If we are being upfront about the upfronts, it really isn’t even a competition anymore.
As has now become a regular Canadian custom every June, Bell Media presented its new Fall schedule on Wednesday and used the opportunity to once again highlight the fact that it is is the #1 network in the country.
Wednesday’s presentation at the Sony Centre For The Performing Arts, started off with a light touch as the network’s satirical news program The Beaverton, poked fun at the network’s reliance on The Big Bang Theory as being CTV’s foundation and at the CRTC’s decision at allowing U.S. ads to run during the network’s presentation of the Super Bowl ‘costing the network millions.’ It also was upfront about some of its cancellations from last year including Conviction and Notorious, and blamed this on their lack of sadness which it addressed with its acquisition of last year’s top new program, This Is Us.
From there, new Bell Media President Randy Lennox took the stage. Lennox lauded the network being able to pick-up two Top 10 shows last year in the aforementioned This Is Us and Designated Survivor and told advertisers that CTV had also gained 35% more viewers in the last year. This is an especially impressive number considering the increasing popularity of online streaming. The new boss emphasized the fact that this was CTV’s 16th year in a row as being Canada’s most-watched network. Lennox said that while the formal title of ‘CTV’ stood for Canadian television, the ‘C’ also stood for ‘commitment,’ ‘culture’ and ‘content.’ I believe it also stands for consistency.
CTV’s was upfront about its strategy to secure aspirational programming for its new lineup. While the network has not completely abandoned its focus on superhero shows, it’s clear that the network’s strategy is to capitalize on what is working and for the next year that is ‘This Is Us.’ In a move that is similar to ABC’s strategy, the network concentrated on new programming that highlighted humanity, humility and heart in an effort to connect viewers to shows to develop a serialized relationship.
Another point of interest is the network’s commitment of $150 million to promote both the original shows it produces and to support its American imports. Advertisers were told that this was in an effort to protect their investments.
After some quick promos for TSN and Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole taking the stage to announce their return to Sportscentre, a taped conversation between Innerspace host Teddy Wilson and CTV’s Vice President Of Content & Programming Mike Cosentino. Consentino outlined the new programming coming to specialty including Krypton, Daytime Divas, Electric Dreams and Life Sentence. He also discussed the growth of the Gusto network.
From there, Randy Lennox came back out to introduce Shemar Moore’s new Home Invasion renovation series (huh?). Shemar Moore (a former CTV Upfront stalwart) appeared via tape message. Why is this notable? It’s because the Criminal Minds’ actor will have his other new show, S.W.A.T. air on Global and chose to appear at the rival’s presentation.
One of the shows that I am the most interested in seeing is The Launch. It’s a Bell original series that will be helped by Big Machine’s Scott Borchetta and will track a song from its inception to its wide release. The reality series promises to change the tired scope of voyeuristic competition and will feature Fergie and Ryan Tedder amongst its mentors. It will be especially interesting to see how it fares with the return of American Idol on ABC.
I was especially interested in the presentation by Perry MacDonald (CTV’s English Senior Vice-President of Sales). He talked about how 8/10 of the Top 10 Canadian shows for the 18-34 demographic were owned by CTV and how nearly 10 million Canadians tune into The Big Bang Theory every week. This was in addition to having the top new show last year (Designated Survivor), the top sports program (Super Bowl), and the top entertainment program (The Academy Awards).
Finally, it was time for the new shows. Mike Cosentino returned to the stage and welcomed the hosts of The Social, (Marci Ien, Cynthia Loyst, Lainey Lui, and Melissa Grelo) who began the introductions of the new shows.
ME, MYSELF & I
This show is a refreshing new comedy that spans three distinct periods of Alex Riley’s life. As a 14-year-old boy in 1991, Alex and his mom move from Chicago to Los Angeles where she remarries. In present day, 40-year-old Alex’s life has hit a standstill both professionally and personally. In 2042, Alex is 65 where he realizes that to truly be happy, he has to step away from his company and get back to his inventing passion. The series stars Bobby Moynihan (Saturday Night Live), Jack Dylan Grazer as young Alex, and John Larroquette (The John Larroquette Show) as future Alex.
This show tells the story of a young rapper who is looking for his big break. For years, Courtney Rose has lived in an inner-city apartment making music out of his closet. Tired of waiting for his chance, Courtney decides to run for mayor in an attempt to generate buzz for his music career. His plan goes awry when he actually wins. The series stars Brandon Micheal Hall as Courtney Rose, Lea Michele (Glee) as Valentina, and Yvette Nicole Brown (Community) as Dina.
The prequel to The Big Bang Theory takes place in 1989 where we meet nine-year-old Sheldon Cooper who has skipped four grades to start high school alongside his less-intellectual older brother. Featuring voiceovers from Jim Parsons, audiences get to truly learn more about the misunderstood genius and his upbringing. The series stars Iain Armitage (Big Little Lies) and Zoe Perry (Scandal).
From there, CP24’s Pooja Handa and Gurdeep Ahluwahlia were introduced on stage to introduce The Gospel Of Kevin, and The Good Doctor.
THE GOSPEL OF KEVIN
This show tells the story of clueless Kevin Finn, a self-serving person who is on a dangerous path to despair. Already on a downward spiral, Kevin returns home to stay with his widowed twin sister and niece. On his first night with his family, Kevin is visited by a celestial being named Yvette who tells him that it is his mission is to save the world. The series stars Jason Ritter (Parenthood) as Kevin Finn alongside JoAnna Garcia Swisher (Once Upon A Time).
THE GOOD DOCTOR
Shaun Murphy plays a young surgeon with autism and savant syndrome who relocates from the country to join a prestigious city hospital’s surgical unit. Unable to connect with those around him, the doctor uses his medical gifts to save lives and challenge the skepticism of those around him. The series stars Freddie Highmore (Bates Motel), and Hill Harper (Homeland).
Next, TSN’s Jennifer Hedger and Tessa Bonhomme came out to introduce Ten Days In The Valley and The Indian Detective.
TEN DAYS IN THE VALLEY
Jane Sadler is an overworked television producer and single mother whose young daughter goes missing in the middle of the night. Just like the controversial police TV show that she produces, everything in Jane’s real life is now a mystery where no one can be trusted. The series stars Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer) and Erika Christensen (Parenthood).
THE INDIAN DETECTIVE
Doug D’mello is a charming Toronto cop of Indian heritage whose dreams of becoming a homicide detective are put on hold after he is unjustly suspended. While on leave, D’mello visits his dad in Mumbai where he gets embroiled in a local case and deals with culture shock despite his own heritage. The show stars comedian Russell Peters.
The Your Morning anchors, Ben Mulroney, Lindsey Deluce, Anne-Marie Mediwake, Melissa Grelo & Kelsey McEwan then came out to preview Marvel’s Inhumans and The Gifted.
Marvel’s latest venture looks at the never-before-told adventure of the Royal family including Black Bolt, the commanding King of the Inhumans whose voice is so powerful that it has the ability to destroy a city with a single whisper. After the Royal Family of Inhumans is splintered by a military coup, they manage to escape to Hawaii where they begin to interact with humanity for the first time. The series stars Anson Mount (Conviction) and Serinda Swan (Graceland).
THE GIFTED The Gifted is the story of a suburban couple whose lives are rocked when they discover that their children possess mutant powers. In their attempt to protect their kids, Reed and Caitlin Strucker are forced on the run to flee from a government agency whose mandate is to track down anyone who is different. The series stars Stephen Moyer (True Blood) and Amy Acker (Person of Interest).
Finally, Cosentino returned to discuss the mid-season line-up that will be bolstered with a slate of new Canadian programs. These include the return of Cardinal and the introduction of The Disappearance and The Detail.
THE DISAPPEARANCE The Disappearance is a psychological family drama centered around the unexplained disappearance of 10-year-old Anthony Sullivan on his birthday. The series follows the family as the mystery of their absent child unfolds. It stars Joanne Kelly (Warehouse 13) and Camille Sullivan (The Man In The High Castle).
THE DETAIL The Detail is a 10-episode ensemble drama that features three fiercely talented female homicide investigators who work to solve crimes while navigating the complicated demands of their personal lives. The star-studded cast includes Shenae Grimes-Beech (90210), Angela Griffin (Coronation Street) and Wendy Crewson (Room).
The Canadian series will be supplemented with additional American imports including:
A new show that revolves around a magician whose career is almost ruined. When superstar magician Cameron Black is embarrassed by a scandal, the only move he has left to make is to use his art of deception and illusion to assist the FBI. The show stars Jack Cutmore-Scott and Amaury Nolasco (Prison Break).
UNTITLED GREY’S ANATOMY SPIN-OFF
This untitled Shonda Rhimes spin-off follows a group of heroic firefighters. About the only thing we know is that it will somehow be connected to Grey’s Anatomy, but no other details have been released.
FOR THE PEOPLE
Another Shonda Rhimes effort, this series is set in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. The show follows new lawyer’s working for both the defense and the prosecution as they handle high-stakes cases while managing their personal lives that are often intertwined. The show stars Ben Rappaport (Younger) and Ben Shenkman (Billions).
Described as ‘Lost 2.0,’ this show sees refugees from a war-torn country seeking asylum in a small American fishing town. The twist is that the country the refugees are from is America and the war that they are trying to escape hasn’t actually occurred. The show stars Steve Zahn (Dallas Buyers Club) and Natalie Martinez (Kingdom).
From there, all of the talent that CTV had flown in for the event was ushered out on stage.
Jack Cutmore-Scott – Deception (CTV)
JoAnna Garcia Swisher – The Gospel of Kevin (CTV)
Jason Ritter – The Gospel of Kevin (CTV)
Bobby Moynihan – Me, Myself & I (CTV)
Stephen Moyer – The Gifted (CTV)
Vanessa Williams – Daytime Divas (Bravo)
Cameron Cuffe – Krypton (Space)
Lea Michele – The Mayor (CTV)
Zoe Perry – Young Sheldon (CTV)
CTV/Bell Media Original Productions:
Camille Sullivan – The Disappearance (CTV) *New*
Joanne Kelly – The Disappearance (CTV) *New*
Karine Vanasse – Cardinal (CTV)
Billy Campbell – Cardinal (CTV)
Angela Griffin – The Detail (CTV) *New*
Wendy Crewson – The Detail (CTV) *New*
Shanae Grimes-Beech – The Detail (CTV) *New*
Russell Peters – Russell Peters is the Indian Detective (CraveTV) *New*
Brent Butt – Corner Gas; new animated version (The Comedy Network) *New*
Nathan Dales – Letterkenny (CraveTV)
K. Trevor Wilson – Letterkenny (CraveTV)
Miguel Rivas – The Beaverton (The Comedy Network)
The presentation ended with a first look at Tragically Hip documentary that will feature behind-the-scenes footage of last summer’s televised concert in Kingston. The feature will air in October.
From there, musician Serena Ryder came out to close the show with a live performance.
So there you have it. Another dominating year coupled with another dominating presentation for Bell Media. The network once again dominated in terms of talent brought in for the event with 23 stars in attendance. When people say that television is dead, they clearly have not been to a CTV upfront presentation as the event once again proved that the medium is alive and kicking. 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. The network also improved things on every level at this year’s soiree.
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.
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 close to doing it again.
Here’s my photo gallery from the event:
With The Launch’s Scott Borchetta
With The Disappearance’s Camille Sullivan & Joanne Kelly
With Cardinal’s Billy Campbell & Karine Vanasse
Photo Booth With Cardinal’s Billy Campbell & Karine Vanasse
With Deception’s Jack Cutmore-Scott
With The Gospel Of Kevin’s JoAnna Garcia Swisher & Jason Ritter
Photo Booth With The Gospel Of Kevin’s Jason Ritter & JoAnna Garcia Swisher
With The Mayor’s Lea Michele
Photo Booth With The Mayor’s Lea Michele
With Designated Survivor’s LaMonica Garrett & Italia Ricci
Photo Booth With Designated Survivor’s LaMonica Garrett & Italia Ricci
With The Detail’s Angela Griffin, Shenae Grimes-Beech & Wendy Crewson
With The Detail’s Shenae Grimes-Beech
Photo Booth With The Detail’s Shenae Grimes-Beech, Angela Griffin & Wendy Crewson
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.