×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

8 Things We Learned at the Turner Upfront

Few things say “Buy my ads!” like a late-night comedienne talking about the anatomy of a female elephant.

Samantha Bee took to the stage on behalf of Time Warner’s Turner, letting the sundry advertisers and ad buyers in attendance at Madison Square Garden’s Theatre in on some of the back-and-forth that takes place between the writers and producers of her TBS program, “Full Frontal,” and the network’s standards-and-practices department. In one email she put on display, producers sought permission to use a word often used to describe a body part that is rarely used on basic cable.

The upshot: Bee’s staff got to do what they wanted.

That spirit appeared to infuse a lot of Turner’s presentation, where edgy humor was woven into many of the pitches, which included the off-the-wall programming of Adult Swim; a meeting-of-the-minds with Conan O’Brien, Anderson Cooper and Shaquille O’Neal; and a dramatic presentation from CNN that played up the role of anchors including Don Lemon, Dana Bash, Jake Tapper and Alisyn Camerota in delivering verifiable reports on national news in a chaotic era.

Like other media companies, Turner faces a moment of upheaval. Traditional TV audiences are migrating to other kinds of viewing experiences that aren’t always easy to monetize. Speaking at the presentation, Turner executives articulated a strategy of being willing to break conventions to accommodate new kinds of advertising. “We are delivering premium experiences across every screen,” said Donna Speciale, president of Turner advertising sales.

Below, some of our findings:

*Did you know you were watching an “omnichannel”? TBS and TNT president Kevin Reilly brought out the term while speaking to the audience Wednesday, noting that executives were trying to move “from a linear network of shows to a brand that creates and capitalizes on fandom everywhere.”

*James Corden stops at Turner before CBS.  Hours ahead of the CBS upfront, “The Late Late Show” host stopped by the Turner presentation, pulling double duty on Wednesday. Corden, who is producing TBS’s “Drop the Mic” series, opening Turner’s show with a well-received rap poking fun at the cable networks and executive Kevin Reilly. He also made sure to give a shout out to his other boss: “You’ve got Quiznos backstage,” he told Reilly. “Les Moonves has shrimp.”

*Conan O’Brien and Shaquille O’Neill are the odd couple you never knew you needed. The TBS late-night host and the Turner sports personality sat on a quick panel with Anderson Cooper –a reprise of a meeting set up at last year’s Turner confab. We wouldn’t be surprised if TBS has started development on a Conan/Shaq buddy comedy. But Cooper also provided fodder: “Why are you here?” O’Brien asked the anchor. “The republic is hanging by a thread!”

*CNN’s brand power strikes a chord. The cable news network had the most powerful portion of Turner’s upfront, bringing out its roster of anchors, including. Anderson Cooper, to the stage. A voiceover of “fake news, fake news, fake news” rang loudly as the news personalities walked out under dramatic dim lighting, then being individually illuminated by a spotlight to deliver powerful messages: “Now, more than ever, our mission is clear,” Cooper said. Another anchor proclaimed, “The press needs to be there and be worthy to protect our amendment.” And another, “We aren’t liberal and we aren’t conservative. We are reporters.”

*Tracy Morgan offers preview of his return to scripted.  The beloved comedian, who suffered critical injuries in a near-fatal 2014 car crash, appeared in a pre-taped skit with Reilly, drumming up anticipation for his upcoming TBS sitcom, “The Last O.G.

*”The Alienist” is Turner’s hot property. The first footage from TNT’s TV adaptation of the best-selling book was shown to the audience as the grand finale of the upfront presentation. The lengthy video was teed up by Reilly who praised the much-anticipated and long-gestating drama.

*Turner’s hot duo: Rick & Morty. An animated vignette meant to talk up Adult Swim featured the odd couple debating over how to speak to a room full of advertisers. Rick, the mad scientist, gulped down pure grain alcohol while telling his nervous grandson he knew full well what he was doing. As it turns out, he doesn’t.

*Less equals more. Reilly told attendees that all of the new series launching on TNT in months to come would run with reduced ad loads. The theory is that commercials have a better chance of standing apart from the pack if a) the network runs fewer of them and b) they are designed to tie into the content they accompany. Turner unveiled this strategy last year on both Tru and TNT, but it appears to be gaining more traction.

More TV

  • Osmosis

    Netflix Feeds Fantasy-Hungry YAs in France

    LILLE, France —  The series the audience was about to see on Sunday night at Lille’s central UGC Cine-Cité multiplex wasn’t even playing in Series Mania’s main International Competition. But in many ways, Netflix’s” “Osmosis” was certainly among the most-anticipated of shows at this year’s festival. The excitement before the screening was palpable, and pointed [...]

  • Series Mania: Q & A with

    Series Mania: ‘Hierro’ as ‘Southern Noir’ and an Industry Groundbreaker

    LILLE, France —  Banijay Rights-sold “Hierro” begins with sea, land, air and fire: Shots of the stunning volcanic isle of El Hierro, the most westerly point of Spain’s Canary Islands, with its black basalt rock, brown iron-rich gravel, white waves pummeling the coast, trees trunks twisted by wind and lava, a juniper bent double by [...]

  • Shekhar Kapur to Direct 'Ibis' Trilogy

    Shekhar Kapur to Direct 'Ibis' Trilogy for Endemol Shine (EXCLUSIVE)

    Acclaimed Indian director Shekhar Kapur is to direct a TV series for Endemol Shine based on historical novels by Amitav Ghosh, known as the “Ibis Trilogy.” The deal was announced at Series Mania in Lille. The books “Sea of Poppies,” “River of Smoke,” and “Flood of Fire,” are set in mid-19th century Asia. They interweave [...]

  • ‘Lambs Of God’ To World Premiere

    Lingo Pictures, Endemol Shine’s ‘Lambs of God’ Set for Series Mania World Premiere

    LILLE, France — Lingo Pictures Productions and Endemol Shine’s new Australian limited series “Lambs of God,” based on the Australian novel of the same name by Marele Day, world premieres on Wednesday, March 27 in the main International Competition at this year’s Series Mania festival. The series follows three devout nuns, the last sisters of [...]

  • Bruno DEBRANDT (Florent) et Julie GAYET

    Federation Acquires Intl. Sales Rights on Series Mania French Competition Player ‘Torn’

    LILLE, France — Leading French independent production-finance-distribution sales company Federation Entertainment has secured international sales rights on upcoming French psychological thriller “Torn.” The series was created and written by director Lionel Bailliu (“Innocente”)and Yann Le Gal (“Léo Mattéï, Brigade des Mineurs”) and world premieres in the official French competition on March 25 at France’s Series [...]

  • About Premium Content Expands Scope, Rebrands

    About Premium Content Expands Scope, Rebrands as APC Studios (EXCLUSIVE)

    As it celebrates its fifth anniversary, the rising Paris-based TV production and distribution company About Premium Content is rebranding as APC Studios to reflect the expanded scope of its activities. APC Studios, which launched as a sales company in 2014, is now a producer, financier and distributor of upscale projects ranging from scripted to factual [...]

  • Win Rosenfeld, Jordan Peele and Simon

    'Star Trek: Discovery,' 'Twilight Zone' Bring Energy, Emotion to PaleyFest

    Both the CBS All Access shows “Star Trek: Discovery” and the upcoming “Twilight Zone” reboot held PaleyFest panels on Sunday, with both sets of cast and creators bringing energy, humor, and emotion to the stage. Both panels were moderated by Variety‘s executive editor of TV, Daniel Holloway. First up was “Discovery,” where series star Doug [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content