CNN Stands Strong Against "Fake News" Attacks in Star-Studded Turner Upfront Presentation

Samantha Bee speaks onstage during the Turner Upfront 2017 show - Getty-H 2017
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Media buyers packed into the Theater at Madison Square Garden for the Turner upfront presentation Wednesday, where their portfolio of networks stressed innovation in programming and envelope-pushing, buzz-worthy content, including the breakout of TBS' Full Frontal With Samantha Bee.

Bee led the string of famous faces who took the stage, including Conan O'Brien; Anderson Cooper and the CNN team; Shaquille O'Neal; Anthony Bourdain; and a surprise appearance from CBS' James Corden, who has Drop the Mic in the works at TBS. "Why the hell are you here?" O'Brien asked Cooper to big laughs. "The entire republic is hanging by a thread and you’re hosting this show."

TBS and TNT boss Kevin Reilly highlighted new and returning series, capping off a day that featured a slew of announcements including a four-year deal with O'Brien and new shows at both networks, including a Michael Moore and Sarah Jessica Parker docuseries, a Snoop Dogg-hosted game show and a Daniel Radcliffe and Owen Wilson anthology from Lorne Michaels and Simon Rich (Man Seeking Woman). 

Here are the highlights:

Merging Platforms
"Innovation" and "nonlinear programming" were the buzzwords of the day as ad sales chief Donna Speciale looked to "break out of historical behaviors, reinvent and push forward." She reminded ad buyers that Turner has expanded "well beyond television" to change the consumer experience. Reilly enlisted Tracy Morgan — who has a new series at TBS — for a short film explaining how both TBS and TNT are bucking linear viewing with their new omni-channel experience. ("This feels like a commercial," The Last O.G. star joked.) Speciale touted digital brand integration via network stunts, activations and special programming for sponsors, stressing their audience targeting abilities and success from listening to what consumers want and reducing commercials in primetime. As media gets more complex, "the industry is in need of reinvention," she said. The theme from the opening clip reel: Turner is not the same company it was three years ago.

Star Bee, Team CoCo and a Corden Surprise
"It's great to see you again," said Bee in taking the stage for the second year in a row. "Of course, much has changed in the world since I last spoke on this stage." Explaining that she swore a "blood oath" to TBS that she would try to be as non-partisan as possible, the Full Frontal host then threw a bone to Stephen Colbert that elicited cheers: "I'm going to take all the controversial things I want to say and put them in my cock holster for later." (She couldn't help but mention James Comey and how "our former FBI director has destroyed two presidencies" in just a few months.) The bit flowed into her praise for Full Frontal's S&P team and the success of her Not the White House Correspondents' Dinner, which she joked could result in a slew of counter-programming specials, like the Not the Game of Thrones Finale and Not the Senate Intelligence Hearings, "where everyone immediately acknowledges Russia's role in our election."

When Reilly took the stage, he jumped on the political bandwagon by apologizing for giving the advertisers "alternative facts" last year when saying they planned to "refresh" TBS. Instead, it's a top-to-bottom rebuild that will result in 15 original series for 2018. The success of breakout Bee and stalwart O'Brien landed the most accolades, and Reilly was interrupted by Corden, host of new series Drop the Mic, who delivered a freestyle rap to his TBS boss ("Sam Bee became the only real news reporter / I'll save this sinking ship in October"). 

CNN Stands Strong
The most evocative moment of the 90-minute presentation came with the introduction of CNN. The stage went dark and familiar audio of Donald Trump, White House press secretary Sean Spicer and other recognizable voices attacking the media blasted through the speakers while the faces of the cable news network took their positions onstage. One by one, the anchors fought back against the "fake news" brigade. "We cannot let up for a minute," said Don Lemon. "We question authority until we get answers," proclaimed Chris Cuomo. 

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