Upfront: Turner Pushes Parity with Broadcasters

At a presentation smack in the middle of broadcast upfront week, executives from Turner Broadcasting System's cable entertainment networks pitched their channels as fighting contenders for advertising dollars.

"In today's world, consumers are watching television without any delineation between broadcast and cable. Shouldn't you spend your dollars that way?" said David Levy, president of Turner Broadcasting Sales and Turner Sports.

Turner's 90-minute breakfast show, with bits on TNT, TBS and truTV, was structured much like the traditional broadcast upfront stage shows -- clips of new programs and well-received cameos from stars like Kyra Sedgwick, Eric McCormack and Mark-Paul Gosselaar, and a closing performance by Frank Caliendo, the stand-up star of TBS’ Frank TV.

The star wattage and straightforwardness of the show was particularly noteworthy in a week full of the most untraditional broadcast upfronts ever -- NBC’s, for example, had no stage show, while ABC’s had no stars and no party.

Turner has long driven home the message that cable networks should gain CPM (cost per thousand homes) parity with broadcast, and this year’s upfront show marked its boldest asserting of that position. Turner Entertainment Networks president Steve Koonin highlighted several keywords around which he said the cable networks measured progress -- reach, growth, ratings, environment, stars and stability -- and reiterated TNT’s promise to change its primetime-schedule composition from 20% originals to 80% by 2010.

“The word progress is our mantra,” he said, calling the Turner Entertainment brands viable “broadcast replacements.”

Turner ad-sales executives pitched the crowd of media buyers, assembled over breakfast pastries and Fiji water at every seat, on new contextual-advertising technology they are calling “TVinContext.” The initiative -- “where reach meets relevance,” according to Turner Entertainment ad sales and marketing executive vice president Linda Yaccarino -- would pair, say, a scene from Hitch in which Will Smith’s character has an allergic reaction with a Walgreen’s ad for Zyrtec, or one from Anchorman where the characters discuss love with an ad for dating Web site eHarmony (http://www.eharmony.com).

TNT showed clips from its three new shows -- Steven Bochco's Raising the Bar, Dean Devlin's Leverage and Shepherd/Robin's Truth in Advertising -- and brought out their stars, including Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Jane Kaczmarek, Timothy Hutton, Eric McCormack and Tom Cavanagh.

The network also previewed its first ever unscripted show, Mark Burnett/DreamWorks’ Wedding Day, in which a lucky couple gets surprised with the wedding of their dreams.

Meanwhile, truTV highlighted Thom Beers oil-drilling show Black Gold and Warner Horizon’s/Pilgrim Films’ Man vs. Cartoon, in which engineers and scientists look at whether inventions featured in cartoons would actually work, along with others.

And TBS highlighted new seasons of its four original comedies -- Frank TV, My Boys, 10 Items or Less and House of Payne -- and unveiled three new projects in development: a single-camera, half-hour comedy series written, executive-produced and starring William H. Macy; a scripted comedy pilot executive-produced by Russell Simmons, Stan Lathan and Winifred Hervey and starring Run-DMC/Run’s House’s Joey “Run” Simmons; and National Banana Already in Progress (working title), a late-night sketch-comedy show executive-produced by Jerry Zucker.

For complete coverage of the upfronts, click here.