2010 Upfronts: Turner Networks Plug Talent, Remain Committed to Innovative Video Presentation

By Michael O'Connell May 25, 2010, 2:55 PM EDT

Conan O'Brien kicking off the Turner upfront

Photo: WireImage.com

Throughout the final days of Upfront Week, television networks punched up presentations with surprise performances and continued celebrations late into the evening with private concerts and intimate parties. Turner Entertainment properties TNT, TBS, and Adult Swim blocked off most of last Wednesday with ploys to entertain advertisers, while maintaining a focus on strong video presentations to win their business.

“It's not a full-time job for any of us, it's a side project,” said Turner senior vice president of network asset management Laura Dames of her large staff that plans the TNT and TBS upfront. “But we spend the entire year assessing what went well the year before and how we can do it better.”

Much of that advanced planning went out the window just a month ago, when TBS announced plans for a late-night talk show for Conan O'Brien, one of the industry's biggest free agents since his sudden departure from The Tonight Show. “We work in 24-hour television, so being on our toes is not something new for us,” said Dames. “After a little discussion we decided to have him open the presentation.”

O'Brien stepped out before the crowd at the Hammerstein Ballroom for a 10-minute comedy set that featured a cover performance of WIllie Nelson's “On The Road Again.” Other TBS and TNT talent—including George Lopez—followed him on stage, but the crowd-pleasing bits aren't at the heart of planning an upfront for Dames. “Video and the audio is always the most critical part,” Dames said. “We're selling our shows and they need to be presented in the best way possible.”

Turner's event team and production vendor, Event Resources, had designer Mike Rhoads conceptualize a stage (built by Atomic Design) that featured interactive ribbons of video to the sides of the main projection screen. Video programmer Laura Frank, lighting director Tom Beck, and Turner producer Matt Bunting rounded out the team responsible for the presentation.

Later that day, another branch of the Turner family, Cartoon Network, held its annual late-night Adult Swim party. The network decked out Gotham Hall in dollar sign gobos, chocolate coins, and piles of fake cash for the money-themed event. M.I.A. joined the ranks of recent headliners Kanye West and T-Pain by closing out the party with a performance.

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