TORONTO – Simply perfect.
There is no other way to describe CTV’s spectacular upfront presentation, which took place last Thursday at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts.
While the network was still finding its voice last year (after transitioning to the new Bell Media ownership), this year their presentation could not have been better.
There is a two-fold point to the upfronts. While they are primarily used to introduce the new programming grid to advertisers, they are also used as a competitive platform to showcase the talent each network is capable of bringing north of the border for their presentations. It is in this latter category where CTV flexed their muscle this year and proved that in terms of upfront talent, they do not have an equal.
– Megan Hilty (Smash)
– Hayden Panettiere (Nashville)
– Jordana Spiro (The Mob Doctor)
– James Carpinello (The Mob Doctor)
– Stephen Amell (Arrow)
– Lana Parrilla (Once Upon A Time)
– Chi McBride (Golden Boy)
– Kunal Nayyar (The Big Bang Theory)
– Kyle Bornheimer (The Family Tools)
– Shemar Moore (Criminal Minds)
– Erica Durance (Saving Hope)
– Michael Shanks (Saving Hope)
– Daniel Gillies (Saving Hope)
– Ilana Frank (Saving Hope)
– Morwyn Brebner (Saving Hope)
– Hugh Dillon (Flashpoint)
– Enrico Colantoni (Flashpoint)
– Amy Jo Johnson (Flashpoint)
– David Paetkau (Flashpoint)
– Sergio Di Zio (Flashpoint)
– Anne Marie La Traverse (Flashpoint)
– Bill Mustos (Flashpoint)
Nashville‘s Hayden Panettiere
That’s 22 celebrities and producers which is the most that I have ever seen at a Canadian upfront presentation. It is more than double the number that Rogers and Global brought in (Katie Couric, Max Greenfield, Dominic Monaghan, Brandon Routh, Michael Urie, Tyler Harcott for Rogers + LL Cool J & Ricki Lake for Global = 8). In addition, while their competitors highlighted their daytime programming featuring Katie Couric and Ricki Lake respectively, it almost felt like they were playing catch-up to CTV rolling out Anderson Cooper and his new daytime show from last year.
The Mob Doctor‘s Jordana Spiro & James Carpinello
Moreover, CTV excelled at providing opuses of opportunity for the media with the talent that they borrowed taking full advantage of the 22 people who had made the trek to Toronto. In addition to morning presser Q&A sessions with Hayden Panettiere, Jordana Spiro & James Carpinello, Stephen Amell, Lana Parrilla, and the respective casts of Saving Hope and Flashpoint, the network also made the talent available for one-on-ones, slotted multiple media interviews for them with their respective internal outlets like The Marilyn Dennis Show and organized a pressline for video and radio outlets prior to their presentation actually using the talent they brought in and setting a standard for every upfront from here on out to aspire to.
At the press conference, I asked Lana Parrilla if it was fun playing a complicated character like Regina, the Evil Queen on Once Upon A Time and if any kids had come up to her on the street and called her the Evil Queen and asked her to get away from them.
Once Upon A Time‘s Lana Parrilla
“To answer your second question, yes. People are terrified when they see me on the street. Which means I’m doing my job well so I’m happy to see that,” Parilla said. “Yes, it is fun, I mean that was a choice that I made very early on was how do I humanize this iconic classic fairytale character. And I thought if I didn’t find that then it wouldn’t work, I had to find that thread in order for it to work. I try in every episode to show more colors and more layers and more complexities in both characters. Moreso in Regina. It’s a lot of fun too now that the worlds are merging, I’m starting to bring the evil queen into the Mayor a little bit more.”
It seemed like Bell Media had thought of everything. From the sweet coffee bar where java was poured into unique stein glasses to CTV upfront labeled water bottles to a snack bag left on every journalists chair which included ‘upfront survival items’ like gum, beef jerky and in an obvious nod to Once Upon A Time, apples, you didn’t have to desire for anything because it was already there.
Let’s get to their new schedule.
At the Sony Centre presentation, Bell Media declared that 26 of their returning hits would be back including 11 in the Top 20 and that they only had to schedule 2.5 new programming hours into their main network. That translates to CTV only adding four new shows on their fall schedule and CTV Two only ordering three. The networks will also feature a combined 27.5 hours of U.S. simulcast which is even more impressive when you consider how many shows they had to find space for.
On Mondays, CTV will bring back Dancing With The Stars and Castle>
CTV Two will feature the remarkable third season of The Voice.
Tuesdays see the Dancing With The Stars Results on CTV followed by a couple of new shows. The first is the can’t-miss new comedy from Charlie Sheen, Anger Management, where the disgruntled former Two And A Half Men star plays “Charlie,” a non-traditional therapist specializing in rage restraint. In addition to his own private practice, Charlie also does pro-bono counseling for inmates at a state prison. The series co-stars Selma Blair (Cruel Intentions) who plays Charlie’s own therapist and best friend. To be honest, it’s pretty much a safe bet that Sheen’s next show is going to be a hit regardless of how the material is. Whether you tune in because the writing is great or just because of the trainwreck factor, the fact remains that you will be tuning in. Tuesday is also a slow TV night in general so this is one of my top picks for 2012-13.
The New Normal
At 9:30 p.m., the network simulcasts The New Normal, the first comedy series from the hottest producer/director in the biz today, Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story). The show looks at what happens when two gay men enlist a Midwestern single mother as their surrogate. It stars Justin Bartha (The Hangover) and Andrew Rannells (Girls) and I find a similarity between it and its precedingAnger Management in the sense that it will also get a huge early ratings pop simply because Murphy is attached to the project (just like Sheen is with his new comedy). After that, it is up in the air but for the same reason, I think this one will also find an audience.
At 10 p.m., the network moves Criminal Minds back over to the main channel.
Emily Owens M.D.
Over on CTV Two, The Voice Results show will be followed by Emily Owens, M.D., a new drama starring Mamie Gummer where she plays the title character, a first-year intern at Denver Memorial Hospital and works under world famous cardiologist Dr. Gina Beckett (Necar Zadegan) and her med school crush Will Rider (Justin Hartley). The show is about how her hospital is just like an adult high school with her old med school nemesis, Cassandra Kopelson (Aja Naomi King) joining the Denver Memorial team reopening old wounds. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why Gummer got so many plum parts as I thought she was marginal at best. She previously starred on ABC’s failed Off The Map series and I also remember her from The Good Wife. It was only at CTV’s upfront presentation did I learn that she is Meryl Streep’s daughter. Suddenly the dots connect and all her roles make sense. Sorry to be the cynic. Just like Colin Hanks. In any event, I am iffy on the staying power of Emily Owens, M.D., but anything scheduled on Tuesdays has a chance, especially now that Glee has moved to Thursdays.
Time for Wednesdays. CTV will bring back the returning The X Factor to go head-to-head with Global’s Survivor. The X Factor will be much stiffer competition this year with Britney Spears and Demi Lovato joining the judging panel. At 10 p.m., CSI returns.
CTV Two will sandwich Law & Order: SVU between two new dramas.
At 8 p.m., Arrow is the modern retelling (how many times have you heard that over the last week?) of classic DC Comics character Green Arrow. The series is a dark take on the story of billionaire Oliver Queen who was presumed dead for five years after his ship crashed but somehow managed to survive on a remote island. After he is rescued and brought back to Starling City, he covertly creates the Arrow personna to right the wrongs of his family while also battling the scum of society. I actually love the concept of this show and am partial to anything involving bows and arrows after becoming completely consumed by The Hunger Games over the last few months. I am sure this is also what drove Warner Bros.’ interest in the program. I was wrong about Grimm last season and this time I am betting on the fantasy idea. I also think Canadian Amell is the right choice as the lead.
After SVU, CTV Two has another of my top picks for the new season in Nashville. The show is described as ‘a story about love, sex, power, money, music and family’ and is penned by Callie Khouri, the screenwriter behind Thelma & Louise. Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights, American Horror Story) plays Rayna James, a country legend whose popularity is starting to wane. When her label asks her to tour with and open for the new young up-and-comer Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), James initially balks but doesn’t really have a choice. The scheming Juliette can’t wait for the chance to steal Rayna’s spotlight and the result is a great television feud between the then and the now. This show has a phenomenal cast as many (including myself) have been waiting for Pannetiere’s return to television and Britton has a knack for picking particularly strong scripts given her recent success. We haven’t really seen a show about the politics of the country music scene in Nashville before and the supporting cast on this show is just as strong as its main two actresses. This will be one of 2012’s biggest hits and a show that I can’t wait to watch.
At the press conference earlier in the day, I asked Hayden if part of the appeal of Nashville was how different it was from the show that made her a household name, Heroes, and if the draw for her and co-star Connie Britton was how different this role was from everything they have done so far.
“Absolutely, absolutely. This show is such a rarity; you don’t get shows like this that come along very often. Especially that combination of getting a chance to sing, and being in the music, and acting and having really interesting characters to keep you preoccupied, hopefully for a long time,” Panettiere said. “But I was a big fan of Connie before she came on the show and I watched every episode of American Horror Story and Friday Night Lights, so I know she was a big draw for me when she came on board. It’s definitely different it’s definitely not something that you come across often.”
I asked her if she missed the superpowers she had on Heroes since this show will primarily focus on singing storylines.
“Do I miss the superpowers? Superpowers come with CGI and they come with prosthetics. So right at the moment no. And I don’t miss not having to walk around like I am on pins and needles because god forbid I fell and got a bruise or broke a limb, that would have been problematic. Knock on wood I didn’t break a limb in four years.”
Thursdays see all returns for CTV with The Big Bang Theory, Two And A Half Men, Grey’s Anatomy and Flashpoint all coming back with the Canadian series finally finishing its remarkably successful run.
All returns for CTV Two as well with The X Factor Results and The Vampire Diaries.
Returns are the order of the day on Fridays for both networks as well. CTV will simulcast CSI: NY, the surprise hit of last year Grimm and Blue Bloods, while CTV Two offers new seasons of Shark Tank, Nikita and Dateline.
CTV will also debut The Neighbors on Saturday nights at 10 p.m. where it will be paired with what was apparently the #1 comedy of last season, Whitney (could have fooled me since it is now on at 10:30 p.m. on Saturdays!). The Neighbors is a sci-fi laugher which follows one family’s attempt at a normal life in the suburbs only to discover that the neighbors are aliens pretending to be average suburbanites. While I laughed at the trailer during the presentation, I think this one will struggle.
CTV Two moves The LA Complex to Saturdays at 8 p.m. In my opinion, this is the best show currently on television. I am very pleased that despite it not scoring well on The CW, the U.S. broadcaster decided to stick with it for a second season. I think that the writing on the teen drama is the best I have seen since the original 90210, and it is light years better than Gossip Girl where the storylines are more predictable than me wearing purple to a party. In terms of Canadian programming, The LA Complex might be the best show this country has ever produced.
At 9 p.m., the network will feature Saving Hope. The new Canadian series which debuts tomorrow on CTV and NBC stars Erica Durance (Smallville) as Dr. Alex Reid, a beautiful general surgeon whose fiancé, the Chief of Surgery at Hope-Zion Charlie Harris (Michael Shanks) is left comatose after a car accident on their wedding day. The result is Charlie having an out-of-body experience, walking around the halls of the hospital and unsure of whether he is a ghost or a figment of his own imagination. It co-stars Daniel Gillies (The Vampire Diaries) and Huse Madhavji (Call Me Fitz). The show explores the tension between the medical and the spiritual which many have tried to do before, but I think Saving Hope will be more successful at. On the surface, it does look like CBS’ A Gifted Man with Durance simply replacing Patrick Wilson as the lead, but there is more heart to this show. It will fare better than other recent Canadian exports and I will have a lot more on it tomorrow in my interview with the show’s star.
For Vampire Diaries fans who are wondering what Daniel Gillies being on this show will mean for Elijah, he addressed this during the press conference.
“Hopefully I’ll get to continue that, luckily we’re not shooting at the same time,” he said. “I don’t know, this show takes precedence and that’s just the way it’s got to be. I think fortunately we are only shooting 12 or 13 [episodes] including the pilot here so it does leave a lot of room for me to be able to go back and shoot with The Vampire Diaries and I’m not dead so I’ll be back.”
The Mob Doctor
Finally, over to Sundays. CTV brings back Once Upon A Time (second only to Revenge as the best new series from last year’s upfronts) and The Amazing Race for an incredible 21st season. They will also debut The Mob Doctor at 9 p.m. to fill in the vacant Desperate Housewives spot. The show stars Jordana Spiro as Dr. Grace Devlin, a surgeon split between her promising career and her debt to Chicago’s mob. The only people who know about Devlin’s double-life are her ex-boyfriend Franco (James Carpinello) and the charming but diabolical mob boss Constantine (William Forsythe). When I first read about the show’s plotline, it made me think about a similar episode of Without A Trace and I remember saying at the time that a doctor owing something to the mob would be a good idea to explore over multiple episodes. Unlike his counterpart from Off The Map Mamie Gummer, I am a huge fan of Zach Gilford from that show and from Friday Night Lights and he plays Devlin’s boyfriend, Dr. Brett Robinson on The Mob Doctor. I guess the medical terminology that they had to learn for Off The Map came in handy as both are starring in new medical shows this season.
The Mentalist runs at 10 p.m. on CTV in simulcast.
CTV Two will bring back America’s Next Top Model, Mike And Molly, and Up All Night.
That is a whole of TV.
Phil King, President, CTV Programming and Sports
As for the upfront itself, I thought that CTV’s President of Programming and Sports, Phil King did a great job at presenting the new schedule after last year’s first time jitters. The presentation didn’t stagnate or stall (aside from a London 2012 Olympic trailer that I thought ran a little long). I believe that it’s King’s blue-collar appeal that makes advice from him about what to watch in the fall seem so genuine. He joked about wearing a Rolling Stones t-shirt and having a beer in his hand and this friendly demeanor sold what he was saying. In addition, his track record speaks for itself as he predicted that Once Upon A Time, would be one of the biggest hits of the year at last year’s presentation and he was dead-on.
This year, King chose CTV’s mid-season pick-up The Following as his top pick. The show stars Kevin Bacon who is making his broadcast television debut (can you imagine the six degree possibilities now?) in his new role as Ryan Hardy, a former FBI agent who is called back in when notorious serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) escapes from death row. That’s not even the most intriguing plot point. Carroll apparently connects the over 300 serial active serial killers in the United States to form an unholy alliance of evil or a “following.” It’s like Dexter meets Se7en meets awesome. This show is the top pick of 2012. As my colleague Bill Brioux points out, even Rogers admitted that they wanted it.
All in all, CTV’s upfront presentation and press opportunities have set a standard for not only every Canadian upfront from here on out, but for every U.S. one as well. Time will tell if their 2012-13 schedule was actually a ‘decade in the making’ as their tagline indicated (Hayden Panettiere was only 13 years old in 2002!), but what I do know is that it certainly felt like their upfront presentation this year was. It couldn’t have been any better.
The other thing that I appreciated from CTV’s post-upfront party is that they made all of their talent available to take pics with the advertisers and media in attendance. While you had to basically be a man or a Murtz on a mission to get them all (since most were appearing at the same time as each other), let’s just say I was. The only one I missed was Hayden Panettiere (yes, I know… what was I thinking?) Here are the pics!
Murtz With Stephen Amell from Arrow. He said I looked like Mr. Glass from Unbreakable!
Murtz With Chi McBride from Golden Boy, a CTV mid-season pick-up. What time is it?
Murtz With Kunal Nayyar from The Big Bang Theory
Murtz With Lana Parrilla from Once Upon A Time
Murtz With Megan Hilty from Smash
Murtz With Jordana Spiro & James Carpinello from The Mob Doctor. James is doing the Murtz sign!
Murtz With the cast from Saving Hope. Huse Madhavji, Michael Shanks & Erica Durance
Tags: Arrow, Hayden Panettiere, Nashville, Once Upon A Time, The Big Bang Theory, The Following, The Mob Doctor