inside track


Just as the broadcast networks are moving away from glitzy upfront presentations, Turner Broadcasting crashed Upfront Week on Wednesday with a message that pitched itself as a set of significant brands with big stars, wide reach and quality programs.

Turner packed the Hammerstein Ballroom with a short, focused and star-filled presentation that talked up its hits on TNT and TBS and hinted of series in development from the likes of George Clooney, Joel Surnow, Russell Simmons and William H. Macy.

"The level of talent coming to the network right now is fantastic, and it rivals anything on broadcast," Turner senior vp original programming Michael Wright said.

Four newly announced series in development are cop-themed:

> "Delta Blues" is about a Memphis cop who also is an Elvis impersonator. It's from Warner Horizon Television and SmokeHouse and executive produced by Clooney, Grant Heslov, Abby Wolf-Weiss, Liz Garcia and Josh Horto.

> An untitled series focuses on a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent. Surnow is the exec producer with Todd Robinson and also the writer.

> "Angel City" is an "Adam-12"-like drama from Mandalay Television written by Los Angeles cop Will Beall and Barry Schindel.

> "Morse Code" is a Warner Horizon-produced crime drama from Donnie Wahlberg, Jon Avnet and Walon Green about a war hero turned Drug Enforcement Administration officer in Boston (HR 5/14).

This was Turner's first year participating in Upfront Week. The appearance is not likely the last, judging from the positive reaction from buyers and the good vibes afterward from Turner execs, who put on an 81-minute program that had everything — stars and lots of footage — that their broadcast rivals so far have lacked.

"People don't want to hear us talk; they want to see the shows," Wright said. And unlike the broadcast networks, Turner's development process is on a different calendar with its pilots, filming them July through September last year.

Also in development are "Tough Trade," a look at Nashville music from Lionsgate Television and exec produced by Chris Offutt, Sean Furst and Bryan Furst and an untitled family drama in the vein of "Little Miss Sunshine" that's exec produced by Rob Ulin.

Turner told advertisers that it was ready to dramatically increase its original content on TNT. The goal is to eventually have 80% original content weeknights, with original programming three nights a week by 2010.

Settling into its spot at the Upfront Week table, Turner joined ABC in taking shots at fourth-place broadcast network NBC, saying that Turner deserved to be ranked among broadcasters for its ratings, reach and quality programming.

Entertainment chief Steve Koonin put up pictures of an "American Gladiator" and "Knight Rider" car KITT, then compared them to the award-winning stars of "The Closer" and "Saving Grace," both from TNT.

"You tell me which show is broadcast and which is cable," Koonin said. He said that in the past five years, cable has made strides in attracting top talent and is offering shows whose quality rivals any broadcast network.

Starcom CEO John Muszynski said he thought the presentation was pretty good. He added he was pleased to see footage of upcoming shows.

TBS, which has seen double-digit ratings growth in its key younger demographics, also is getting new programming. TBS is developing several projects, including a single-camera comedy written and executive produced by Macy and Steven Schachter, which will star Macy. It's from Sony Pictures Television. Another comedy pilot will star Joey "Run" Simmons of Run-DMC, exec produced by Russell Simmons, Stan Lathan and Winifred Hervey.

And it will extend itself further into late-night television with "National Banana Already in Progress," a sketch show from Jerry Zucker, and development plans for several others: A comedy/reality series from Jonathan Murray and Gil Goldschein that brings middle-age men back to their fraternity; a sketch-show exec produced by Jamie Foxx and Marcus King; and "Top Ten," a competition among comedians.

TBS will renew sitcom "10 Items or Less," as well as give a 26-episode order to Tyler Perry's "House of Payne." TBS said it had a four-year deal with Ellen DeGeneres to host the Vegas Comedy Festival and a new Just for Laughs festival in Chicago.

Also on tap for TNT is its first unscripted drama, "Wedding Day." The Mark Burnett Prods./DreamWorks Television series will make the wedding dreams of couples true.

Former CourtTV channel truTV is developing "Principal's Office," about what it's like to be a school principal; "Black Gold," about oil drillers; and "Ski Patrol," among other reality series.

Appearing onstage were Kyra Sedgwick, Holly Hunter, Jane Kaczmarek, Timothy Hutton, Tom Cavanaugh, Eric McCormack and others.