Murtz On The Scene: Bell Media / CTV Upfront 2014 – Bell Media & CTV Announce New TV Schedule

 

One of the things that I look the most forward to at CTV’s upfront event every year is the core branding message that is tagged to each year’s presentation. A couple of years ago it was that their schedule was a “decade in the making.”

Last year, they described their lineup as “amazing,” (a throw to the debut of The Amazing Race Canada).

This year, the tagline for Bell Media and CTV’s Upfront presentation was “powerful,” and while it was a not-so-subtle reference to the network’s superhero-infused Fall lineup, it also served as an apt description for the best upfront presentation of 2014.

In every regard, CTV flexed its superhero muscle… starting with its new slate of conventional programming.

The network’s new 2014/15 primetime schedule features a mix of its returning top hits complemented by the new shows that it has picked up. The mandate and order of the day for the network was to deliver one strong message… namely that they weren’t catering to gender-specific programming.  According to CTV, it is about delivering the best overall programs. This results in appealing to the widest possible audience according to CTV’s President of Programming, Phil King.

“Some networks program to women, others to men. We’re not the home of comedy, nor the home of drama,” King said. “CTV is the home of hit television, delivering mass audiences every night of the week, in every timeslot, in every genre.”

Building upon the success of Arrow, (a CW import from 2012) and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the C in CTV might as well stand for ‘cape’ or ‘comic’ as it has picked up three new comic-influenced series (Gotham, The Flash, and Marvel’s Agent Carter) to further bolster its superhero-centric schedule. That is in addition to Forever (another hero-like series that features an immortal medical examiner).

In addition, the network scooped up The Millers (starring Will Arnett and Beau Bridges) from Global and picked up new CBS import The McCarthys, to fill out its Thursday night comedy block with The Big Bang Theory and Two And A Half Men. The move toward an all-comedy Thursday did force the network to push Grey’s Anatomy out of simulcast on Wednesdays at 10 p.m.

Since I was covering the red carpet (more on that in a second), I was forced to miss the first few minutes of the presentation. As a result, I had to get the cliffnotes from a couple of friends (Bill Brioux at Brioux.TV and Amber Dowling at TV Guide Canada) who were there on time. Fortunately, the presentation was available to watch online and I caught up on the opening that I had missed.

The key this year was CTV investing in a hologram screen that was used to introduce their executives as superheroes. Sales President Luc Sabbatini was introduced on the screen by his superhero alter-ego, “The Collaborator.” President of Programming Phil King was referred to as “Programatron.” Bell Media President Kevin Crull was dubbed “Dr. Bell Media” and he later appeared as three different cloned versions of himself. The highlight of the video pack was Sabbatini doing his best Arrow impression and saying that he knew how to hit his targets. The noticeably absent Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) was also there in spirit (and in hologram form) to introduce the real Bell Media President Kevin Crull to the stage.

Crull said that Bell Media wanted to continue to engage, entertain, inspire and to create magic. Crull immediately went after Rogers and said that he wanted to discuss the $5.2 billion elephant in the room (the amount that Rogers spent to lock up the exclusive NHL broadcasting rights). He said that “in the history of specialty television, there have been 37 broadcasts that drew over 2 million viewers each and all 37 were on TSN.” He said that out of those 37, only four were NHL-based.

Crull proclaimed that Bell Media was committed to investing in conventional television. The most illuminating part of the presentation was when Crull discussed “the CTV hit machine” noting that CTV doesn’t just create and acquire shows in the hope that they become hits.

“When we produce a reality show, the results are amazing,” Crull said. “When we integrate brands, the results are delicious. And when we buy a new show, the results are heroic. We make them hits.”

Crull said that CTV has developed a circle of success where they first find the best content either by buying, creating or commissioning it. Then they schedule these shows in the right timeslot to provide the perfect lead-in audience. He said that in the television business this was important because “success begets success.” Finally he opened up about leveraging the Bell Media megaphone, (using their marketing, promotions and publicity teams to build buzz and anticipation for the season premiere) as the final step in their ability to create hits programs.

“Before you know it, CTV has another hit,” Crull proudly declared.

Can’t really argue.

In general, the President seemed to be in quite a jovial and animated mood, rapping the buzzwords that he was “supposed to say” and delighting the ad buyers and media in attendance. As usual, the presentation itself was the standard by which everyone else should be measured.

Phil King always appears like the everyman, and this was aided by the way that the exec changed into different superhero t-shirts during each show’s sizzle reel. The not-so-subtle subliminal messaging was designed to keep superheroes at the forefront of everyone’s mind and in that regard, it certainly worked.

In addition to presenting their new programs, CTV has become notorious for the sheer volume of talent that they usher into their Upfront every year. This time around was no different. With the other networks downsizing their star power, CTV only flaunted theirs. Just when you though that they would never be able to top the 65 stars that they introduced last year, this time around the network had an incredible 85 stars in attendance at their upfront.

The full rundown?

1. Alexandra Park (The Royals)
2. William Moseley (The Royals)
3. Kevin Hanchard (Orphan Black)
4. Ari Millen (Orphan Black)
5. Don McKellar (Sensitive Skin)
6. Bob Martin (Sensitive Skin)
7. George Wendt (Buzzy’s)
8. Jared Keeso (19-2)
9. Adrian Holmes (19-2)
10. Greg Bryk (Bitten)
11. Laura Vandervoort (Bitten)
12. Steve Lund (Bitten)
13. Michael Xavier (Bitten)
14. Greyston Holt (Bitten)
15. Sarah Fisher (Degrassi)
16. Jessica Tyler (Degrassi)
17. Cristine Prosperi (Degrassi)
18. Melinda Shankar (Degrassi)
19. Nathan Fielder (Nathan For You)
20. Jon Montgomery (The Amazing Race Canada)
21. Craig Olejnik (The Listener)
22. Lauren Lee Smith (The Listener)
23. Rainbow Sun Francks (The Listener)
24. Anthony Lemke (The Listener)
25. Ennis Esmer (The Listener)
26. Al Mukadam (Spun Out)
27. JP Manoux (Spun Out)
28. Holly Deveaux (Spun Out)
29. Paul Campbell (Spun Out)
30. Rebecca Dalton (Spun Out)
40. Darcy Michael (Spun Out)
41. Kelen Coleman (The McCarthys)
42. Tyler Ritter (The McCarthys)
43. Jimmy Dunn (The McCarthys)
44. Wendi McLendon-Covey (The Goldbergs)
45. Beau Bridges (The Millers)
46. Michael Bonacini (MasterChef Canada)
47. Alvin Leung (MasterChef Canada)
48. Claudio Aprile (MasterChef Canada)
49. Kristin Lehman (Motive)
50. Louis Ferreira (Motive)
51. Lauren Holly (Motive)
52. Brendan Penny (Motive)
53. Warren Christie (Motive)
54. Erica Durance (Saving Hope)
55. Michael Shanks (Saving Hope)
56. Daniel Gillies (Saving Hope)
57. Devin Kelley (Resurrection)
58. Kirsten Vangsness (Criminal Minds)
59. Michael Emerson (Person Of Interest)
60. Benito Martinez (American Crime)
61. Elvis Nolasco (American Crime)
62. Caitlin Gerard (American Crime)
63. Matt McGorry (How To Get Away With Murder)
64. Alfie Enoch (How To Get Away With Murder)
65. Jack Falahee (How To Get Away With Murder)
66. Aja Naomi King (How To Get Away With Murder)
67. Judd Hirsch (Forever)
68. Alana de la Garza (Forever)
69. Ben McKenzie (Gotham)
70. Donal Logue (Gotham)
71. Robin Lord Taylor (Gotham)
72. Elizabeth Henstridge (Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.)
73. Chloe Bennet (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)
74. Stephen Amell (Arrow)
75. David Ramsey (Arrow)
76. Candice Patton (The Flash)
77. Grant Gustin (The Flash)
78. Danielle Panabaker (The Flash)
79. Tom Cavanagh (The Flash)
80. Brent Butt (Corner Gas)
81. Nancy Robertson (Corner Gas)
82. Fred Ewanuick (Corner Gas)
83. Eric Peterson (Corner Gas)
84. Lorne Cardinal (Corner Gas)
85. Tara Spencer-Nairn (Corner Gas)

The point isn’t about who was there as much as it is about how they were used. CTV used the talent that they brought in effectively, offering numerous opportunities for them to meet the media. The day started with several press conference sessions moderated by Devon Soltendieck.

Elizabeth Henstridge & Chloe Bennet from Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Elizabeth Henstridge & Chloe Bennet from Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

First up were Chloe Bennet and Elizabeth Henstridge from Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. who talked about how the show managed to live up to the enormous hype around it at last year’s Upfronts. I asked them about why comic-themed shows like S.H.I.E.L.D.  have become so popular and you can see the video of their response HERE.

Jimmy Dunn, Kelen Coleman, Tyler Ritter from The McCarthys & Beau Bridges from The Millers

Jimmy Dunn, Kelen Coleman, Tyler Ritter from The McCarthys & Beau Bridges from The Millers

From there it was a comedy combination panel with Tyler Ritter, Kelen Coleman and Jimmy Dunn from The McCarthys joined by Beau Bridges from The Millers. They discussed whether there was room for more family comedy in primetime. The McCarthys were easily the most personable stars in attendance and did a great job at selling their show as being the one to watch. Their enigmatic personalities radiated, and while I was iffy about the show when I went in, I certainly left as a believer. They were the personification of what the Upfronts are all about. They sold. I asked The McCarthys cast if there was room for another family-themed comedy on primetime and you can see the video of their response HERE.

Matt McGorry, Jack Falahee, Alfred Enoch & Aja Naomi King from How To Get Away With Murder

Matt McGorry, Jack Falahee, Alfred Enoch & Aja Naomi King from How To Get Away With Murder

How To Get Away With Murder was up next and the Shonda Rhimes drama is one that critics have praised since the LA screenings. It’s true that Shonda Rhimes seems to have the midas touch lately and her name immediately adds credibility to a project. The cast, including Alfred Enoch, Aja Naomi King, Jack Falahee and Matt McGorry discussed the methodology behind the program.

William Moseley & Alexandra Park from The Royals

William Moseley & Alexandra Park from The Royals

The Royals is a new E! drama about a fictional British Royal family set in modern day London. The show stars Elizabeth Hurley and pits the public perception of the Royal family against the reality of life inside the castle walls. The show reminded me a lot of Dirty Sexy Money, which I always thought was extremely underrated. The panel was a last-minute addition and featured William Moseley and Alexandra Park. More on them later.

Robin Lord Taylor, Donal Logue, & Ben Mckenzie from Gotham

Robin Lord Taylor, Donal Logue, & Ben Mckenzie from Gotham

The distinction of the best panel of the day also went to the best show of the new season. Gotham‘s Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue and Robin Lord Taylor talked openly about the pressures of playing characters (the show revolves around the origins of Batman, and is largely the story of McKenzie’s Detective James Gordon who would go on to become Commissioner Gordon) that are so beloved by so many.  I asked the panel about this pressure. You can see the video of their response HERE.

Danielle Panabaker, Candice Patton, & Grant Gustin from The Flash

Danielle Panabaker, Candice Patton, & Grant Gustin from The Flash

The Flash panel featuring Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, and Danielle Panabaker was also quite informative and the sizzle reel that preceded it looked more like a movie trailer than it did a short television clip. Grant Gustin admitted that he was a Superman fan growing up (even admitting that he has a Superman tattoo) and discussed how the show would follow-up on the incredible success of Arrow and if any crossover will take place between the two shows. I asked him to discuss the differences between The Flash and Arrow and if there were any notable differences between the two programs.  You can see the video of his response HERE.

Alana De La Garza & Judd Hirsch from Forever

Alana De La Garza & Judd Hirsch from Forever

The final session of the day featured Alana De La Garza and Judd Hirsch from Forever. Judd opened up about traditional television versus the new digital era of Netflix and other streaming properties.

Both during the panels and just after, the talent was easily accessible. The fact that CTV’s Fall schedule receives the most coverage after the upfronts isn’t a coincidence and they should be credited for effectively using the actors that they bring in, instead of just wasting the opportunities. This use of talent has become a calling card for Bell Media and is one of the main reasons why they generate powerful buzz both before and during the new TV season.

As if that wasn’t enough, the CTV red carpet outside the Sony Centre For The Performing Arts (where the presentation also took place) offered a third opportunity for outlets to grab soundbytes from all of the talent in attendance. I spoke to Ari Millen & Kevin Hanchard (Orphan Black), the Bitten cast, Jon Montgomery (The Amazing Race Canada), the American Crime cast, The McCarthys cast, George Wendt (The Buzzy’s), Matt McGorry (How To Get Away With Murder), Michael Emerson (Person Of Interest), Chloe Bennet & Elizabeth Henstridge (Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.), and The Flash cast as well.  Stay tuned for these interviews in the Fall.  The strangest incident of the day was when the handler for The Royals said that they “didn’t want to talk about the show.” It was amusing, as I thought that is what the Upfronts were all about? Perhaps the characters they are playing rubbed off on them and their wrangler a little but it was just a small speedbump in an otherwise perfect day.

After the aforementioned presentation, CTV offered an incredible post-show party. A largely improved and staggered photo opp schedule allowed ad buyers (and one resilient reporter AKA The Flash of Photo Opps, AKA myself) the chance to get a photo taken with the talent that was available. Practically everyone I talked to on-site said that the new system was a major improvement and this only added to the flawless organization this year.

Another nice touch?

Bell Media brought in a band to entertain at the party. The featured singer? Gary Beals, the Canadian Idol finalist from Season 1 in a wonderful throwback. If it is all about the details, Thursday’s event had no equal.

Let’s get to the new shows.

MONDAY

Gotham

Gotham

Getting a strong lead-in from The Big Bang Theory (which will air on Mondays until October as CBS broadcasts Thursday Night Football), CTV starts the week off with its best import. Gotham is a prequel to the classic Batman story and primarily focuses on how rookie Detective James Gordon (played by The O.C.‘s Ben McKenzie) grew into the role of becoming the most famous police commissioner in pop culture history. The best part of the show is the way that it will offer the origin stories of Batman’s greatest villians (including The Riddler, Catwoman, Joker and The Penguin) to show the audience how they became who they are. With a phenomenal supporting cast that includes Donal Logue (Sons of Anarchy), Jada Pinkett Smith (Hawthorne), and Robin Lord Taylor (The Walking Dead), this is the top pick of the new season. Honestly? It doesn’t even have an equal.

Gotham is followed by Forever. The show tells the story of Dr. Henry Morgan (played by Fantastic Four‘s Ioann Gruffudd), an immortal medical examiner who has already been around for 200 years. Only his friend and confidant Abe (Judd Hirsch, Damages), knows his secret. I still need to see a few more episodes of this one before offering my final verdict. One thing’s for sure, it won’t be able to blame its lead-in because you can’t really get much better than The Big Bang Theory and Gotham.

TUESDAYS

The Flash

The Flash

Tuesdays have always been a tough night to program and CTV is banking on another superhero block to deliver. One of this year’s most-buzzed about new shows will lead into last year’s top new show in some of the network’s best scheduling. The Flash comes from the creative team behind Arrow and chronicles the story of The Fastest Man Alive. Central City Police scientist Barry Allen (Grant Gustin, Glee) is the victim of a devastating accident at the S.T.A.R. Labs Particle Accelerator which leaves him suddenly charged with the incredible power to move at super speeds. While the show can be described as an Arrow spin-off, it certainly has a remarkably different tone than its predecessor and features a smart-alecky dialogue instead of the dark undertones that Oliver Queen and company are primarily known for. Grant Gustin was a spectacular choice as the lead and while I would have liked to see it paired with Arrow on Wednesdays, simply for an easily transition for potential crossover episodes, it makes too much sense to put it on Tuesdays in simulcast. Another winner. The Flash will lead into Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

WEDNESDAYS

The only major change on Wednesdays is CTV being forced to pre-release Grey’s Anatomy at 10 pm as ABC shifited it to Thursdays at 8 p.m. where it would go head-to-heads against The Big Bang Theory (after Big Bang moves back into its regular timeslot).

THURSDAYS

The McCarthys

The McCarthys

This was the night that received the biggest facelift.

CTV snatched The Millers away from Global and sandwiches the Will Arnett comedy between The Big Bang Theory and Two And A Half Men. The biggest winner of the new schedule might be The McCarthys, as the new CBS import gets the plum spot on Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. in a spot that Grey’s Anatomy has owned for several years.

The McCarthys is a multi-camera comedy about a sports-crazed Boston family whose athletically-challenged son Ronny (Tyler Ritter, Stuck On You), is chosen by his father to be his assistant basketball coach, much to the surprise of his more qualified siblings. Initially, I was on the fence about this show, but the chemistry between the castmembers in Toronto was off the charts. Tyler Ritter seems particularly equipped to take on the role of leading and with great lead-ins, I think The McCarthys will be the surprise of the season.

The comedies lead up to Shonda Rhimes’ newest offering, How To Get Away With Murder at 10 p.m. The show stars Oscar-nominated Viola Davis as Professor Annalise Keating, a teacher who gets entangled with four law students from her class as she teaches them that there is more to the job than they think. No one can deny that Shonda Rhimes is on a hot streak with the success of both Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal (let’s just forget the short-lived Off The Map), and so for that reason alone, color me optimistic about this one’s chances.

FRIDAYS

Phil King and company have chosen to follow CBS’ lead and move The Amazing Race to Fridays. This is one of the riskier moves of the new schedule as the family reality series has always done reasonably well on Sundays. It’s followed by Grimm and Blue Bloods which will both air in simulcast.

SUNDAYS

Resurrection

Resurrection

Sundays seem to be the most curious hole in CTV’s usually steady lineup. Once Upon A Time finally runs in simulcast since The Amazing Race‘s move has opened up the 8 p.m. hour. From there, CTV slots in Resurrection (which it snatched from City) and sticks CSI in at 10 p.m. I am not sure how those shows work together, but it will be beneficial to have the night run entirely in simulcast.

So there you have it.

Other points of interest?

– The surprise announcement of the Upfronts was that Bell Media has acquired Jimmy Kimmel Live which will now air on The Comedy Network. As a result, Bell now features the top 6 late-night programs:

1. The Daily Show With Jon Stewart (CTV, The Comedy Network)
2. The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (CTV Two)
3. The Colbert Report (The Comedy Network)
4. Late Night With Seth Meyers (CTV)
5. Conan (CTV)
6. Jimmy Kimmel Live (The Comedy Network

– As first reported by Bill Brioux, American Idol is noticeably absent from the schedule. Hmm…

The Voice will now exclusively air on CTV Two.

Dancing With The Stars will air Sundays on CTV, meaning each episode will air six days after its initial broadcast on ABC. Yikes.

Last year, I said Bell Media President (or Dr. Bell Media) Kevin Crull could rest easy as he was the clear and resounding victor in the 2013 Upfront Wars. This year, superhero Crull saved the proverbial television world with another resounding victory. Once again, his publicity team should be applauded as this year’s event was perfect.

Here’s my photo gallery from the event:

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,