When the Bell Media publicity team planned to host their pressline outside of the Sony Centre on Thursday (prior to their Upfront presentation), they couldn’t have known that it was going to rain, resulting in a frantic scramble to find umbrellas for the journalists in attendance and for the talent that was due to arrive at any moment. Instead of panicking, the situation was handled quickly as the shivering media were not only given umbrellas first but offered Tim Horton’s coffee almost immediately.
The situation served as a perfect metaphor for why CTV is in the #1 position and has been for many years. It’s the network’s meticulous attention to detail. From the planning of their primetime schedule, to the organization and length of their upfront presentation, to the availability of the talent that they bring in, there is always a plan. Instead of it being a struggle to discern episode descriptions and talent info, it was offered in advance. In addition, there were multiple opportunities with the talent. Bell Media hosted a press conference in the morning at 299 Queen St. W., with a variety of panels. They also made numerous one-on-one opportunities available. For the talent that wasn’t at the morning sessions, they were made available on the afternoon pressline. The multiple opportunities allowed Bell to receive the most attention for its upcoming Fall lineup. And this was all even before the schedule was presented!
The morning press conferences started off with an Amazing Race Canadapanel. New host and Olympic Gold Medallist Jon Montgomery and Executive Producer John Brunton answered questions about the show which premieres on July 15. I was so sure that former Canada AM personality Seamus O’Regan was going to host the show, that it still hasn’t sunk in that it could be anyone else. It’s clear that Montgomery’s gig will be quite different from Phil Keoghan’s (his American counterpart). It’s being advertised that Montgomery’s athleticism will be featured on the show where the host will be participating and demonstrating some of the challenges that the teams will face. This definitely sounds like the influence of the show’s production company, Insight Productions, which was known for adding lots of twists to its Big Brother Canada series. During the press conference I asked the pair if there will be moose-themed U-Turns and other Canadian elements to differentiate the show from the U.S. version. The video is coming soon.
From there, it was the cast of Satisfaction, a new 13-episode comedy series that focuses on three friends who live together. Mark (Ryan Belleville) is the single guy who lives with couple Jason (Luke Macfarlane) and Maggie (Leah Renee). Leah starred in one of my favourite shows of all-time, the poorly-received The Playboy Club and she is certainly a standout star in the making.
The best panel was the one that included Shawn Ashmore and Valorie Curry from The Following. Easily the best new show from last year (which CTV’s President of Programming Phil King predicted), the psychological thriller looks at what would happen if the estimated 300 active serial killers in the United States started working together under the leadership of one mastermind and delivered some of the best numbers of the season. I caught up with both Ashmore and Curry at the press conference and on the pressline, so stay tuned for those interviews.
Hostages is a suspense drama that stars Toni Collette as Dr. Ellen Sanders, a surgeon who is asked to assassinate the President during surgery in order to save her family. The bad guy is a rogue FBI agent Duncan Carlisle (Dylan McDermott). Tate Donovan plays Sanders’ husband on the show, and I asked him if there were any underlying elements to the plot or if it was just like any other straight hostage drama that we have seen before. Stay tuned for the video.
Meghan Ory (Intelligence), Bethenny Frankel (Bethenny) and the cast of The Goldbergs also came out to answer a few questions from the press about their new programs.
Bethenny’s session was particularly interesting, especially when she was asked if she still defined herself as a reality star and how she was able to transition herself into the mainstream. With Ellen Degeneres serving as Bethenny’s executive producer, this talk show seems to be in a much better position to succeed than any of the numerous ones from last year.
These pressers didn’t even include the slew of other talent that CTV had available at the presentation including Eric Dane (The Last Ship), Delroy Lindo (Believe), Laura Vandervoort (Bitten), and Snooki (Snooki & JWOWW) who were also all there.
Without question, the most impressive lineup of talent at a Canadian Upfront presentation ever.
After the press conferences, I interviewed Katie Cassidy, who in my opinion is the best actress on television and stars in Arrow, another one of CTV’s biggest successes from last year. It was my third time chatting with the former Melrose Place and Gossip Girl star and this time I focused almost exclusively on the show and what we can expect when it returns for its sophomore season. Stay tuned for that interview as well.
As a result of the flawless scheduling and no extended break, it was then time to head to the Sony Centre for the pressline and presentation.
While the aforementioned weather was an issue, the carpet itself ran smoothly. I talked to the cast of Orphan Black, Saving Hope, The Following and Jon Montgomery. Unfortunately, I couldn’t wait for Believe’s Delroy Lindo, Criminal Minds’ AJ Cook & Shemar Moore, or Hostages’ Tate Donovan as I had to rush to an interview with SUITS’ Sarah Rafferty.
CTV’s general practice when they roll out their new Fall schedule has been to base it around a word or theme. I remember when they used “Decade In The Making” at a prior showcase and this year, the key branding message was “Amazing” in a font style that looked Aladdin-inspired. While I initially guessed that this was a reference to the launch of The Amazing Race Canada, the presentation opened with a Cirque Du Soleil performance which answered any doubts about why they went with the word.
The plan at the CTV upfront was to let the numbers speak for themselves, intersperse clips of the new shows with Cirque performances and generally keep the executive chatter to a minimum. The blueprint worked well. While the Cirque performances dragged slightly, they were still fun to watch and definitely different. The plan to minimize the talking was a great strategy and this was further complemented by a take-away handbook that told the story behind the numbers in a much better way than any schticky presentation could.
The key messages that CTV delivered was that its audience was bigger than Global and City’s combined, that it had also formed a strategic partnership with Twitter, and also teased its upcoming acquisition of Astral.
I’d be remiss to not mention the unbelievable amount of talent that CTV brought in. I did some digging and CTV had 16 U.S. talent and 49 Canadian talent in attendance.
1. Shemar Moore (Criminal Minds)
2. AJ.Cook (Criminal Minds)
3. Meghan Ory (Intelligence )
4. Sarah Rafferty (SUITS)
5. Sean Giambrone (The Goldbergs)
6. Troy Gentile (The Goldbergs)
7. Hayley Orrantia (The Goldbergs)
8. Shawn Ashmore (The Following)
9. Valorie Curry (The Following)
10. Bethenny Frankel (Bethenny)
11. Katie Cassidy (Arrow)
12. Delroy Lindo (Believe)
13. Tate Donovan (Hostages)
14. Eric Dane (The Last Shop
15. Connor Buckley (Surviving Jack)
16. Nicole ‘Snooki’ Polizzi (Snooki & JWoww)
17. Jon Montgomery (The Amazing Race Canada)
18. Vincent Walsh (Played)
19. Chandra West (Played)
20. Lisa Marcos (Played)
21. Agam Darshi (Played)
22. Adam Bucher (Played)
23. Kristin Lehman (Motive)
24. Louis Ferriera (Motive)
25. Lauren Holly (Motive)
26. Craig Olejnik (The Listener)
27. Lauren Lee Smith (The Listener)
28. Rainbow Francks (The Listener)
29. Tara Spencer-Nairn (The Listener)
30. Erica Durance (Saving Hope)
31. Michael Shanks (Saving Hope)
32. Daniel Gilles (Saving Hope)
33. Luke MacFarlane (Satisfaction)
34. Ryan Belleville (Satisfaction)
35. Leah Renee (Satisfaction)
36. Dave Foley (Spun Out)
37. Rebecca Dalton (Spun Out)
38. Paul Campbell (Spun Out)
39. JP Manoux (Spun Out)
40. Al Mukadam (Spun Out
41. Holly Deveaux (Spun Out)
42. Darcy Michael (Spun Out)
43. Jenna Talackova (Brave New Girl)
44. Andrew Young-Husband (Canada’s Worst Driver / Don’t Drive Here)
45. Christian Potenza (Last Car Standing)
46. Daniel Fathers (Canada’s Greatest Know-It-All)
47. Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black)
48. Jordan Gavaris (Orphan Black)
49. Dylan Bruce (Orphan Black)
50. Kevin Hanchard (Orphan Black)
51. Laura Vandervoort (Bitten)
52. Greg Bryk (Bitten)
53. Greyston Holt (Bitten)
54. Paul Greene (Bitten)
55. Munro Chambers (Degrassi)
56. Melinda Shankar (Degrassi)
57. Cristine Prosperi (Degrassi)
58. Luke Bilyk (Degrassi)
59. Jessica Tyler (Degrassi)
60. Darrin Rose (Match Game)
61. Sean Cullen (Match Game)
62. Traci Melchor (The Social)
63. Melissa Grelo (The Social)
64. Cynthia Loyst (The Social)
65. Lainey (The Social)
While slightly longer than the Rogers and Shaw presentations, a few minutes were lost just in reading off the names of the 65 talent that were in attendance and having them come out to salute the crowd, so Bell gets some slack in this regard.
The party afterwards was easily the best with multiple photo opp stations set-up and advertisers given a handy schedule to follow so that they could make sure they didn’t miss the perfect photo opp with their favorite. Absolutely stunning organization.
For the last few years, the Upfronts have been a close call between the Canadian networks.
This year was the equivalent of 24-0 blowout in a baseball game. Bell Media and CTV dominated in terms of schedule, programming pick-ups, presentation efficacy, amount of talent brought in and most specifically access to this talent.
Let’s get to their new shows.
After The Voice lead-in, comes this offering from executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Hostages thrusts Dr. Ellen Sanders (Toni Collette) into an impossible situation when her family is captured by rogue FBI agent Duncan Carlisle (Dylan McDermott). Sanders is told that the only way to save her family is by assassinating the President during a routine surgery and the resulting question is how far would you go to protect the ones you love? Sounds pretty good, but unfortunately, I think it will be annihilated by The Blacklist.
The one weak spot in CTV’s schedule from last year, Tuesdays were a key focal point for the network for its upcoming 2013-14 season. The entire night features new programming.
Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
CTV execs promised that this was the show that everyone wanted and that the pilot was kept completely locked up at the LA screenings. The logline doesn’t really capture me, so I will decide after I review the pilot. It revolves around Agent Phil Coulson (Greg Clark) assembling a group of agents from the worldwide law-enforcement organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D. It sounds like X-Men meets Heroes. I will say that the hype that it was afforded by Phil King certainly has piqued my curiosity.
New comedy The Goldbergs is up next and if Upfront audience laughter is a scientific method for discerning what works and what does, this one could be one of the new season’s sleeper hits. Taking place in the 90s, it follows one 11-year old’s home life with his family… that he captures on a camcorder (remember when those were all the rage?) The show stars Jeff Garlin and Wendi McLendon.
Bradley Whitford returns to television to play Brad, a slightly older man who is in his third marrage. The newest wife is Kate (Malin Akerman), who is a reformed party girl who suddenly finds herself not only married to Brad but also to his family of three stepchildren and two ex-wives. Not sure if Whitford is the right lead here, but Akerman’s performance is strong.
Person Of Interest
The night ends with Person Of Interest which CTV scooped up from Rogers. At the presentation, King was quick to point out that it was an immediate Top 20 hit but I would have definitely preferred if Bell had stuck with Nashville.
The Tuesday scheduling is interesting here too as I like the pair up of S.H.I.E.L.D. with Person Of Interest, but not sure how a couple of new comedies sandwiched in-between them will fare.
The Tomorrow People
For the ladies, what’s better than Stephen Amell without his shirt on? How about another Amell? Yes, Stephen Amell’s cousin Robbie plays the lead in this series which reads more like Nicholas Cage movie script. Robbie Amell plays Stephen Jameson, a kid who starts hearing voices and teleporting in his sleep, never knowing where he will wake up next. He eventually meets up with other ‘Tomorrow People,’ a genetically-advance race with the abilities of telekineses, teleportation, and telepathic communication. I really like where this has been slotted as it is the perfect lead-in to the network’s breakout hit from last year, Arrow.
It’s interesting that the Thursday 10 p.m. timeslot once possessed by the monstrous E.R. is now held by a new Canadian drama. On Played, the Covert Investigations Unit risks going undercover to infiltrate criminal organizations. Meh.
One of my top picks of the new reality shows, this Masterchef spin-off sees kids between the ages of 8 and 13 compete against each other, under the director of Gordon Ramsay (who else?) I still believe Kid Nation was the best reality show of all time, and this is probably going to be the closest we will ever get to it.
And there it is. The CTV lineup. CTV Two has been massaged slowly into an all reality network as The Voice, Dancing With The Stars, The X Factor, Undercover Boss and Shark Tank will all live there. Other notables from CTV’s second channel include:
– Hot In Cleveland & Mike & Molly running as a strip from Tuesdays – Sundays at 10 p.m.
– Castle being simulcast on Mondays at 10 p.m.
– Anger Management running on Tuesdays at 8 p.m.
Bell Media President Kevin Crull can rest easy this year, as he was the clear and resounding victor in the 2013 Upfront Wars. He should also thank his publicity team for organizing one of the most impressive events that I have ever witnessed in the Canadian television landscape.
It’s usually at this point, that I say that I will be back for the MuchMusic Video Music Awards which typically take place immediately after the Upfronts. Unfortunately, after three years of coverage, it appears I will not be back this weekend. I only wish it was organized in the same brilliant fashion that the Upfront was.
Murtz With The Following‘s Shawn Ashmore & Valorie Curry
Murtz With Intelligence‘s Meghan Ory
Murtz With The Amazing Race Canada‘s Jon Montgomery
Murtz With Snooki & JWoww‘s Snooki