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Stars Shine Bright at Disney Upfront

Bob Chapek during Disney's 2022 Upfront presentation.
Disney CEO Bob Chapek during the company's 2022 upfront presentation to advertisers May 17. (Image credit: Disney General Entertainment/Lorenzo Bevilaqua)

Ryan Seacrest kicked things off at the Disney upfront presentation, at Basketball City on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. “Only one company has a century’s worth of experience” in providing consumers “the very best in entertainment,” he said. “This is…Disney.”

What unfolded was a parade of stars across the Disney stage, including Steve Martin, Dwayne Johnson, various Kardashians, various Mannings, Ellen Pompeo and Kerry Washington, among many others. 

CEO Bob Chapek came out next, playing up Disney’s 100th anniversary later this year, “an incredible milestone for us,” he said. 

Disney’s goal for the next hundred years, he said, is “to transform entertainment”--better storytelling, better technology, better live events. “I’m incredibly optimistic about Disney’s future,” he said, then made way for Kareem Daniel, chairman of Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution. He said Disney has been direct-to-consumer since 1955, when Disneyland opened, and called Disney Plus “a cultural phenomenon.”

Rita Ferro, president, Disney Advertising, spoke about how 93% of adults consume Disney fare on a monthly basis. “The heart of Disney is our storytelling,” she said. 

Only Murders in the Building cast members Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez were out next. Martin shared, “When I was a kid, a little kid, I would dress up and play Disney upfronts.” For his part, Short said the Disney upfront answers the question of, “What’s the opposite of the Met Gala?”

Gomez gave some love to her senior costars. “They still love to work,” she said. “It’s almost like they didn’t save any money at all.”

Season two turns up June 28. 

Peter Rice, chairman of general entertainment, was out next. He called Only Murders “a terrific example of [the] kinds of stories” Disney excels in, and called it the most watched comedy in Hulu history.

Disney, he added, is “the only studio started by an artist and the only one that’s never been bought and sold in nearly a century.”

Kerry Washington then shared about getting a role in an ABC afterschool special as a kid, many years before Scandal. “I’ve just been so lucky to call this place home,” she said. 

Washington talked about Onyx Collective, which she said “curates premium, culturally specific storytelling for a global audience,” and features underrepresented creators. She’s in Reasonable Doubt, which costar Emeyatzy Corinealdi called “a sexy new legal drama.”

The Abbott Elementary cast came out, and then Claire Danes spoke about Fleishman Is in Trouble on FX. “It’s not just Fleishman who is in trouble on our show,” said Danes. 

Ellen Pompeo came out to represent Grey’s Anatomy, which reaches 400 episodes next week, and spoke about the show offering the voices of underrepresented actors and producers. “When you see yourself on screen, wonderful things can happen and do happen,” said Pompeo. 

Kumail Nanjiani spoke about Welcome to Chippendale’s on Hulu, and a bevy of Kardashians came out to talk up their Hulu show. 

On a more serious note, anchor David Muir mentioned returning from Buffalo. The massacre there, and other giant stories today, reminded him of “the power of delivering the facts, to be the place that’s really breaking through the noise.” Muir also gave a shout-out to ABC affiliate newsrooms around the country.  

Eli and Peyton Manning were out next to talk up ESPN, and its coverage of the major professional leagues, tennis, golf, soccer, and even cornhole, quipped Eli. The brothers promised more MegaCast content. 

Joe Buck and Troy Aikman then hyped Monday Night Football, including the season opener, Broncos versus Seahawks. 

“Great storytelling is the heartbeat of ESPN,” said Buck. 

Spike Lee, on video, spoke about his Colin Kaepernick project, and ESPN reporter Holly Rowe talked up women’s sports and minority representation, including platform Andscape.

Desmond Howard and Tim Tebow, both of whom own a Heisman trophy, spoke about college football, and Rowe introduced various champions, including University of South Carolina ladies basketballers and Matthew Stafford and Sean McVay from the Los Angeles Rams.

Dwayne Johnson and Dany Garcia came out to talk up the XFL, and announce a multi-year deal with Walt Disney Co. to produce and distribute games, on ABC, ESPN and FX. 

“We are rebuilding this brand,” said Garcia.  

Sean Bailey, Disney Studios president, talked about movies, including Enchanted sequel Disenchanted, and Hocus Pocus 2, out September 30. 

Kevin Feige, Marvel Studios president, mentioned it is his first Disney upfront. “Being part of Disney means so many incredible opportunities for us at Marvel Studios,” he said.

Production on Loki season two starts soon, and Samuel L. Jackson spoke about Secret Invasion, which he said “tells a story that goes back to the roots of who [Nick Fury] actually is.”

Tatiana Maslany spoke about She Hulk: Attorney at Law, which comes out in August, and Rita Ferro returned. “We’re relentlessly focused on the consumer experience,” she said, then introduced Jimmy Kimmel. 

Kimmel is notorious for his annual skewering of the broadcast upfronts, but it was a Zoom call with him due to COVID. He took shots at ABC’s competition, including Fox for its pre-recorded upfront presentation, CBS for its old shows and old viewers, and NBC for its reboots.

Quantum Leap and Night Court? That’s not a fall schedule. Those are the tapes you find in your dead uncle’s VCR,” he said. 

He took shots at ABC too, and the vast Disney content portfolio. “When I started doing this, Lost was one of our biggest hits. Now it’s our corporate motto,” said Kimmel.  

He also took a poke at Bob Chapek. “A Disney CEO has never spoken at the upfront before. Now we know why,” said Kimmel. 

A little more than two hours after it began, the Disney upfront presentation wrapped. ■

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, Playboy and New York magazine.