TV Upfront

Will Ferrell Names Charles Barkley TBS Chief at the Most Entertaining Upfront Yet

Conan Pitches a Morning Show Shot From a Car's Rear Camera

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Pranking was the theme at this year's Turner upfront event for TNT and TBS.

Donna Speciale at Turner's 2013 upfront
Donna Speciale at Turner's 2013 upfront Credit: Turner

Turner Entertainment President Steve Koonin kicked off the annual pitch to ad buyers on Wednesday by showing the audience his "physical prowess" -- in the form of stunt doubles wearing grey Steve Koonin wigs. One came out juggling while riding a tricycle, another emerged breakdancing and a third back-flipped out onto the stage.

Comedian Will Ferrell later introduced himself in a video as the head of Turner, since "Funny or Die bought Turner Broadcasting in a deal that rocked the industry." In reality it was Turner who was the buyer of Funny or Die -- and only of a minority stake at that -- in a deal announced at least year's upfront.

That didn't stop Mr. Ferrell from listing his rules as the boss: "Don't ever look me in the eye and always walk three steps behind me." He then introduced Charles Barkley as the head of TBS, referring to him more than once, of course, as "Charles in charge" -- and claimed that Mr. Barkley would appear in every single TBS show this summer.

And Conan O'Brien came out to talk about a new sponsor of his show -- the Rublight, a light that rubs on stuff -- and to show a commercial that "explains" how it works. The spot featured a man understandably frustrated with his inability to get a straight answer about what rubbing had to do with the product's functionality. The narrator instead responded with a catchy song about random objects on which one can rub the light.

That bit preceded his next prank on media buyers -- a pitch for a marketer-driven morning show called "Wake Up and Back Up." The show, "to premiere in spring 2014," is filmed on Toyota Sienna's rear-facing camera. It features hosts and guests backing up to stay in the shot as the car moves. Spoiler alert: they all get run over by other cars in the road.

Donna Speciale, the former MediaVest exec who last year joined Turner as president of ad sales for its TNT, TBS, TruTV and Cartoon Network, ended the event on a more serious note, reminding ad buyers about the company's new Upwave health and wellness content initiative. And Turner in general made aseries of standard, more accurate announcements.

But one attendee was still overhead remarking to another that Turner's upfront was easily the most entertaining so far.