May 15, 2013 12:38pm PT by Lacey Rose
TV Upfronts: TNT, TBS Chiefs Peddle Popcorn Shows and Comedian Pete Holmes
Madison Avenue buyers flooded into Hammerstein Ballroom Wednesday for a morning packed with talk of big changes and popcorn fare from Turner networks TNT and TBS.
As Turner Entertainment Networks president Steve Koonin noted at the top of the presentation, he and his team have been cable’s biggest cheerleader for years. In fact, it was this group that first moved its upfront presentation to the mid-May week historically reserved for broadcast networks, a tradition that other cable nets, including USA, have since followed. “Over the past decade, the term basic cable has become an oxymoron. There’s nothing basic about it,” Koonin said from stage, noting that the industry had finally reached a tipping point. “I’m so proud of the role we’ve played in shifting the paradigm.”
To hear Koonin and his colleagues tell it, those bold moves are set to continue. He used the upfront platform to make a new pitch to advertisers, asking that they shift their focus away from the demos. “Demos just measure eyeballs. Today it’s about engagement,” he said, pointing to such "engagement" experiments as fanfic from Rizzoli & Isles fans or mock shows from Conan viewers. As part of that push for new and different analytics, Koonin revealed that he is now working with Facebook on an “unprecedented way” to generate a deeper level of research.
And in keeping with the morning's theme of a changing landscape, Turner announced that it would become the first national entertainment network to steam on-air content live across multiple platforms 24/7, part of parent company Time Warner's TV Everywhere initiative. “Our vision is not to be a TV network,” Koonin explained, adding: “Our goal is to be a multi-stream video company.” Beginning this summer, the programming will be available through the networks’ websites and a pair of newly created Watch TNT and Watch TBS apps.
The remainder of the Turner presentation was less about evolving distribution or measurement techniques, and more about the nets' slate of shows, which programming chief Michael Wright often describes as "popcorn" given the programming's broad, blockbuster quality. Clips for new TNT dramas, including Frank Darabont's Lost Angels, Howard Gordon's Legends and Michael Bay's Last Ship, were shown, with each of the casts on hand to wave. Unfortunately, it's often harder to tell how drama trailers play in a room since there isn't an audible cue like laughter. Cut-downs for Bill Lawrence's TBS newcomer, comedy Ground Floor, along with a few reality efforts followed, with a Howie Mandel hidden-camera prank show, Deal With It, garnering the biggest laughs.
As ABC shrewdly does with Jimmy Kimmel, Turner again turned to its late night funnyman, Conan O'Brien, to liven up the room -- and take his share of jabs at the larger upfront exercise. "I want to assure everyone that I'm as pissed as you are about being here," he told the tired room, adding: "So let's cut to the chase. Give us your freakin' money." After a string of jokes, he brought out Pete Holmes, star of the new O'Brien-produced late show, The Midnight Show, that will follow Conan beginning in November. Starting off slow, Holmes ultimately won over the room with quips about his "friendly fella" look, which he later described as "lesbian Val Kilmer."