A funny thing happened on the way to the broadcast network “upfront” presentations this week in New York: We detoured on Wednesday to the only cable event of the week – the one thrown by co-owned TNT and TBS – and were reminded that the cable guys have just as much star power and just as many great shows as the broadcast nets.
Certainly, we already knew this – what with all the great shows (particularly original dramas) that are all over cable these days – but it was worth relearning this week because it helped put the glitzy presentations the broadcasters (CBS, NBC, Fox, ABC) mounted for the advertising community in perspective.
Talk about star power – at the TNT/TBS presentation, so many stars of so many shows took the stage simultaneously that you could almost hear the stage creak. At one time, the audience assembled at the 105-year-old Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan could ogle the entire casts of “Leverage,” “HawthoRNe,” “Southland,” “Memphis Beat,” “Rizzoli & Isles” and “Men of a Certain Age” – all shows the broadcast networks should envy (including one, “Southland,” that NBC discarded, though it’s widely considered the best cop drama on television).
Take Ray Romano. He stood on stage as part of this huge assemblage alongside his “Men of a Certain Age” costars Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher (both of whom made their bones on network television) and you couldn’t help remembering that, not too long ago, Ray was the biggest star on CBS and “Everybody Loves Raymond” was No. 1 in the Monday time period where uncertainty now reigns due to the turmoil at “Two and a Half Men.” Now Ray’s producing and starring in a drama series on TNT that’s been acclaimed as one of the best-written series on television and won a Peabody award.
Ray even came out on stage to do a little stand-up when technical glitches threatened to derail the entire presentation. When you go to these upfronts (which are so named because they inaugurate the sale of future commercial time – ad time bought “upfront” before the new shows come on the air), it’s always easy to be dazzled by the stars they trot out, particularly when they perform (such as Monday when Christina Aguilera performed at the NBC presentation).
It was no less true at the TNT/TBS event, where attendees got to see stand-up performances from not only Ray Romano, but George Lopez and Conan O’Brien. As reported elsewhere, Conan took the opportunity to get in a few digs at his former employer, NBC. One of them went like this: Conan said he had just been backstage schmoozing with some of his fellow Turner stars – including Noah Wyle, former star of “ER” on NBC and now starring in the upcoming “Falling Skies” on TNT. “We were having our monthly ‘Survivors of NBC’ meeting!” Conan quipped.
A wee bit of news was revealed on the Conan front: Now firmly based in L.A., he’ll take his show – “Conan” – on the road next fall for a week of shows from New York, where he was formerly based as the host of NBC’s “Late Night.” He’ll do a week of shows from Chicago in 2012, TBS announced.
The TNT/TBS attendees got to watch previews of new TNT shows “Falling Skies” (the alien-invasion drama from Steven Spielberg), “Perception” (starring Eric McCormack) and “Franklin & Bash” (the lawyer buddy drama with Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Breckin Meyer). We also saw a preview of the new hourlong TBS comedy “The Wedding Band,” starring Brian Austin Green, Harold Perrineau and Melora Hardin. Every single one of these shows looked great.
Also full of potential: The “Closer” spinoff called “Major Crimes,” starring Mary McDonnell. TNT made it official at the upfront, announcing that it has ordered 10 episodes of the new show, although plans for this spinoff were already widely known and reported previously. On the show, McDonnell will play her “Closer” character, LAPD Capt. Sharon Raydor, who often clashed with Chief Brenda Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick). “Major Crimes” won’t debut until after “The Closer” runs its course in summer 2012. TNT didn’t say which, if any, of the “Closer” supporting cast would continue with “Major Crimes.”
In fact, the entire supporting cast of the revered “Closer” came on stage at the TNT upfront, led by Sedgwick, who gave a speech and cried – a memorable upfront moment.