Turner Upfront: TNT Pitches 'Wedding Day,' TBS Talks Lopez

TNT's The CloserAs the Turner entertainment networks look to challenge broadcasters for upfront dollars, the group held an upfront event Wednesday that felt like an ABC or NBC presentation circa 2004. A parade of stars at TNT and TBS -- from Ray Romano to George Lopez to Holly Hunter -- appealed to advertisers with banter, comedic bits or ostensibly heartfelt feelings about their characters.

Reiterating a tagline he has used in the upfront run-up, David Levy, president of ad sales, suggested that media buyers are paying "a legacy tax" -- meaning higher CPMs out of step with cable's growing ratings. And he added that those prices can be for shows that were in their heyday a decade ago. (Many run in repeats on TNT and TBS.)

With cable's increasing investment in original programming, the industry has used a "One TV World" calling card, arguing that the division between broadcast and cable quality has become blurred. Levy said it is flat-out gone. "There is no line ... why should there be one on a media plan?" he said.



In a similar vein, and apparently making some reference to NBC scheduling Jay Leno five nights a week, Steve Koonin, president of the Turner Entertainment Networks, said: "The reality is broadcast is turning out low-budget programming." And, he added, networks are relying more on it.

Also appearing was Linda Yaccarino, a top ad sales executive, who pitched advertisers on Turner's willingness to create custom solutions, be it sponsored interstitials during breaks or the chance to back a commercial-free premiere. Dialing up some humor about what looks to be lengthy upfront negotiations, she called for dialogue "in the weeks ahead. Please don't make it months," she quipped.

Turner announced that TNT would offer three nights with original dramas this summer. Mondays will have "The Closer" at 9 p.m., followed by the second season of legal drama "Raising the Bar."

On Tuesday, the night will begin with a new reality show from Mark Burnett and DreamWorks Television called "Wedding Day," which promises to give couples a dream wedding. The series marks TNT's first foray into the unscripted programming genre that dominates much of cable. (Nationwide and Comfort Inn are among the sponsors already signed.)

After "Wedding" on Tuesday will come the debut season of medical drama "Hawthorne" with Jada Pinkett Smith. The third season of Hunter's "Saving Grace" will follow.

On Wednesday, Robin Hood-themed drama "Leverage" -- which debuted in December -- returns, followed by new police drama "Dark Blue." TNT also announced that Ray Romano will headline "a character-based drama" called "Men of a Certain Age," that takes a "wry look at what it means to be a guy approaching midlife."

While Levy argues that the gap between broadcast and cable has been eliminated in program quality, it is possible that the top Turner dramas would not garner the same ratings if they ran regularly during the September-to-May broadcast season.

This season, TNT -- by one measure -- has posted a 1% increase in 18-to-49 ratings to a .8. Kyra Sedgwick of "The Closer" appeared on stage, as did the full casts of other dramas -- an upfront tradition that has lost some steam recently as advertisers have clamored for shorter presentations. (Turner promised 90 minutes and stayed largely in line.)

With "Wedding Day" already scheduled, TNT also has two additional reality series in development, including "The Mayo Clinic," a look inside the famed medical institution.

At TBS, the network is debuting a late-night talk show with George Lopez in November. And next year, it will launch its first original animation series "Neighbors From Hell," which it will pair with repeats of "Family Guy."

TBS has seen ratings, by one measure, slip 3% this broadcast season in the 18-to-49 demo to a .9.

At the third, male-skewing network in the Turner group, truTV, a notable new show carries the working title "NFL Full Contact." It offers a behind-the-scenes look at NFL operations from on-site security to the drama in the broadcast booth. Network general manager Marc Juris said "Full Contact" will be "the first of many sports shoulder programming you're going to see throughout our evolution."

Another new series features former Navy SEAL, wrestler and governor Jesse Ventura taking on the role of a conspiracy investigator.

TruTV ratings, by one measure, are up this season 5% in the 18-to-49 demo to a .4.

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