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Upfronts 2012: Turner Execs Pump 'Cougar Town,' Equity Stake in Funny or Die

Cougar Town Courteney Cox Busy Phillips - H 2012
ABC
TBS' "Cougar Town"

UPDATED: The newly added Courteney Cox comedy garnered the loudest applause during a presentation surprisingly devoid of ratings spin.

Turner brass beat its audience to the punch line.

After an unfortunate power outage wreaked havoc on last year’s upfront presentation, TBS and TNT execs kicked up the 2012 dog-and-pony show with a prepackaged video to poke fun at their own past. Turner Entertainment Networks boss Steve Koonin was introduced as the man “suffering from post traumatic upfront disorder,” while late night host Conan O'Brien, among others,doled out humorous advice for how to do better this year. But it was Koonin's entrance on the Hammerstein Ballroom stage with both an ever-ready overhead projector and cardiac defibrillatorthat garnered the biggest laughs Wednesday.

The focus of the networks’ upfront pitch was on both a new partnership with Funny or Die designed to discover new talent and a hefty collection of original programming entries, both new and old. In addition to an impressive development slate unveiled earlier that morning, Koonin and his programming honcho Michael Wright were pushing such shows as Dallas, Men at Work and unscripted effort King of the Nerds. Stars from each of the series, and many others, were in attendance, and joined reporters for an invite-only lunch following the show.

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The series that garnered the loudest cheers, however, was Cougar Town, which like O’Brien was snatched from a broadcast network. If the room’s reception was any indication, it was well worth the less than two-week process of figuring out a way to bring the ABC Studios half-hour to TBS in early 2013. (Luring O’Brien famously took TBS 10 days.) The latter was made easier by both Koonin and Wright’s love for the “charming” comedy, as well as Cougar's tone and lead-in with repeats of star Courteney Cox’s first comedy Friends and Cougar Town airing earlier in the day. (When asked about female-skewing comedy’s historical syndication limitations, Koonin brushed them off as “old wive's tales” and suggested the top priority was not its afterlife but rather its ability to help TBS find a foothold in original comedy.)

The morning’s other highlight came from O’Brien, still the crown jewel of TBS, whose late night show was recently renewed for two more seasons. Faring best among the energized ad community was a gag in which he created fake Craigslist ads featuring the industry’s top players, from Oprah Winfrey (“For Sale: Controlling interest in OWN. $10 or best offer”) to Disney’s Bob Iger (Seeking: East African village willing to accept 5 million John Carter t-shirts. Size XXL”).

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But with all of the talk about desired demos –TNT goes after "arm chair detectives" (think The Closer) and "relationship drama fans" (Dallas); TBS courts "comedy relatables" (think Big Bang Theory) and "comedy rebels (Family Guy)—there was one thing noticeably absent: ratings take. The presentation offered neither charts nor metrics, and a sales team that waited until the very end to do the hard sell to its Madison Avenue audience. Apparently, with recent erosion –due in part to the lackluster off-net syndication offerings and TBS’ struggles in original comedy— comes silence, and diversion.  

Email: Lacey.Rose@THR.com; Twitter: @LaceyVRose