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Networks Bullish at Upfront

Mar 31, 2003  •  Post A Comment

This is the year that Discovery Networks will do $500 million in the upfront, compared with last year’s $350 million.
That was the buoyant prediction Joe Abruzzese, president, advertising sales, Discovery Networks, made just before Discovery’s upfront presentation, one of two such presentations held last week in Manhattan.
At that lavish presentation for approximately 900 advertising executives and others, which took place among the ancient splendors of the American Museum of Natural History, Judith McHale, president and chief operating officer, Discovery Communications, announced a $2.5 billion five-year investment in original programming for the company’s U.S. networks. That investment will allow for a near doubling in Discovery’s rate of original production.
Mr. Abruzzese, like many other TV and ad executives in recent weeks, tempered his optimism with a caveat about the war in Iraq. “If the war ends quickly, the upfront could be over in a week,” he said. “If it drags on, we could be here in August.”
Meanwhile at the Court TV upfront presentation, an intimate affair for approximately a dozen journalists, Henry Schleiff, Court’s chairman and CEO, announced that his network intends to spend an estimated $180 million on programming over the next two years, with 70-75 percent of the budget going to original programming, including a series of documentaries to be made with attorneys Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld and their Innocence Project, a pro bono legal assistance organization that has been instrumental in overturning more than 100 criminal convictions on the basis of DNA evidence.
Discovery Series
Last week’s two Manhattan upfronts were a study in contrasting styles. For Court, it was an informal breakfast at a Park Avenue hotel, with a PowerPoint presentation illustrating the network’s new series and its Join The Investigation and Effectiveness advertising themes. For Discovery, which also held a relatively low-key upfront presentation last year, this time it was a large affair, as well-staged and glitzy as that of any of the Big 4 broadcast networks, with receptions in both the museum’s Hall of Northwest Coast Indians and its Rose Center for Earth and Space.
Veteran observers at the Discovery event presumed that the presentation’s show-biz grandeur reflected the influence of Mr. Abruzzese and William “Billy” Campbell, president, Discovery Networks U.S, two former broadcast-network executives who have joined Discovery in the past year.
Discovery’s presentation covered 13 networks, from its flagship Discovery Channel to its newest, the Discovery Times Channel. Highlights include:
* On Discovery, the extension of the Monster Garage franchise to the new Monster House. Discovery also is adapting the forensics craze to the ancient world in a 10-part BBC series called Ancient Evidence, debunking urban myths in Myth Busters and looking at examples of people performing seemingly impossible feats in Superhuman.
* On TLC, new Trading Spaces specials include a behind-the-scenes special and a bloopers show.
* On Animal Planet, new reality series include Beverly Hills Vet, Miami Animal Vice, which is about animal control officers, and Five Go Wild, in which a family moves from Los Angeles to a Kenyan wildlife sanctuary.
* On Travel Channel, new series include Get Packing, a reality dating game, and Made in America, which will focus on such icons as Airstream and Harley-Davidson.
* On Discovery Health, new series include Second Opinion, a 13-episode medical-issues talk show hosted by heart surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz; Buff Brides, about brides-to-be getting in shape for their wedding day, and American Medical Honors, the network’s first awards show. Second Opinion also will air on the Discovery Channel.
Back at the Court TV presentation, CEO Henry Schleiff called the network a “strong, clear brand” with targeted, “attentive” viewers.
“Are we the single answer to the advertisers’ dreams, problems? No,” said Mr. Schleiff, but Court TV is “part of the puzzle.”
The network will continue its “Nick/Nick at Nite existence,” he added, telecasting trials during the daytime and focusing on original programming at night during prime time.
Court also is in talks with NBC to repeat its successful reverse-repurposing experiment of last summer in which the Peacock Network aired episodes of Forensic Files, Court’s signature show, which has a 40-new-episode order this year, Mr. Schleiff said.
Court TV’s projects include:
* How Did It Happen? A new half-hour series that looks at the hows and whys of crashes, accidents and catastrophes.
* Hollywood Justice (working title), what happens “when good stars go bad,” which is how Art Bell, Court’s programming executive VP, characterized this new half-hour series about the legal difficulties of celebrities.
* House of Clues, a pilot for a series in which two teams compete to profile people based on the everyday items found in their homes.
* Uniform Justice, a one-hour special that’s also a series pilot examining the workings of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
* Imposter, a half-hour special that’s also a series pilot that focuses on notorious con artists.
Other projects were previewed March 17.