Upfront 07

ABC Proves Upfront Excess Is 'Alive and Well'

Buyers Give Assessment of Fall Shows, and 'Cavemen' Gets Mixed Reviews

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- "Upfront excess is alive and well," said Alec Gerster, CEO of media agency Initiative, after ABC's 90-minute upfront spectacle, which opened with a high-kicking chorus line flanking the stars of the hit show "Ugly Betty" and closed with a confetti shower.
Photo: ABC/Steve Fenn

Ugly Betty's Michael Urie, Becki Newton, America Ferrera and Mark Indelicato at ABC's upfront event in Lincoln Center`s Avery Fisher Hall.

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Anne Sweeney, president of the Disney-ABC TV Group, opened the show, held this year at Lincoln Center, with a warm welcome to advertisers and a message that ABC wasn't about every platform for every show. She shared the stage with the network's entertainment president, Steve McPherson, and sales and marketing president, Mike Shaw. The three emphasized ABC's commitment to deliver upscale, high-income audiences along with high ratings. Mr. Shaw said he's ready to roll up his sleeves and get commercial-ratings deals done, but stressed that the big story of next year would be a marketer's ability to deliver on its own creative product.

Worth the time and effort?
Mr. Gerster wondered how many man hours both the networks and agencies spent on schedules that are ultimately re-jiggered and shows that, if they don't draw an audience, are soon axed. The CEO declined to name his picks and pans, saying he'd panned plenty of successful shows and praised some dogs in upfronts past. Though he did mention that the high production values of the programs ABC put on the big screen in Avery Fisher Hall was a good indicator that the network believed they had the hits.

Starcom CEO John Muszynski thought "Big Shots" would do well, given its coveted spot on the schedule, right after "Grey's Anatomy" on Thursday nights. He also liked the female friendship show "Cashmere Mafia," from "Sex and the City" creator Darren Star.

Lauren Richards, CEO of SMG Canada, said she enjoyed the razzmatazz of ABC's upfront presentation saying that it illustrated ABC's attention to detail. John Swift, exec VP-managing partner Activation at PHD, delivered perhaps the most effusive comments about the network. "ABC puts on consistently the most entertaining presentation in the business," though he added that NBC probably had the best sales and marketing angle, of upfront week, day two.

Applauding ABC's risk taking
"Steve McPherson is doing as good a job as anyone and it's clear that ABC got to where they are because they have taken creative risks and they are continuing to do so." He also liked "Big Shots" and praised the Christina Applegate vehicle "Sam, I Am," about a women who suffers from amnesia and discovers that before she lost her memory, she wasn't a very likable person.

Veteran program critic Shari Anne Brill, VP-programming at Carat, said the Tuesday-night comedy "Carpoolers" caught her attention. The show followed a group of guys who have nothing in common but their highway trip to work. She thought the Disney network did a good job of keeping people involved in upfront presentation with the live demonstration of the upcoming reality show "Bingo." Gary Carr, TargetCast TCM's senior VP-director of broadcast services, agreed. "I don't care much for marching bands but they did a good job."

Another Tuesday-night comedy, "Cavemen," drew mixed reviews and might prove a hard sell to media agencies with insurance marketers as clients. The sitcom is based the popular commercials from car insurer Geico.

Currency debate
When asked about the ratings currency issues, and whether there would be deals struck on different measurement bases, Initiative's Mr. Gerster said, "The trick is going to be managing the amount of data," adding that the most significant announcement in recent years was NBC's willingness to do deals based on engagement metrics.

Most buyers who talked to Ad Age predicted a drawn-out upfront as various metrics and measurement issues are hashed out. Starcom, at least, is pressing to do minute-by-minute commercial ratings deals, as it has said many times. Whether the networks will bite remains to be seen.
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