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Bravo's Upfront Party Brings in the Swells

Network still on an upswing, with new scripted content in development, more 'Housewives'

'The Real Housewives of Orange County'

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When you arrived at last night's Bravo upfront, a nylon tent with plastic windows in it had been erected around the front of the venue—one of those former New York warehouse spaces way out on West 22nd Street near 10th Avenue. The entrance was a big roller-shutter door, like a garage, and when you stepped inside the little box (another door a few feet away), colored LEDs and a really, really enthusiastic voice welcomed you to the Bravo upfront, where you'd be making over "your favorite Bravo-lebrities." Then the floor started to move, and you realized you were in a freight elevator.

The NBCUniversal lifestyle network has a big programming slate this year. The net has green-lighted 11 new series with titles like LA Shrinks and Miss Advised and a show about yachting enthusiasts called Below Deck. There are also a pair of scripted series in development—22 Birthdays, about misbehaving parents of kids at a tony private school, and Blowing Sunshine, set in a rehab center.

According to data provided by SNL Kagan, the Bravo gravy train is continuing to chug along. The company predicted a small increase in subscription fees this year (21 cents per sub, from 20 in 2011), an uptick in gross ad revenue ($439.5 million, up from $410.9) and an operating revenue increase of about $37 million. As the network increases in size, it becomes harder to sustain the monster growth that pushed it into the spotlight, but those projected increases would still be more than respectable.

Bravo is down 4 percent in the prime-time dollar demo for Q1 2012, and its signature franchise, the Real Housewives suite of reality series, is getting a little long in tooth. The network's strategy appears to run thusly: find the most interesting women on the various Housewives and spin them off into as many new shows as seems reasonable until Bravo has a talent pool of reality-show stars each anchoring their own series. The scripted series may be a hedge on that bet, but remember that it's not the first time Bravo has strayed away from its all-nonfiction formula in the development slate. The unreal housewives have yet to make it to the screen.

Last night's shindig seemed to impress. Bravo began bringing its celebrities into the room with its buyers a few years ago, and it's still in that business. By the stairwell, as buyers and journos sipped wine and investigated ornate canapes, the net's talent—mostly fashionable women in their 30s and 40s—surreptitiously replaced the shoes they'd used to walk to the venue with stilettos, pumps and platforms.