In a year where Shaw Media and Rogers served up Fall appetizers, Bell Media presented the upfront main course last Thursday.
While rivals chose to downsize their usually glitzy affairs to impress ad buyers (selecting smaller venues and bringing in fewer talent), CTV used the opportunity to once again highlight its dominance. Refusing to scale back, the network offered up a big budget extravaganza that featured an impressive video wall, the formal introduction of new Bell Media president Mary Ann Turcke, a hysterical lip sync battle for really important buyers that was hosted by Ben Mulroney (circa Canadian Idol 2006) and easily the most impressive line-up of talent this year.
Only 56 days into her tenure as the big boss at Bell Media, Turcke presented three observations to the ad buyers in attendance and highlighted the fact that CTV Matters, TV Matters, and Analytics Matter.
CTV Matters – Turcke pointed out that CTV has maintained the #1 position in network primetime for the past 14 years and that the network enjoyed its best season last year, growing its primetime adult (25-54) audience by 7 per cent and seeing its audience rise by 17 per cent over the last 13 years.
TV Matters – Turcke told the Sony Centre audience that this year’s How To Get Away With Murder season finale had a viewing audience that was 26 per cent higher than the Grey’s Anatomy season finale from 2005. She said that millenials delivered 5.4 million impressions of Gotham every week and 145 million over the course of the year.
Analyics Matter – The Bell Media president discussed the company’s new position in testing whether TV prompts action and presented a case study where a financial client wanted to test whether a TV campaign would drive customers to search. The network found that TV GRPs (gross rating points) offered a 74 per cent lift in search. Turcke concluded that TV advertising created the awareness and the demand to stimulate search.
Perry MacDonald (CTV’s Vice-President of Sales) was introduced next and boasted that 2014 was the first time that the network had five of its new shows rank in the Top 10 (in the 25-54 demographic) with The Flash, The Odd Couple, Gotham, CSI: Cyber and Marvel’s Agent Carter all performing well.
MacDonald also announced that CTV now had an 81% lead in primetime share over all of its competitors (and that this number was up 12 points from last year).
After piling on the statistics, it was clear that some levity was needed.
As if on cue, eTalk’s Ben Mulroney appeared and announced that in an homage to The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, a trio of high-powered ad buyers would take the stage and participate in the first-ever CTV Upfront Lip Sync Battle. This was the best part of the entire presentation and absolutely delighted the crowd. The night undoubtedly belonged to IPG Mediabrands’ Harvey Carroll whose rousing rendition of ‘Bust A Move,’ was spot-on. Carroll could easily moonlight as a professional lip syncer and how he didn’t win is beyond me.
After the fun and games, it was back to business as CTV’s President of Sports & Entertainment Programming, Phil King arrived to introduce the new Fall schedule.
King outlined the problem that every network “wants to have,” which he claimed was being forced to schedule around already having so many #1 programs. King presented his case with a cheeky How To Get Away With Murder tribute (only this time it was titled How To Get Away With Remaining #1).
King said that the typical goal for television programmers is to add one or two new shows each season and noted that the success that his network enjoyed last year was unparalleled. According to King, CTV delivered six out of the Top 6 new Fall programs in 2014, and referred to the feat as “unbelievable.” The Flash took top spot and was closely followed by The Odd Couple, Gotham, CSI: Cyber, Agent Carter, and How To Get Away With Murder. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, King reported that five of the new programs actually grew into Top 10 overall shows for the channel. King said maintaining their stranglehold atop Canadian television ratings was almost like having an NHL team with a Stanley Cup dynasty. Each year, a few new players have to be added to ensure the team continues to perform at top level.
It was fascinating to hear how the network has managed to keep shows on its schedule that date back to the Upfront presentations from four years ago. Once Upon A Time and Grimm were first introduced by King in 2011. Arrow and Saving Hope debuted in 2012. Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Goldbergs arrived in 2013. Last year saw the arrival of four breakout hits including The Flash, Gotham, CSI: Cyber, and How To Get Away With Murder. This means that next year’s schedule features 12/18 shows that are only three years old or younger.
King took a break to introduce some talent from some of these returning series and that included Caterina Scorsone & James Pickens Jr. (Grey’s Anatomy), Camren Bicondova & David Mazouz (Gotham), Marilyn Denis (The Marilyn Denis Show), Lainey Lui, Cynthia Loyst, Traci Melchor, & Melissa Grelo (The Social), Danielle Graham & Ben Mulroney (eTalk), Charlie Weber (How To Get Away With Murder), Claudio Aprile, Michael Bonacini (Masterchef Canada), Lauren Holly, Kristin Lehman, & Brendan Penny (Motive), Huse Madhavji, Michael Shanks, Erica Durance, & Max Bennett (Saving Hope), Nick Blood (Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.), and finally, Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter).
It was then time for what everyone in attendance was waiting for. CTV’s new Fall pick-ups.
BLINDSPOT Blindspot stars Sullivan Stapleton (300: Rise of an Empire), and Jaimie Alexander (Thor) and is a one-hour action thriller. The show features FBI agent Kurt Weller (Stapleton) being drawn into a complex conspiracy when a naked amnesiac, Jane Doe (Alexander), is found in Times Square covered in cryptic tattoos (that include his name on her back). As Weller and his team investigate the origin of Doe’s ink, they are drawn into an underworld of different twists and turns. This show will fill CTV’s open 9 p.m. timeslot on Mondays where it will follow the Gotham lead-in.
Set in one of the busiest emergency rooms in the country, this new medical drama stars Marcia Gay Harden (The Newsroom) as Dr. Leanne Royer, a hard-nosed residency director who is training a group of new doctors in her own aggressive style of practice. I like to think of it as a show about Bailey from the early days of Grey’s Anatomy. In case you were wondering, “Code Black” refers to when the number of patients outweighs the number of doctors in an emergency room. This show will fill CTV’s open 10 p.m. timeslot on Wednesdays where it will follow the Criminal Minds lead-in.
BLOOD & OIL
This drama about sex, power, and greed features two major television comebacks. Chace Crawford (Gossip Girl) returns to the small screen in his fist major role since his stint on the WB drama. He plays Billy LeFever, a man who dreams of a new life in “The Bakken,” a place in North Dakota that is booming after the biggest oil discovery in American history. Billy is pitted against a ruthless tycoon, Hap Briggs (famously played by Don Johnson of Miami Vice) who forces his rival to risk everything, including his marriage, in pursuit of the ultimate score. This show will fill CTV’s open 9 p.m. timeslot on Sundays where it will follow the Once Upon A Time lead-in.
QUANTICO Quantico is definitely the most intriguing show of the new season. It features a diverse team of recruits who have arrived at the FBI Quantico Base for training. They have already shown that they are the best, brightest and most vetted minds in the country, which makes it hard to believe that one of them is suspected of masterminding the biggest terrorist attack on New York City since 9/11. The star-studded cast includes Priyanka Chopra (Mary Kom), Yasmine Al Massri (Caramel), Johanna Braddy (Greek), and Graham Rogers (Revolution). Thw show will fill CTV’s open 10 p.m. timeslot on Sundays where it will follow Blood & Oil.
King also previewed CTV’s new midseason line-up as well, featuring the highly-touted DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow.
DC’S LEGENDS OF TOMORROW
The CW’s latest comic venture, DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow seeks to capitalize off of the success of both Arrow and The Flash by cherry-picking some of the characters from each show to launch a new series. When time-traveling rogue, Rip Hunter (played by Dr. Who’s Arthur Darvill) is tasked with assembling a disparate group of both heroes and villains to confront an unstoppable threat that threatens the entire planet and time in general, the result is an epic story of good and evil. In addition to the familiar faces from Arrow and The Flash, the series will also new characters from the DC Comics pantheon including Hawkgirl (played by Pippin’s Ciara Renee) and Jeff Jackson (played by Edge of Tomorrow’s Franz Drameh).
Bored of his life as the Lord of Hell, Lucifer Morningstar (Tom Ellis, Rush) decides to give up his throne and head to LA to open a piano bar called Lux. The devil seems to be enjoying his retirement when the murder of a young woman outside of his new abode, allows him to feel for the first timein 10 billion years. While Lucifer struggles to explain his newfound humanity, the angel Amenadiel has been sent by God to convince him to go back to Hell.
The new rule in TV says that if Shonda Rhimes is involved in a new series, the odds are that the series is, in all likelihood, a hit in the making. Shondaland’s latest offering, The Catch sees fraud investigator Alice Martin (Mireille Enos, The Killing) become the victim of fraud herself as she is hoodwinked by her own fiancé. While still working her own cases, Martin is determined to find her former flame before news of her swindling ruins her career.
King closed the presentation by introducing some of the talent from CTV”s new U.S. import shows and these stars included Jaimie Alexander (Blindspot), Benjamin Hollingsworth & Bonnie Somerville (Code Black), Yasmine Al Massri, Graham Rogers, & Johanna Braddy (Quantico), Jay Hayden & Jacky Ido (The Catch), Tom Ellis (Lucifer), Caity Lotz, Ciara Renee, & Victor Garber (DC’s Legends of Tomorrow).
So there you have it. Another dominating year coupled with another dominating presentation for Bell Media. While the other networks brought in less than 10 actors combined, CTV wooed ad buyers with a whopping 35 celebrities in attendance. Add that to an impressive party with celebrity photo booths, and it’s easy to see why one media conglomerate seems to be at the top.
For a preview of my red carpet interviews with the talent that CTV brought in, check out the video above. Full videos will be available later this Fall which is when I will also post my sit-down interviews with David Mazouz & Camren Bicondova (Gotham) and Charlie Weber (How To Get Away With Murder).
As an aside, every year that I cover the Upfronts, it has always been a personal mission of mine to try and make it to every celebrity photo booth (a task that some would describe as impossible, given that they are all scheduled at the same times and at various areas of the party space). This year, I was finally able to do it.
Murtz Jaffer is the world's foremost reality television expert and was the host of Reality Obsessed which aired on the TVTropolis and Global Reality Channels in Canada. He has professional writing experience at the Toronto Sun, National Post, TV Guide Canada, TOROMagazine.com and was a former producer at Entertainment Tonight Canada. He was also the editor at Weekendtrips.com.