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Upfront 07

One Singular Sensation, Plus Bingo

ABC Breaks Out Chorus Lines, Marching Bands and Confetti

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Steve McPherson, ABC's president-entertainment, decided to leave the dancing to a kid this year. "In the past," he told attendees, "we've celebrated our beautiful women, our beautiful men. And last year, I danced like a monkey on a hot plate." What was in store this year for advertisers who lived through dancing Desperate Housewives, a Marc Cherry-led chorus line of studs and Mr. McPherson's own dancing with the stars? How about a pre-teen with Broadway dreams?
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Photo: ABC/Steve Fenn

Stephen McPherson, ABC's president-entertainment, refrained from any dancing this year -- but that's not true of the network's presentation.

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Twelve-year-old Mark Indelicato, who plays Betty's nephew Justin on the Thursday night hit "Ugly Betty," wasn't the first to take the stage at ABC upfront presentation last night. He followed Disney-ABC TV Group President Anne Sweeney, President-Ad Sales and Marketing Mike Shaw, and Mr. McPherson's own rather formal appeal to advertisers. But he proved to be the real kickoff to presentation, as he belted out a version of "One" from "A Chorus Line" in homage of "Ugly Betty."

Chorus boys and dancing girls
By the time he was done, he was backed up not only by a line of chorus boys in tails and top hats, but a kicking line of dancing girls all wearing Betty's trademark red poncho, and most of the "Ugly Betty" cast, including star America Ferrara, looking very pretty in a purple evening gown.

It's probably best, then, that Ms. Sweeney, Mr. Shaw and Mr. McPherson had already made their more serious points. Namely, that ABC's committed to shows that will deliver upscale, high-income families that are engaged by the shows and the ads. Ms. Sweeney emphasized that ABC's digital strategy isn't about any one platform, but knowing its viewers and partners so well that the programming is delivered in the right space and the right time.

"Our goal is to get more people to watch the shows and watch more of your ads," she told attendees, listing efforts such as the deal with Time Warner Cable for the Start Over service that lets viewers play back shows but not skip the ads, as well as the latest deal between Cox and ESPN for video on demand that disabled the ad-skipping ability. "We are the only ones making sure our platforms include watching your ads. ... We're the only network requiring this kind of consideration for our partners."

'The single most important decision'
Mr. Shaw, however, reminded the audience of the power of ABC's original platform, national network TV. "The single most important marketing decision you are going to make this year is how much TV you're going to buy. And if you have a nationally distributed product, the single most important decision you are going to make is how much network TV you're going to buy."

However, commercial ratings are going to change everything about how TV was bought and sold. "Commercial ratings will change how advertisers go to market. Now everyone performs the same. Now its about whether your commercial is being seen. Commercial ratings are going to reorder how you buy and who you buy," he said."The network that gets highest commercial ratings will attract the most advertising."
Ad sales and marketing chief Mike Shaw stressed the importance of putting money into network TV.
Ad sales and marketing chief Mike Shaw stressed the importance of putting money into network TV. Credit: ABC/Donna Svennevik

But he warned the change in metric will result in a change in focus, with more emphasis put on the commercials themselves. "More attention will be paid to creative and whether it delivered commercial ratings. The next big story will be how well do commercials work?" he said. "For our part, we will deliver the right formats for the highest viewing possible."

For his part, Mr. Shaw made it clear he is ready to do deals using the new metric. "Commercial ratings data is available and commercial ratings is a simple ratings metric adjustment. We will work to give each of you the best way to structure your package in a way that works with your business," he told attendees before exiting the stage.

Previewing the programs
The programs that ABC hopes to use to attract all those upscale viewers who will stick around for the commercials include a mix of new and renewed series. Mr. McPherson first introduced the new comedies for next season, which include the Christina Applegate vehicle "Sam I Am" about a former "rhymes with witch" who, after suffering amnesia, has to rediscover who she was whether she likes it or not. That one got a fair amount of applause. Another, "Carpoolers," centers on four men who only have their commute in common, and its preview elicited some laughs. "Miss/Guided," about a woman who returns to her high school as a guidance counselor, and "Cavemen," based on the Geico commercials, got less enthusiastic responses.

Mr. McPherson also introduce a series of clips of ABC's dramas, while a live performance of "How to Save a Life" by The Fray played. A homage around Sunday night hit "Brothers and Sisters" ended with most of the cast taking the stage. That led into a round of promos for new shows "Dirty Sexy Money," which got a lot of buzz at the after-party; "Woman's Murder Club," which got less enthusiastic response; and "Big Shots," which was favorably compared to HBO's "Entourage." "Pushing Daisies," with its complicated premise described as a "forensic fairy tale," was much helped by a very imaginative production; while "Grey's Anatomy" spin-off "Private Practice" seems like a no-brainer, coming as it does with a built-in audience. Other new shows included "Eli Stone" and mid-season's "Cashmere Mafia."

Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel -- who entertained the audience as they were taking their seats before the presentation with his "Kimmel Cam" that picked out audience members and did things like draw hearts around their faces -- later came out to introduce the reality shows, which include a search for the best celebrity impersonator; the best American inventor; a hidden-camera gag show; two shows that will help kids and adults lose weight; and a contest to give away the most money to a good cause created by Oprah Winfrey.

But first he had a couple of comments about the proceedings up until then. "I thought the networks were cutting back," he said. "But we had like 500 dancers up here. Last year it was Steve and a gypsy."

He noted how one of next season's game shows centers on bingo, for "people who are put off by the complexity of 'Deal or No Deal.'"

Kimmel's take on product placement
"2007 should prove to be the biggest year for product placement. We've got the Geico cavemen. And the Grey's Anatomy spin-off was going to be called Grey's Poupon," he said. "One person watching this 'Cavemen' thing very closely is Jared from Subway, cause if this thing takes off, there's still a glimmer of hope for him and his giant pants."

Mr. Kimmel also noted that in order to ensure there was a plan, ABC put in a firm ending for "Lost." "I believe CBS has similar things planned for Katie Couric. Ah, well, you'll find out tomorrow," he said, alluding to CBS's presentation at Carnegie Hall. He didn't just pick on CBS, however. "It's a changing market. 'Law & Order' is moving to cable, NBC itself may be moving to cable," he said.

"But you all know, really, don't you? That we're all making it all up. None of us have any idea why something works. Some shows are good and get bad ratings; some shows are bad and get good ratings. And some shows are 'NCIS.' We don't know, suddenly Howie Mandel starts opening briefcases and everyone goes nuts," Mr. Kimmel said. "All we can do is keep sticking it out there and keep putting doctors in showers with each other."

That last part has worked in ABC's favor so far of developing shows that women, particularly, seem to like, a positioning that many attendees seemed fine with.

ABC wasn't done, however. In order to give the audience a taste of its game show, "National Bingo Night," audience members were given bingo cards and allowed to play along for the chance to win a 50-inch plasma TV. Host Ed Sanders led attendees through the picking of eight numbers, until a winner was declared, at which point ABC unleashed a marching band, a cadre of cheerleaders and several tons of confetti from the ceiling. Yes folks, upfront extravagance is alive and well.
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