Murtz LIVE At Bell Media / CTV TV Upfront 2011: Bell Media & CTV Announce New TV Schedule

TORONTO – If you can get Anderson Cooper to take time off from his schedule to help you promote your lineup, you are definitely doing something right.

The Bell tolled for all the other Canadian networks last night as Bell Media and CTV unveiled their new Fall schedule on Thursday at the Sony Centre in a glitzy presentation that featured representation from major U.S. talent, a far cry from their understated presentation last year.

Anderson Cooper

The impressive showing boasted appearances from Anderson Cooper, Debra Messing, Whitney Cummings, the cast of The Big Bang Theory, the cast of Pan Am and Kendra Wilkinson, all in town to promote their new shows on CTV’s wide-range of networks.

The showing itself definitely had a different tone to it from years past with it being the first under the new Bell Media regime and missing usual CTV upfront staples Ivan Fecan and Susanne Boyce but it appeared to not have missed a beat.

Bell Media president Kevin Crull started things by confidently stating that “the very best has been saved for last” taking a quick shot at rivals Rogers and Shaw Media who released their new programming schedules earlier in the week. One would, however, be hard-pressed to disagree with him given the buzz not only about their numbers (as CTV is coming off their 10th seasonal ratings win in a row in both total audience and the coveted 25-54 year old demographic) but also with the buzz about the new programming and the talent that was in town.

In one of the most impactful announcements of the day, Crull discussed the rebranding of the A Channel into CTV Two and how it will now be fully HD which not only will give the network a better platform to release its plethora of programming but also makes it a viable contender to contend as a major TV-watching option for Canadians. He then threw to Phil King, CTV’s programming president to go through what Fall will look like on the channels.

Mondays on CTV will start the week off with ratings stalwarts Dancing With The Stars and Castle.

On CTV Two, Degrassi will return at 7 p.m. and it will be followed by Sanctuary, and then will premiere the Ashton Kutcher version of Two And A Half Men followed by Mike & Molly.

On Tuesdays, CTV will feature homegrown Canadian series Flashpoint at 8 p.m., be followed by more Dancing With The Stars and then the network’s first new pick-up Unforgettable starring Poppy Montgomery from Without A Trace. I have long believed Montgomery to be the most underrated actress on television. I am confident that her show that features her playing an enigmatic police detective who has the ability to remember everything in her life except for the night of her sister’s murder will score.

CTV Two’s schedule on Tuesdays includes more new pick-ups at 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.. First up is Man Up, a new comedy about exploring manhood starring Mather Zickel, Christopher Moynihan and Dan Fogler. Then there’s The Protector which is a procedural drama about a divorced mother who is a homicide detective (Ally Walker) who is trying to balance her professional life with her personal one. This one’s a yawner.

Wednesdays are the night that I am the most worried about, speaking strictly for my love of Survivor. While I thought that the next season of Survivor South Pacific wouldn’t have to worry (with American Idol being shelved until the New Year), CTV announced that it has picked up the FOX simulcast of The X-Factor, Simon Cowell’s new show which eliminates the age restriction on talent competition programs. This show has received more press before its debut than any other reality show I have ever seen, due largely in part to its worldwide success. There is zero doubt it will be a winner. I stake my reality reputation on it. This will be followed by another season of Hot In Cleveland and then CSI in simulcast.

It’s clear that CTV’s plan is to keep their guaranteed winners on the main network and then try out the new shows on CTV Two which is a pretty sound blueprint for success. It will continue on Wednesdays when CTV Two will air Up In The Air at 8 p.m. and Free Agents at 8:30 p.m. Up All Night features powerful leads in Christina Applegate and Will Arnett and a strong supporting cast including SNL‘s Maya Rudoph. The plotline is pretty standard fare about a married couple and the trials and tribulations they face with a new baby. Free Agents is also a new comedy about a pair of public relations executives who hook up after their other relationships fail. It stars Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn. The Criminal Minds simulcast is next on the docket at 9 p.m.

On Thursdays, CTV has decided to remove eTalk to make room for the new Charlie’s Angels starring Minka Kelly, Annie Ilonzeh and Rachael Taylor and will bring back the boom at 8 p.m. (I was determined not to use the ‘bang’ cliché for The Big Bang Theory) with the top show in the country. At a press conference earlier in the day, Kunnal Nayyar spoke for the co-stars Simon Helberg, Melissa Rauch, and Mayim Bialik and said that they feel “humbled and blessed” to be the first comedy since Frasier and Friends to be the top show in Canada. It will be followed by Whitney, the series that I have heard the most about since the LA screenings. Whitney will star Whitney Cummings, from Chelsea Lately, the stand-up comedienne who has mad a bigger splash than anyone else at the Upfronts and is responsible not only for Two Broke Girls, but now will star in her own half-hour comedy about modern love. At the morning press conference, Cummings openly discussed her desire to highlight women in comedy not only as stars on the small-screen but also as writers and producers.

Whitney Cummings

“It really sort of bugged me that there weren’t a lot of funny strong women on television and I just took it upon myself to change that,” she said. “I am definitely tired but thank god for coffee and Ambient,” she joked delighting the reporters in attendance. Whitney’s ability to win over everyone instantly spoke volumes about the hilarity that her show will provide and I am making her program my Upfront pick of 2011. After that, CTV will roll out Grey’s Anatomy and The Mentalist, consistent Top 10 performers.

On Thursdays, CTV Two will feature the returning Vampire Diaries at 7 p.m., then The X-Factor results at 8 p.m. followed by America’s Next Top Model. It’s a mish-mash of reality and scripted but everything has to fit somewhere right?

Whereas Global revamped their entire Friday night lineup, CTV will only debut one new series at 8 p.m. called Grimm. Inspired by fairy tales, Grimm is an interesting crime drama that will feature David Giuntoli playing Nick Burkhardt who is a detective that starts seeing supernatural things that he can’t explain. It will be revealed that Giuntoli is a descendent of the elite group of hunters knows as “Grimms” who fight to keep humanity safe from the creatures of the world. It sounds a little bit like the Moonlight series that failed, but definitely worth a look especially in the Twilight age that we live in. It will be followed by simulcasts of CSI NY and sophomore season of Blue Bloods.

Over at CTV Two, it will be a returning editions of Shark Tank followed by Dateline.

On Saturdays, CTV announced that it has picked up the Nick Lachey-hosted series, The Sing-Off about a capella groups. I saw this show while I was in the States and it was definitely better than I thought it would be.

Finally, we get to Sunday which I believe is the most interesting night of the week on the CTV schedule. It starts at 7 p.m. with Once Upon A Time, which is a fairytale set in modern times. Jennifer Morrison plays Emma Swan, a bail bonds collector who is found by the 10-year old son she gave up years earlier. Henry (played by Jared Gilmore) believes that his birth mother is the daughter of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) but when she moves her son to Storybrooke, she realizes that there might be more to consider about the place where fairy tale characters are alive and frozen in time , unable to remember who they really are. The show will be about Swan accepting who she really is. It sounds very compelling. I am digging it.

At 8 p.m. The Amazing Race will return, followed by the Desperate Housewives.

Cast Of Pan Am

Then at 10 p.m., the network will air Pan Am. It’s the 1963 Jet-Age based series about airline stewardesses starring Christina Ricci (Maggie), Margot Robbie (Laura), Kelli Garner (Kate) and Kristin Vanasse (Colette). The show will feature romance, the shifting role of women during the period and international espionage. What I like the most about the show, however is its timeslot, I think it is perfectly placed to succeed Desperate Housewives. At the press conference, Ricci discussed the series.

“When you think about what they are getting to do, it’s sort of amazing. It was a male-dominated famously open misogynistic culture at the time, these women were really taking the reins of their lives and running their lives in a way that most women didn’t and getting to travel and see the world in a way that most people didn’t, and so their level of excitement and at some point in the pilot I say ‘adventure calls’ and that’s really truly how they felt.”

The other story that cannot be missed is the mid-season programming that is also on tap. CTV secured the rights for G.C.B., the show that has undergone more title changes than my purple suit has been to the drycleaners. It is produced by Darren Star (of Melrose Place, Beverly Hills 90210, and Sex And The City fame) and stars Leslie Bibb who plays Amanda Vaughn, a woman who was the queen bee of Highland Park, Texas but now that her husband was busted for a Ponzi scheme and dies, she has to go back to her hometown in disgrace. Will the “Good Christian Bitches” welcome her back or not? The series also stars Kristin Chenoweth.

Then there’s Missing. Phil King compared to the Taken movie and also said it was the only series that ABC picked up without even seeing a pilot.

Finally, there’s the show that most critics are very interested in seeing. Smash. NBC was selling this show the most at their presentation and the musical drama starring Debra Messing and American Idol‘s Katharine McPhee will either be very very good or very very bad. The Glee comparisons are inevitable but at the presser, Debra Messing said that there really isn’t a lot in common except that they both involve singing. The show centers around the idea of a musical being created to celebrate Marilyn Munroe when a rivalry forms between the inexperienced Midwestern beauty (McPhee) and the stage veteran (Megan Hilty) who wants to leave the chorus line and get her chance to shine in the spotlight. Anjelica Huston and Jack Davenport co-star.

It was also announced that the critically-acclaimed CNN reporter, Anderson Cooper’s daytime series was being picked up to help fill out some of the void led by the departure of Oprah.

So there it is. In a word, the monster lineup is dominating. But to be honest, it was the presentation that CTV and Bell Media put together that was the most impressive.

Phil King’s sports background obviously influenced what was said to ad executives on Thursday and what was the most interesting was the use of a sports analogy he made (graphic below).

Dynasty of TV?

King talked about the strategy CTV uses to maintain its stranglehold despite rising competition and almost compared it to a hockey team winning several championships to maintain its dynasty.

It relies on its veterans and proven performers. In this case, the goal-scorers for the network are Dancing With The Stars, Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives and CSI. These are used to also helped to leverage the number of up and coming hits which he called the sophomores. These include The Big Bang Theory, The Mentalist, Castle, Hot In Cleveland and Castle.

The combination of the above shows you why CTV has retained the lead for the past decade. But what’s more telling are the shows that are coming up or what King described as “the rookies.” These include all of their new pick-ups including The X-Factor, Pan Am, Unforgettable, Whitney and Once Upon A Time. Even if just a couple of these make it into multiple seasons, they can easily be promoted to the top line on either the main network or its alternate.

And there’s even a bench!

The mid-season replacements of Missing, Smash, G.C.B., American Idol and The Voice!

It was a phenomenal analogy and provided a new way of looking at the scope and breadth of television.

All in all, there were too many highlights of the day to review but here are some of the more notable ones:

Big Bang Theory Cast

– In one of the funnier moments of the early-morning presser that preceded the presentation, Helberg said that he had requested Tim Horton’s because he had heard so much about Canada’s famous coffee and said that after he had tried a ‘double-double’ that he was “it was like I was in that perfect moment where I felt like everyone in the 60’s who thought that they could live forever.”

– Christina Ricci describing the girdles that the Pan Am actresses have to wear on Pan Am as being a “half an hour pee break” where they have to be helped to put back on.

– At the press conference, Cooper discussed his many faces including being the former host of The Mole.

“I started reporting right after college. I had a friend make a fake press pass and borrowed a video camera and… that’s how I became a reporter,” he said. “I worked as a war correspondent for three years, I got hired by ABC News, I worked for them for about five or six years and by the end of that time at ABC News, I was anchoring an overnight newscast from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. and I was working for 20/20 during the day so I’d sleep in two four hour shifts so I was kind of exhausted. The head of ABC Entertainment asked me if I would participate in this reality show called The Mole and it was tough in the early days of reality TV before it’s really blossomed into the full monster that it is now. It was just sort of in the early Survivor days and I was really interested just as a viewer how reality was put together and I thought yeah, why not? Then right as the second season started, 9/11 happened and I knew I had to get back into news. Things had changed. And just by coincidence, the day after 9/11, 9/12, I got a call from CNN and somebody I knew over there asked me if I would go to Afghanistan for them so I think it took a little bit to convince some people at CNN that it would be okay for me to step back into news. I had been told when I left ABC that this was it for me and that I was destroying a news career and thankfully that’s not the case. The way I approached that reality show is that I was never pretending like it was all that important or serious. I was kind of poking fun at myself and the contestants at the same time as I was doing it which I think viewers enjoyed.”

Kendra Wilkinson

– Cooper also provided another highlight on-stage during the Upfront when Rick Brace, president of specialty channels and CTV production welcomed Kendra Wilkinson to wave to the crowd. When Brace asked Wilkinson what fans can expect in the new season of her Kendra show on E!, she said that it would feature “lots more booty shaking” and then offered an example. While Brace declared that it was now the best upfront that he had ever been to, when Cooper was announced to discuss his new daytime show, he joked that Kendra stole his lines because it was also all about “booty shaking” before admitting that it was about “meeting people behind the headlines.” I don’t think a pun was intended with his use of “behind.”

– Canada’s most famous news anchor also announced his retirement officially and that his last newscast would be on September 1, 2011 with Lisa LaFlamme taking over as anchor the following week.

With all things being said, for the talent that was presented, the accessibility that was provided (stay tuned for my video interviews with Kendra Wilkinson, Anderson Cooper, Debra Messing, Whitney Cummings and the cast of Big Bang Theory), and the slickest presentation, CTV’s upfront really served as a metaphor for its Fall programming lineup. That it is #1.

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