A+E Networks Throws Elbows

Upfront presentation features jabs at rival nets

A+E Networks owns History, A&E and Lifetime and clearly feels like it's about time it got some respect.

At a blowout presentation at Lincoln Center in New York, the network's ad sales president, Mel Berning, told buyers in no uncertain terms that it was time for them to pony up. "In the face of declines at our competitors, we deserve more of your ad dollars," Berning said.

Company CEO Abbe Raven went on to name names. "We do not want the 25th generation of the Pawn and Storage shows like TLC, Tru or Discovery," she told the crowd. She also threw in a veiled shot at fellow top-five network TBS, saying that her company's programmers "are not following the 'Big Bang' strategy where 75 percent of the schedule is off-broadcast programming."

History and Lifetime president and gm Nancy Dubuc (in a dress that matched the new Lifetime logo) put it succinctly. "A programmer not bragging is like Mel telling you you got a good deal," she said.

It was a big night for the high-profile cable networks; for the first time, History showed footage from its upcoming The Bible, a scripted miniseries produced by Mark Burnett; A&E touted the newly announced Southie Rules and recent hit Duck Dynasty; but the belle of the ball was clearly Lifetime, newly rebranded and out to score higher on the ranker than it has in recent years. The network devoted several minutes to its new adaptation of Steel Magnolias and kept Jennifer Love Hewitt (star of The Client List) front and center during the evening.

The actress returned at the end of the shkowcase during Berning's wrap-up solely to embarrass the usually soft-spoken exec. "Mel, do you want to be on my list?" Love Hewitt asked, an arm around the blushing Berning. "There are, uh, quite a few guys out in the audience who would take you up on that, I'm sure," Berning said.

Entertainment for the evening was notably high-end: trendy Brit band Florence + the Machine played a longer-than-usual (for an upfront, at least) set, with lead singer Florence Welch encouraging the small but fervent crowd who weren't exploring the open bar to jump up and down and clap their hands as she took off her sky-high heels and twirled around the stage, hands in the air.

"I want people waking up tomorrow, thinking about people they weren't with, and going,'Oh, God,'" said Welch. "Together, we can make that happen."