Attendees at the Disney upfront could have played a drinking game by taking a sip everytime someone referred to the company as “unrivaled.” The message to advertisers: You’ve heard from other congloms this week, but no company offers such a wide range of storytelling options than the Walt Disney Co.’s suite of offerings.
Quipped late night host Jimmy Kimmel (remotely, due to a positive COVID test), reprising his annual upfronts roast, a highlight of the week: “We are unrivaled, which, I don’t know, maybe they misspelled ‘unraveled.'”
After an embattled several months atop the helm, Disney CEO Bob Chapek didn’t address any of the recent arrows pointed at him and the company, instead opening the presentation by calling the Walt Disney Company “the most powerful force in the industry” and noting how he started his career in advertising.
“Now, as many of you know, Disney will be celebrating our 100th anniversary later this year and that is an incredible milestone,” he said. “I can’t help but think about this moment in the context of what this company has always been, what it is today, and what it will be. Over the last 100 years, we’ve brought iconic stories and characters to life in new and innovative ways. We shake global culture, and creating new memories for millions of families and fans, across generations. And we’ve repeatedly defined and redefined the entertainment landscape through pioneering technologies that give our storytellers bigger and better candidates. And we created an unmatched synergy machine that enables audiences to make our stories part of their everyday lives.”
Chapek’s message: “We have a portfolio of dynamic distribution platforms, linear networks, digital channels, and of course, our powerful and growing streaming services… The Walt Disney Company is unrivaled. In fact, when you look at the entertainment landscape I believe Disney stands alone.”
(Quipped Kimmel: “The Disney CEO has never spoken at the upfront before. And now we know why. I think I speak for all of us when I say, ‘We can’t make to see you in G.I. Jane 2!'”
Kareem Daniel, chairman of Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution, extolled the virtues of what he called “the greatest suite of DTC streaming platforms on the planet.” And he quipped: “We’ve been direct-to-consumer since 1955, when Disneyland first opened its doors.
“This year is a different presentation,” he said. “We do so at a time of dramatic evolution, and boundless opportunity, with more options available for entertainment than ever before… There is no question we are the best in the world at what we do.” Daniel cirted ABC as “the top rated cable network for the fifth year in a row,” ABC as “the number one Entertainment Network for the third consecutive year” and singled out both the longevity of “Grey’s Anatomy” and new hit “Abbott Elementary.”
Daniel also singled out Hulu “and of course, our flagship service, Disney+.”
“Only Murders in the Building” stars Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez appeared to tout the upcoming second season of the Hulu series, which Disney General Entertainment chair Peter Rice noted was the most-watched original comedy in the streamer’s history.
“It’s an honor for me to be here because when I was a kid, just a little kid, I could get all dressed up and play Disney upfronts,” quipped Martin. Added Short: “Yes, the Disney upfronts, answering the question, ‘What’s the opposite to the Met Gala?'”
Until Kimmel gave his monologue, Rice made the only allusion to the infamous Will Smith/Chris Rock Oscars slap during the presentation, noting that Questlove’s Hulu/Onyx Collective doc “Summer of Soul” was the biggest win at the Academy Awards — “I think we can agree that was the most memorable thing that happened,” he quipped.
The celebrated cast of “Abbott Elementary” — including creator Quinta Brunson, Tyler James Williams, Janelle James, Lisa Ann Walter, Chris Perfetti, and Sheryl Lee Ralph all appeared to promote their freshman hit — but in a page torn from upfronts of old (when actors regularly appeared on stage playing their characters), appeared on stage in character rather than themselves. Said Brunson: “Let’s change the world together!”
That led into Clare Danes, star of FX’s new “Fleishman is in Trouble.”
“Grey’s Anatomy” star Ellen Pompeo touted the show’s 19-season (and more than 400 episodes) longevity, making it the longest-running medical drama in TV history. “‘Grey’s Anatomy’ broke ground with characters from underrepresented backgrounds to television screens, including the first gay Asian surgeon, the first recurring deaf doctor and this season, the first recurring non-binary surgeon,” she said. “It’s part of the mission of delivering a story for everyone.”
Kumail Nanjiani arrived to tout his Hulu series “Welcome to Chippendales,” based on Indian American businessman Steve Banerjee, who created the male revue. “I am very excited being at a Disney event talking about Chippendales — not the Rescue Rangers. Our show is about the male strip club that started in the late 70s and became extremely popular throughout the 80s. So again, they are Chip and Dale, Rescue Rangers, chipmunks, cute adventures, no pants. And we are Chippendales — stripping, drugs, murder. No pants. So we do have a lot in common. There are no pants involved in either thing.”
Amy Schumer came out with Khloe Kardashian and Kris Jenner as “Kamy,” the unknown Kardashian. Said Schumer to Jenner: “Coming out of your pussy was honestly the biggest honor of my life and I want to congratulate you guys on your number one show and I’m not mad that I have a show on Hulu also.”
“World News Tonight” anchor David Muir referenced the war in Ukraine and the massacre in Buffalo: “You really don’t need me here to talk about the unprecedented time that we’re living through right now,” he saud. From the heart wrenching scenes we’ve all been watching from Ukraine, and I want to take a moment just to thank our teams who’ve been on the ground and Ukraine and obviously, the heartbreaking tragedy and scene in Buffalo. I’m just back in the scene today, obviously with a heavy heart all of those lives lost.”
Peyton and Eli Manning were tapped to tout ESPN. The brothers noted how the success of “Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli” has led to similar “megacasts” for UFC 276 on July 2, college football this fall and this weekend’s PGA megacast hosted by Joe Buck. Buck and Troy Aikman also joined the Mannings to promote “Monday Night Football.”
“A lot has changed Disney and NFL,” Buck said, noting that ESPN will air 35 percent more games in 2023. And eventually the Super Bowl returns to ABC in 2027 and 2031.
Later, South Carolina women’s baskeball coach Dawn Staley and her team leaders hit the stage — under the ESPN banner of “champions live here” — along with Olympic gold medalist Suni Lee, and Super Bowl-winning L.A. Rams coach Sean McVay and quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Sports and ESPN are a key part of the pitch to advertisers, and it indeed dominated the Disney upfront throughout the middle of the presentation. The Mannings returned to the stage to promote their “Places” franchise, and announced that John McEnroe would join the format with his own version of the show (which began as “Peyton’s Places”).
And then came Dwayne Johnson and Dany Garcia, appearing at the ESPN portion of the upfront to tout their football league, the XFL. The duo announced that the XFL would return in 2023, in a deal with Disney in which the league will broadcast on ESPN, ABC and FX. “It’s going to feature technological innovation designed to create a really unique viewing experience for fans all over the world and advertisers,” Johnson said.
Walt Disney Studios present Sean Bailey shared an early glimpse of the film “Disenchanted,” the sequel to “Enchanted,” starring Amy Adams. He also showed a clip from “Hocus Pocus 2,” the long-awaited sequel to the original Halloween-themed film starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Midler and Kathy Najimy.
“We have roughly 35 films for Disney+ in active three production production and post production,” Bailey said. “But that’s just a tiny look at what’s coming from visit plus from our corner of business.”
Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige noted that prior to the box office launch of “Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness,” viewership of the previous “Doctor. Strange” films and the TV shows that fed into this movie (including “WandaVision”) tripled.
“We’re finally seeing the results of this interconnectivity between Disney= and the feature films leading up to the theatrical release just the other week of ‘Doctor. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness’ on May 6.”
“Loki” was most watched Marvel series on Disney+ and the first ever to receive a second season, he added. Production starts in a few weeks with the entire cast returning.
Samuel L. Jackson, returning as Nick Fury, will star in “Secret Invasion,” a spy thriller featuring a very different version of the character. “It’s truly amazing to finally come to a place that we can tell a story about a theory that goes back to the roots of who he is and his dark world,” Jackson said.
“Echo,” a new MCU series starring Alaqua Cox, has begun production Feige noted. Also, “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law” star Tatiana Maslany appeared to discuss the show and show the trailer.
Among the key announcements expected this year, but not mentioned during the presentation: The unveiling of a new ad-supported tier on Disney+. As Variety reported on Tuesday, Disney has signaled to agencies that the new version of the streamer will not accept alcohol or political advertising at its launch. The Disney service will also not take ads from rival outlets or entertainment studios, according to insiders.
“American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest opened the event: “Only one company has a century’s worth of experience giving a global family the very best in entertainment. Only one is unrivaled.”
Earlier in the day, ABC revealed its fall 2022 schedule, including the move of summer staple “Bachelor in Paradise” to the longtime Monday home of “Dancing With the Stars,” which is moving to Disney+. The “Bachelor” spinoff will also be airing on Tuesdays, marking four full hours of the dating show per week on ABC’s fall primetime slate.
Additionally, ABC has ordered “Celebrity Jeopardy!” to pair with “Celebrity Wheel of Fortune” on Sunday nights; given Niecy Nash-Betts’ “Rookie” spinoff the “BiP” lead-out on Tuesdays; swapped in “Abbott Elementary” on the Wednesday fall comedy block; and set Hilary Swank’s new drama “Alaska” as the 10 p.m. show behind “Station 19” and “Grey’s Anatomy” on Thursdays.
The Disney Upfront shifted to Basketball City/Pier 36, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, for the first time — having spent years at Lincoln Center (including back when the event was purely an ABC affair). Attendees were required to test negative for COVID-19, via a mobile station erected for quick antigen results. The space featured a wide stage but with large pillars that obstructed the view for some of the attendees.
(Pictured: Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution chairman Kareem Daniel)