The Shaw Media television upfront was completely veiled by a cloud and cloak of secrecy. With the list of the appearing talent locked tighter than a vault and even the location of the presentation being a closely guarded secret, I was interested to see what was behind all of the mystery and intrigue.
The curtain was finally lifted on Wednesday with Shaw Media’s press conference at the Windsor Arms hotel, presented to a room full of glassy-eyed reporters (who all looked like they were still recovering from the Rogers party the night before). Perhaps the early 8 a.m. call time was intended to give the media a taste of an actor’s life?
When journalists were finally presented with the list of available talent, it included Daniel Dae Kim (Hawaii Five-O), Jessalyn Gilsig (Vikings), Ana Ortiz & Susan Lucci (Devious Maids), Alan Thicke & Tanya Callau (In The Thicke Of It), Dean McDermott (Chopped Canada), Queen Latifah (The Queen Latifah Show), Blair Underwood (Ironside), and Diego Klattenhoff (The Blacklist). An impressive list, but certainly more solo interview opportunities or a pressline would have been advisable to take full advantage as the other networks had.
The press conference itself was quite entertaining with Queen Latifah being the particular standout, announcing her new talk show that arrives at Global in the Fall. She answered questions openly and honestly.
With last year’s television upfronts being dominated with the announcement of so many daytime shows (including Global’s doomed The Ricki Lake Show and The Jeff Probst Show), I asked her if she watched any of the failed attempts and if she noted what worked and what didn’t.
“Obviously stepping into what I am doing, I have people who do tons of amazing research and it’s always been like that. Did I watch shows specifically to see what I would or wouldn’t do? I think the most important thing about The Queen Latifah Show is Queen Latifah and me bringing my perspective and my style to it. Marrying that with Sony and putting that all together and being creative and doing what we do,” she said. “At the end of the day, I watch TV. I am a TV watcher. I come from a TV-watching family. I sit and watch a lot of the talk shows. I watch Ellen. I watch Maury. I watch Fallon. I watch TV. I know what I like and I want to create things that I like. I am in the bracket of half the studies that I have seen come out. I have never relied on focus groups and research. I rely on meeting you on the street and talking to you, I rely on my family. My aunts, my cousins. People who are making money, people who don’t have a lot of money in their pocket. And seeing what they are interested in. I tend to live real life and I like to see some of that reflected on television.”
Latifah said that she didn’t want to format the show too much as there is too much of that on daytime right now.
After the pressers, there was a five-hour break before the actual upfront at the Elgin Theatre.
The presentation itself did not disappoint, and in my opinion, the Global sizzle reel that was played at the start of the presentation on Wednesday at the Elgin Theatre was the best of the 2013 Upfronts, primarily because of its originality. With animated aliens poking fun at the advertising executives in attendance, the highlight was Shaw Media President Paul Robertson announcing the Global grid in a parody of “Bohemian Rhapsody” complete with ET Canada‘s Rick Campanelli saying his last name instead of “Galileo” (which coincidently also worked with the alien theme).
From there, senior vice-president of content Barb Williams took over and (as in years past), delivered the new schedule quickly, clearly, and efficiently. She pointed out that 5 million people tune into Shaw programs on Wednesdays (Survivor anyone?) and then lauded the success of NCIS LA, NCIS, Hawaii Five-0.
Particular attention was paid to Shaw’s specialty programming and Williams was quick to point out that the network had the three biggest specialty premieres this year with The Bible, Vikings, and Big Brother Canada. The worst-kept secret in the television industry was finally made public as Big Brother Canada was officially renewed. The network also announced that TVTropolis (the home of my old show Reality Obsessed) would be rebranded as DTOUR, where a focus will be placed on putting people with lifelong passions into new experiences.
Shaw Media will have 82 new programs in the upcoming year, which is a 20% gain from last year.
The biggest news of the day was that the company had also formed a relationship with Twitter. Shaw joins the Twitter Amplify program, which will provide Canadian users in-Tweet video clips that complement their broadcasts. The partnership allows for Shaw’s ad partners to reach new audiences and plans are currently underway to incorporate TV content on Twitter during the 2013 Fall TV season.
No reference was made to Global losing the Grammy awards to Rogers. While the presentation did not have a big OMG moment like it did with last year’s announcement of Big Brother Canada, it flowed nicely and ended with Alan Thicke joining models on stage for a Robert Goulet-esque final bow.
Shaw gets high marks for its sizzle reel (the best of any network this year), the pick-up of The Blacklist and The Millers as well as the originality of their presentation. Suggestions for next year would be to allow for more interview opportunities. Last year’s photo opp with the Vegas Showgirls and LL Cool J was one of the best parts of the presentation, according to the ad buyers that I talked to. Shaw did away with the photo opps this year, and they should definitely come back in 2014.
Let’s get to the new shows.
Following Bones, Global fills their 9 p.m. opening with Sleepy Hollow. The show is an action-adventure drama that is a modern-day retelling of Washington Irving’s story. Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) is resurrected in present day and he is the only one that can save the world from the Headless Horsemen. Consider this one a pass.
Another major win for Shaw here. The Blacklist is the best new show of the season and has the same buzz that The Following did last year. The plotline sounds completely compelling as an ex-government agent, Raymond “Red” Reddington (in James Spader’s most perfect role to date), is now one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives. In a strange twist, he mysteriously surrenders and tells the police that he will help them catch another criminal, Ranko Zamani, with only one condition. He will only talk to and work with new agent, Elizabeth “Liz” Keen (Megan Boone), a new profiler. Zamani is apparently the first name on a Blacklist, that Red has compiled over the years that includes politicians, mobsters, spies, and international terrorists. There is no question that this is the most exciting program on the new schedule and a huge pick-up for Global. Like last year’s Elementary, Shaw execs seem quite adept at focusing on the best show to come out of the U.S. network presentations and almost always seem to come back with it in tow. This will be the breakout hit of the year.
No new additions here as this is one of Global’s steadiest nights of the year with NCIS, NCIS: LA, and the returning Chicago Fire.
Survivor is back and the Blood vs. Water theme where contestants will play against their loved ones is the most exciting twist in the show’s history. I have every confidence that this will be the best Survivor season of all-time.
From there, Global inserts a pair of new comedies.
Sean Saves The World
Sean Saves The World stars Sean Hayes from Will & Grace as a divorced dad who’s trying to juggle it all. From his overbearing boss to his teenage daughter, Sean tries to just take life one day at a time. This has potential as it seems like the perfect role for Hayes who has made a slew of guest appearances recently.
The Michael J. Fox Show
One of the most intriguing pick-ups is The Michael J. Fox Show, as I was certain this seemed like one that Bell would be interested in. Fox returns to TV to play news anchor Mike Henry. It reads almost like an autobiography as Henry leaves his job to spend more time at home with his family after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Five years later, Henry (like Fox), decides to return to work and is determined to not let his illness get in the way of what he wants to accomplish. The trailer was quite self-deprecating so it will be interesting to see whether audience appreciate this, tune in simply to support Fox, or because they genuinely like the show. This show is one of the biggest question marks from this year’s Canadian upfronts.
Ironside rounds off the night at 10 p.m. Blair Underwood plays Detective Robert Ironside, a tough NYPD cop who wants to protect his city by taking one bad guy down at a time despite being on a wheelchair after being shot two years ago. I loved Underwood on The Event and I believe that this role fits him well. I just don’t know if audiences will choose Ironside over CTV’s C.S.I. or City’s Nashville.
Thursdays kick off with a pair of comedies on Global, starting at 8 p.m.
Welcome To The Family
Dan and Caroline Yoder (Mike O’Malley and Mary McCormack) are thrilled when their daughter Molly (Ella Rae Peck) graduates and is accepted into Arizona State. Instead, their world is turned upside down when Molly reveals that she is pregnant and that her boyfriend Junior Hernandez is the father. The result is the two deciding to get married, resulting in the Yoders marrying the Hernandez family. This one got a few laughs during the presentation. It’s worth a shot.
Another big score for Shaw. Will Arnett returns to play Nathan Miller, a divorced roving news reporter on the show and when he reveals his marital problems to his parents, Carol and Tom (Margo Martindale and Beau Bridges), they decide to follow suit and also get divorced. The result is Nathan’s mom deciding to move in with him and Nathan’s dad deciding to stay with his sister. The results are hilarious and the crowd literally couldn’t stop laughing when a clip from the show was played. Despite Arnett not being in attendance, his pre-taped message about refusing to come to Toronto because of the Maple Leafs epic self-destruction against the Boston Bruins in Game 7 was another highlight. Also, don’t forget that Survivor winner John Cochran is a writer on this show and for that reason alone, this one is a must-watch for me.
The night finishes off with Glee and Elementary.
In bad news for Global, CBS repositioned Hawaii Five-0 here, meaning the Canadian broadcaster had to follow suit and ratings will almost certainly take a hit. The only new addition here is Dracula at 10 p.m.
From the producers of Downton Abbey, this is a new take on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In this version, the title role is played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers who has arrived in London in the late 19th century, posing as an American entrepreneur who wants to bring America’s modern science to Britain. He’s especially interested in electricity, which allows for the night to be illuminated (for obvious reasons). He also hopes to get revenge on everyone who cursed him with immortality. I am iffy on this one. I do like the revamped concept of the show as well as the casting of Rhys Meyers, but the timeslot hurts its potential.
So there you have it. Rogers and Shaw Media are in the can. Bell Media is next and the pressure is on.
Tags: murtz, upfronts