Execs tout strength of brands, multiplatform distribution at upfront

Although both TNT and TBS have been busy announcing new series orders during the past several weeks, the two cablers aren’t slowing down. Both are fielding an extensive development slate that Turner Broadcasting execs touted to advertisers at its upfront Wednesday ayem at Gotham’s Hammerstein Ballroom.

Turner execs also put the emphasis on the growth of drama-heavy TNT and comedy-fueled TBS as umbrella programming brands that will extend beyond the TV dial to the growing array of digital options — facilitating what Turner Entertainment topper Steve Koonin called the “anytime, anywhere and on any device” approach to distribution.

To that end, Turner has struck a strategic alliance with Funny or Die to handle advertising sales for the comedy website, allowing Turner to bundle that inventory with its own TBS and Adult Swim properties. As part of the deal, Turner has taken a minority equity stake in Funny or Die, whose partners include Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Chris Henchy and Judd Apatow.

The programming presentation opened with Koonin and Michael Wright, prexy of TNT, TBS and TCM, making light of the snafu at last year’s upfront when all the audio and visual systems shut down midway through the event.

In making light of the situation, Koonin rolled out a 1970s overhead projector following a clip of Conan O’Brien asking Koonin how to assure that such a gaffe wouldn’t happen again.

Just as Jimmy Kimmel warms up the crowd at the ABC upfront, O’Brien then came out to deliver a monologue that took shots at biz heavyweights, including Rupert Murdoch, Leslie Moonves and Bob Iger.

Wright gave buyers a preview of new series bowing on TNT over the next 12 months. The clip montage from the reboot of “Dallas,” set to bow June 13, coupled with the appearance of stars Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray on stage, got the biggest reaction from the crowd. David E. Kelley’s hospital drama “Monday Mornings,” to preem next year, was also warmly received.

The Turner cablers’ development projects come from a range of producers, including director Michael Bay and thesp Matthew McConaughey, as well as TV vets Dick Wolf and TBS’ own Conan O’Brien. Most are still in the early script stage.

Bay is attached to direct an adaptation of author William Brinkley’s novel “The Last Ship.” Story involves the crew of a naval destroyer forced to confront the reality of a new existence when a pandemic decimates most of the Earth’s population. Hank Steinberg (“Without a Trace”) and Steve Kane are penning the script.

James Duff (“The Closer”) is behind “Lew Archer,” a story based on author Ross McDonald’s novels about a private investigator.

The first of two other scripted projects that are new to TNT’s development slate is an untitled Steven Bochco murder mystery that is similar to his previous ABC series “Murder One,” where a single homicide is played out over an entire season. Bochco will pen the pilot with Eric Lodal.

“Bull Durham” writer-director Ron Shelton — whose TBS comedy pilot “Hound Dog” was not picked up to series last year — will write an original script about a disgraced football coach who loses a high-profile job in Los Angeles and moves his three kids and father to Louisiana.

Previously announced scripted dramas at TNT that still have a chance to make it to pilot and possibly a series order include “King and Maxwell” from “NCIS” vet Shane Brennan, based on characters from author David Baldacci; “Legends,” which is being developed by “Homeland” exec producer Howard Gordon and based on the novel of the same name by Robert Littell; and Tom Clancy’s “Homeland Security.”

On the reality side, TNT is teaming with McConaughey, Nigel Lythgoe and Anastasia Brown in “American Troubadours,” a musical competition show where a bar band tries to get discovered.

“Cold Justice” is a departure for the Magical Elves shingle of Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz, who have built a career based on the “Top Chef” franchise and other lifestyle-themed shows. Dick Wolf is also on board as an exec producer of the docudrama that follows former prosecutor Kelly Siegler and crime scene investigator Yolanda McClary as they try to crack cold cases.

Other nonscripted fare includes horseracing-themed “Rivals” and “24/7: Los Angeles,” from documentarian Robert Port.

“We’re expanding our programming horizons with new forms and genres, and reaching out to new audiences,” said the cabler’s newly minted president, Michael Wright, who also oversees TBS and TCM. “Whatever the form or genre, we’re using what we call the ‘popcorn mindset’ as the guiding principle behind all our development.”

TNT will have nine original series airing this summer, including the launches of its “Dallas” reboot, as well as “The Closer” spinoff “Major Crimes,” and Eric McCormack starrer “Perception.”

Keeping the pipeline filled, there are three new series to set to arrive in 2013 as well: David E. Kelley’s hospital drama “Monday Mornings,” and reality skeins “Boston Blue” — about the city’s gang unit, from exec producer and local Donnie Wahlberg — and competition series “72 Hours.”

At TBS, O’Brien is behind a pair of sitcoms: “Zone Lord” and “Most Likely.” In “Zone,” three roommates awake one morning to discover an evil but hip alien has moved into their apartment buildings. “Most Likely” looks at a popular high school student who ends up returning to his hometown after losing his job.

“The Kid,” with Phil Mickelson’s longtime caddy Jim “Bones” Mackay as an exec producer, is a scripted behind-the-scenes look at professional golf. Project, previously reported, has been gestating at TBS for nearly a year.

Unscripted shows in development are “Norm Macdonald Is Trending,” as the former “Saturday Night Live” cast member tries his hand as a talkshow host, and an untitled competition gameshow.

TBS has been helped significantly by the acquisition of “The Big Bang Theory,” which has not only given a huge lift to O’Brien’s latenight yakker but also propelled the net to become the No. 1 cabler in the 18-49 and 18-34 demos for the first quarter of the year.

While freshman sitcom “Men at Work” debuts next week, only one other comedy will begin in summer: rookie “Sullivan & Son.” Much of TBS’ new fare is set to arrive in 2013, including its recent rescue of the ABC comedy series “Cougar Town.”

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