As proof of how this election season has become not just a political, but a cultural touchstone, Turner’s upfront presentation at the Theater at Madison Square Garden was organized around the meta conceit that it was a story being chronicled by Turner-owned CNN.
And for that gag to work, the audience of would-be advertisers had to have more than a passing familiarity with the catch phrases and conventions used by its star hosts. And one long, continuing election, 83 million combined viewers across CNN’s debates, and some notable digital and television audience growth later, the audience was.
Wolf Blitzer began the upfront with a variation on the catchphrase he uses to begin his own show, The Situation Room. “The 2016 Turner upfront starts … right now,” said Blitzer as the room darkened and a video, narrated movie-preview style, played on the screen on stage.
When the video ended, Blitzer was joined by anchor Anderson Cooper on a stage decorated with two podiums that vaguely resembled the ones CNN used for its debates. That was the point, it turned out, as Cooper was brought on to host a town hall with Conan O’Brien and Charles Barkley.
“Why are you even doing this, Anderson,” O’Brien asked, pointing to some of Cooper’s accomplishments before observing, “now you’re shilling for the Powerpuff girls.”
And later, the Powerpuff girls, a staple of Turner’s Cartoon Network got the CNN treatment, as a video clip depicted a debate on the fictional TNN, “paid for by Make America cute again” and hosted by fictional moderator Drake Dapper. The debate participants were the Powerpuff girls, answering questions about their favorite horses, taking on the big cranks, and playing the girl card.
Drake Dapper‘s real-life inspiration, Jake Tapper, was there too, along with Dana Bash, who were gauging audience reaction to the town hall. They were led in by Blitzer, who interrupted the town hall with breaking news, happening on the screen as Cooper and his guests remained on stage. “The opening sketch has done—and I’m quoting now— ‘better than expected,'” said Blitzer.
“I think he showed some remarkable insight,” said Tapper of Cooper’s performance. “You could tell these lines were written for me,” he added.
“I think he has some work to do before his next town hall,” said Bash.
And even as the opening gave way to the real work of presenting a look into Turner’s upcoming offerings, shows and projects, the elections—their unbelievability, the great gift they represented (or a “fucking gift from heaven” as Samantha Bee put it)—were a recurring theme, referenced by network execs and stars appearing onstage.
“If there’s one thing this peyote hallucination of an election has taught us, it’s that anything can happen,” Bee said. One of those unbelievable things is that she’s “dying to go to Cleveland,” she said, referring to this summer’s Republican convention happening there. Bee made a pitch for a sponsor to help her secure a $100,000 convention sponsorship, complete with her image hanging from a banner.
“I hope we continue to do this until the end of time,” said Bee of her TBS show Full Frontal “which based on this election may be sooner than any of us think.”
The upfront ended the way it began, with Blitzer continuing the theme announcing that CNN was ready to make a projection. In a closing both cheesy and cute, he announced the winner was Turner, checkmark and all.
(Photos: Chris Ariens)