Late last month Foxtel executive director of television Brian Walsh made his annual pilgrimage to New York and Los Angeles to preview the US TV year ahead.
Upon his return he gave Mediaweek access to his May tour diary. Here are some of the highlights.
“In New York you get a perspective from the networks as to their strategy and the trends and how they are addressing viewership,” Walsh told Mediaweek. “The week in LA is purely about the shows.
“If you go and just see the shows you not looking at them in the context of why they are being commissioned. If you do the Upfronts and then the screenings you are getting context as well as content.
“With all the changes that are affecting our business globally the Upfronts were probably more relevant than ever. The big issue that all the networks addressed was advertising.
“The streaming services have conditioned people consuming scripted product commercial-free. It is an ongoing issue for networks in the US and in Australia how on-air advertising is managed in the future.”
Brian’s Tour Diary
• Arrive New York Sunday May 13
• 10am Monday NBC Universal at Radio City Music Hall
“Of all the networks NBC is the most spectacular. They spend the most money on their big corporate story for the group, not just the network. The E! network does live coverage of the NBC red carpet, which you can watch on the big screen inside the theatre while waiting for the upfront to start. The show is designed by an Australian, Julio Himede, who worked at MTV and used to do the MTV Music Awards. He relocated to New York and the show was absolutely breathtaking. All the stars from NBC did a big song and dance event. During the show there were all the athletes who won Gold for the US at the Winter Olympics, a WWE boxing ring was featured and then the show finished with Jennifer Lopez and 100 dancers to promote an NBC summer series called World Of Dance. During all that they take you through the content and explain their strategy.”
• 4pm Monday Fox at Beacon Theatre
Stars onstage included Homer Simpson and Tim Allen, while Cosmos host Neil DeGrasse Tyson did some of the announcements.
After the Fox presentation they supplied a fleet of buses that take guests to Central Park for a giant Fox party in marquees. Walsh met some of the Fox stars at the party including Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane.
• 10am Tuesday ESPN Upfront at Minskoff Theatre (Home to The Lion King on Broadway)
It was a pure sports presentation featuring hosts, commentators and analysts from the network’s biggest sporting properties.
• 4pm Tuesday ABC at the Lincoln Centre
Hosted by Jimmy Kimmel with clips of all the forthcoming shows, they take you through the programming grid and their programming strategy. Jimmy Kimmel always does a send-up of the network, which is very funny. One of the guests at the ABC upfront was Roseanne. She was introduced as the star of the biggest success the channel has had in 24 years. ABC have their post-presentation party in Central Park at Tavern on the Green.
• 10am Wednesday Turner Networks Upfront at Madison Square Garden
That is a big cable network presentation as Turner go through each of their networks. Guests included Conan O’Brien, actors Steve Buscemi, Chris Pine and Ellen Barkin and the recently controversial Samantha Bee.
• 4pm Wednesday CBS Upfront at Carnegie Hall
CEO Les Moonves came onstage to a standing ovation from all the advertisers who are big supporters of CBS. That would have been very pleasing for him given the dispute with Viacom at present. CBS then have a party at the Plaza Hotel. It is held over five levels with unbelievable food, drink and all the CBS stars. There was a young actor from Neighbours, Felix Mallard, who has just been cast in the CBS series Happy Together.
I then caught up with Lincoln Younes, who has just been given a plumb role by Eva Longoria in her new soap Grand Hotel.
• 10am Thursday CW Upfront at New York City Centre
The network announced that Jane the Virgin, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and iZombie would all end after 2018-19. There is no stopping Riverdale, which CW said was its most-watched series in digital last year. Producer Greg Berlanti will be busy next year with 14 series in production including all five of CW’s DC Entertainment superhero shows.
With the New York Upfronts at an end, it’s time to head to JFK Airport for a flight to Los Angeles.
The Foxtel team in Los Angeles with Brian Walsh for the screenings was CEO Patrick Delany, Amanda Laing, Stephen Baldwin, Fleur Fahey and Daniel Wallman.• 9am Friday Fox
Foxtel gets to see the 20th Century Fox product first and then the Foxtel team has dinner with the Fox executives on Friday night.
• 9am Saturday CBS
The screenings last all day on the Paramount lot. While Foxtel has a private screening at Fox, the CBS screening is inside a huge theatre with buyers from all around the world.
A team from Network Ten was also at the CBS screening including CEO Paul Anderson with programmers Beverley McGarvey and Daniel Monaghan.
• 4pm Saturday at London Hotel on Sunset with Sky Vision
Sky Vision screened two shows – Patrick Melrose and A Discovery Of Witches. They were both terrific. On Saturday night Sky Vision have a function for buyers and media.
• 10am Sunday HBO at Directors Guild Theatre on Sunset
HBO screened two episodes of Sharp Objects, which is arresting television. It stars Amy Adams and features a great young Australian actress called Eliza Scanlen.
• Sunday afternoon
A traditional event every year is a barbecue at the home of the president and CEO, CBS Studios International, Armando Nuñez. Les Moonves and his wife always attend in addition to various stars from CBS.
On Sunday night our team split up. Some went to Disney for their screening reception, which is a party on their backlot.
Patrick Delany and I went to a dinner hosted by HBO with the producers of Westworld – Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy. That was an opportunity to talk to the head of drama at HBO about all the upcoming scripted series we will have at Foxtel and gauging their interest on coming on board.
• 9am Monday morning
Early start again for NBC Universal product at Universal Studios.
All-day screenings until around 4pm.
Monday 5pm MGM have annual cocktail party event.
Then on Monday at 6.30pm Amanda Laing and I had dinner with HBO with Charles Schreger and Jennifer Bowen.
• 9am Tuesday Warner Bros all-day screening at Burbank studios
The group then split up with some going to dinner at the home of Jeffrey Schlesinger, head of Worldwide Television Distribution for Warner Bros.
I went with some of the others to the NBC producers dinner at Spago in Beverly Hills. I got to sit next to the president of NBC, Bob Greenblatt, and the former star of Thirtysomething, Ken Olin, who is now a director and producer of New Amsterdam, which could be the break-out hit of the year.
• 9am Wednesday Sony Pictures in Culver City
Chance to see all the Sony TV product. Later that night Sony Pictures have their screenings party.
• 9am Thursday at Disney
Final day of screenings.
Afternoon meeting with FX about the new Foxtel output deal with the cable channel.
Thursday night final event of the screening calendar, the 20th Century Fox party, which they always have on the backlot.
“We got to see some terrific television as well as a few stinkers,” Walsh told Mediaweek.
He said the wheeling and dealing about the show Foxtel wants to acquire got under way after the team arrived back in Sydney.
“My standouts for premium drama would be Sharp Objects and Ryan Murphy’s Pose, which is very different and could really strike a chord with audiences. It is a story set in Manhattan in the late 1980s as the AIDS epidemic was taking a grip on the gay community. It features amazing music from the 80s and is visually rich, full-on camp with amazing costumes, incredible performances and real heart. I also loved Mayans MC, which is the sequel to Sons Of Anarchy.”
Foxtel will get Sharp Objects because it is from HBO. They will also get Pose and Mayans MC. “I am not being biased – they were the standouts.
“In terms of network series, the standout was New Amsterdam, which is about a hospital in New York. That will end up on a FTA network in Australia.
“The theme of the year is everything old is new again. It is the year of reboots. Magnum PI looks terrific and features a Hispanic lead as Thomas Magnum. Other reboots include Charmed, Murphy Brown and Roswell.”
Top photo: The cast of Gifted at the Fox Upfront with Brian Walsh (centre) and special guest appearance of Sky News boss Angelos Frangopoulos (right)