in a scripted show than characters in a reality series — TLC is home to such shows as Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and 19 Kids and Counting — Discovery CEO David Zaslav observed that controlling people “is a problem in life in general.” The Wire definitely agrees.

— R. Thomas Umstead

Take Off (My Cable Bill), You Hoser

Barely a month into the Canadian government’s mandated skinny bundle experiment, legislators are warning potential customers that they’re on their own if they expect the new lighter video packages to result in lower pay TV bills.

Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission chairman Jean-Pierre Blais told the Globe and Mail newspaper that Canadian consumers wrongly assumed the government was going to cut cable prices when the intention was to provide more choices. If consumers want lower bills, he said, they’re just going to have to haggle with their provider, as he did.

After delivering a speech on anti-spam legislation in Toronto, Blais told the newspaper he was able to slim down his monthly pay TV bill the direct way, by threatening to switch providers.

“Was it easy? No. … You have to keep going up the chain into [the] loyalty program. It requires eff ort,” he said.

“This will take time, and I’ll repeat it again: Canadians will have to do some work,” Blais stressed. “They will have to be ready to at least threaten to change providers.”

The skinny-bundle mandate in Canada took effect on March 1 and is being watched closely to see how popular the new sub-C$25 plans might be with consumers. Canadian providers complied with a variety of packages, but critics said they weren’t well publicized and contained sparsely-viewed channels.

Reports indicate the Canadian regulator had received about 600 complaints from consumers, including those from viewers who found the channels in the skinny packages weren’t compelling

— Mike Farrell