June 4, 2023

Disney’s annual upfront presentation relied heavily on the company’s unscripted programming, starting with nearly an hour of coverage of ESPN and its sports offerings. The emphasis on live events comes naturally as the writers’ strike continues and is expected to affect the TV season in the fall.

In fact, about 100 Writers Guild members and other union supporters marched outside the Javits Center on Tuesday to remind Disney that they are still seeking a deal with the company and the other studios. Among those seen on the picket line: Zach Cherry and Michael Emerson.

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The Javits featured sports and news stars from within Disney, while reality personalities such as Kim and Khloe Kardashian, Jesse Palmer and Ryan Seacrest also made appearances. Even WABC-TV New York anchors Sade Baderinwa and Bill Ritter got some time on stage.

Read some of the key points from the presentation below.

The writers’ strike looms – even if it’s not mentioned

One only has to look ahead at this year’s Disney lineup (or ABC’s fall schedule) to recognize that the company is clearly feeling the effects of the writers’ strike. The vast majority of the presentation was devoted to unscripted programs such as live sports, reality TV and news. It took over 70 minutes for Kevin Feige to take the stage and present footage from some of the new Marvel shows (more on that below), marking the first proper presentation of a scripted series upfront.

There was also no formal mention of the strike by anyone on stage, although Rita Ferro, Disney’s president of ad sales (that’s her pictured above), did speak of “difficult challenges” facing television this year.

Sport Run down the clock

In case it wasn’t obvious, Disney has a strong presence in live sports thanks to ESPN. The Mouse House devoted more than 45 minutes of their two-hour presentation to their sports offerings, covering college and professional football as well as the NBA and WNBA. It also featured sports stars such as Damar Hamlin (who received a standing ovation), Serena Williams (who announced a new docuseries), Pat McAfee (who announced he was coming to ESPN), Breanna Stewart, Angel Reese, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and more.

While live sports are undoubtedly important to advertisers, given that they still draw huge live audiences, the energy in the room started to slow down after about 30 minutes, but no one had the common sense to blow the clock.

No Kimmel? Bit of a problem

Advertisers and journalists expect Jimmy Kimmel’s annual roast of Disney, ABC and the TV landscape at large to be a highlight of upfronts week. But Kimmel did not show up for the event, in solidarity with the writers’ strike. The executives and talents in attendance did their best to throw out some zingers, but the effect was not the same.

“Star Wars” and Marvel are coming to blows

Marvel boss Kevin Feige and Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy brought the goods, both offering a first look at some of their upcoming Disney+ shows. Feige kicked off with a preview of the upcoming “Secret Invasion” series, including a scene with Samuel L. Jackson and Don Cheadle. He then showed footage from both “Loki” season 2 and the “Hawkeye” spin-off “Echo”, in addition to announcing premiere dates for both.

Kennedy was next, with the first looks of the “Star Wars” shows “The Acolyte” and “Skeleton Crew”. She also starred in a new promo clip for ‘Ahsoka’, starring Rosario Dawson.

Seacrest represents the scripted side

As previously reported, most stars with primetime scripts have opted to sit out this year’s preliminaries in support of the writers’ strike. Without any talent to talk about their individual shows, “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest has been tapped to crank up most of Disney’s scripted offerings, from ABC to Hulu to Disney+. It was also quite telling that Seacrest’s part was at the end of the presentation and only appeared for about 20 minutes.

FX’s “Shogun” Makes Highly Anticipated Debut

Perhaps the pinnacle of the Disney presentation came at the very end, when FX debuted a first look at its long-running series adaptation of the novel “Shogun,” which the network first debuted in 2018. The first look was set up by a dozen or so performers clad in samurai armor take the stage and engage in a brief sword fight before the images rolled. Not a bad way to wake people up on a sleepy Tuesday afternoon.

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