Turner Broadcasting hosted its 2015 upfront event at New York City’s legendary Madison Square Garden on Wednesday morning, uniting all of its formerly separate brands for its first combined ad sales event ever.
The presentation had a sports theme, which was appropriate as Turner’s TNT is currently playing a key role in NBA Playoffs coverage. A consistent on-stage presence from the “NBA on TNT” gang — pulling double-duty as both salesmen and hosts — contributed laughter and general levity to what could be otherwise perceived as a semi-stuffy event.
But it was the pro comics that really held the crowd over the lengthy presentation. Comedians Billy Eichner (pictured above) and Robert Smigel‘s Triumph the Insult Comic Dog kept the media buyers and journalists on their toes, laughing, and generally not getting too bored in the middle of a long week for industry members.
New TNT/TBS boss Kevin Reilly also tried his hand at landing some jokes, to mixed results, as fairly weighted for an amateur. But what Reilly may lack in natural comedic timing, he gains in premium programming, strong cable ratings and a solid industry reputation — a trade-off the former Fox TV boss is likely to be fine with.
Here are 7 things TheWrap saw and heard during Turner’s MSG upfront event:
NBA Analysts Just Wanna Have Fun
Turner’s upfront opened with the “NBA on TNT” guys doing a pre-game show of sorts on stage. They would come back often to walk press and media buyers through the show.
As per usual, the guys did not take themselves or the format too seriously. Of meeting Jennifer Beal at an upfront event, Charles Barkley quipped: “I’ve had a lot of nights with her, I’m glad to finally meet her.”
Later, Barkley teased friend and colleague Kenny “The Jet” Smith about his TruTV reality show: “All these shows have a real chance of being successful, because if you saw his shitty show…” Barkley said of the cable channel’s new lineup.
Towards the end of the morning, straight man Ernie Johnson thrilled the crowd with a solid Shaquille O’Neal impression.
Though when EJ teased fan-favorite Barkley about any myriad of shortcomings, the Round Mound of Rebound threated: “Ernie, you think I won’t punch you in the head in front of all these people here?”
But Analysts Gonna Analyze
Among all the silliness, the guys did eventually get around to offering their picks for NBA Champion. Smith and Barkley both went with the Chicago Bulls, while Shaq stuck with the Golden State Warriors.
Kevin Reilly Jokes
Kevin Reilly had a public coming out of sorts on Wednesday morning, taking the stage as TNT/TBS boss. He also came with a mixed bag of jokes, some that landed, others that didn’t.
On being with Turner for five months, Reilly said: “
On Turner’s promise to dig deeper on customer data, getting to know their consumers more intimately, he offered: “I mean, why should the NSA have all the fun?”
His best-received joke was his last: On the success of “Conan’s” on-location clips: “Conan was so great in Cuba, I can’t wait to ship him off to North Korea.”
Triumph the Insult Comic Dog … Insults
Robert Smigel‘s Triumph the Insult Comic Dog was in the MSG crowd next to “The Jack and Triumph Show” co-star Jack McBrayer. The cigar-chomping pooch puppet had some solid quips for his Turner brethren.
Addressing Wolf Blitzer, who was sitting in front of Triumph and Jack: “By the way, Wolf, I really respect that you kept your porno name [in the news business].”
On the celebrities all around: “We’ve got an incredible lineup of stars, all struggling to stay awake.”
Finally, this shot at big man O’Neal brought the house down: “Shaq, there’s a lot of corporate bigwigs here, so try to keep the mumbling down to the minimum,” Triumph said. “I love you Shaw but Charlie Brown’s teacher is easier to understand”
Billy Eichner Scores
“Billy on the Street” star Billy Eichner was the only one who killed more than that little puppy puppet. Eichner referred to fellow TruTV show “impractical jokers” as “a great show for people who thought ‘Punk’d’ was a little too high-brow.”
Eichner also referred to the upfront event as having the feeling of a “Scientology convention.” He was not completely incorrect.
The in-your-face comedian also stated of his new comedy home: “It’s an honor to be on what’s known in the industry as the former Court TV.”
Anderson Cooper Does His Thing
After all the laughs, Anderson Cooper came out to tout the cable news portion of Turner Broadcasting. On his own channel, CNN, Cooper said that he and his colleagues feel “a renewed sense of purpose,” calling their lineup “fresh … and stable.”
“We know exactly who we are and exactly where we’re going,” Cooper promised the crowd of advertisers.
Legendary former NBA Center was given the last word of the lengthy Turner presentation. He used it to address a TNT actress in the audience: “Sharon Stone, will you marry me?” he asked.
Shaq didn’t get a response, but a betting man (like Barkley) would go all-in on “No.”