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Turner Upfront: Conan, Plus Some TV Channels

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From the perspective of Turner Networks executives, the reason to be at their upfront presentation this morning (which previewed the schedules of TBS and TNT), was “reach.” Even though this is traditionally the week that the big broadcast networks present their schedules, they argued, their cable networks reached enough viewers combined for them to be presenting in the same week.

From the perspective of reality, however, the reason to be there this morning was for Conan O’Brien. TBS’s new star, whose talk show will debut November 8, kicked off the presentation—and maybe gave a taste of the style of his new show—with a little comedy and a little song.

O’Brien, taking a break from his national stage tour, started things off with a video spoofing his period of unemployment. It opens with a fat Conan lying on the floor, surrounded by pizza crusts and beer bottles, when the phone rings. “There’s no Debbie here, man!” He makes a smoothie from Orange Crush and Crisco. He gets the dog to lick peanut butter off his toes and sobs. His daughter finds him sleeping in an armchair and yells, “Mom! Daddy smells like pee!”

It’s a funny clip. It also makes me wonder what O’Brien’s going to do for material now that he has a job. Maybe instead of a talk show, he could have starred in a sitcom about the dissolute spiral of an unemployed talk-show host. I’d watch that! Instead, here he was, greeting the audience with mock arrogance (“Please sit!” he said, before anyone stood to applaud) and mocking his unemployment beard (“People said I looked like the Brawny Paper Towel guy before his bone-marrow transplant”).

Then he picked up a guitar and sang the rendition of “On the Road Again” he’s been doing on tour. He said that he was going to open and close his new show musically, though I’m not sure he was entirely serious or not. (He also said he planned to “pick up where Hee Haw left off.”) But it will be interesting to see how the new show leverages his post Tonight Show work, especially whatever he’s learned from playing live audiences in his Team Coco Period.

George Lopez, meanwhile, came out and continued the public show of unity that he’s displayed since the announcement that he would move to midnight for O’Brien. “Fifty years ago, a redhead and a Latino made TV history,” he said, referring to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Jr. “Now it’s going to happen again with Coco and Loco!”

Oh, yes; there was a couple other networks’ worth of scheduling news too. Excerpts from Turner’s announcement follow:

TNT programming details

This summer, TNT will air seven new or returning originals on four different nights: THE CLOSER, SAVING GRACE, DARK BLUE, LEVERAGE, MEMPHIS BEAT, RIZZOLI & ISLES and HAWTHORNE. Later this year, TNT will bring back the critically praised hit MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE.

In 2011, the network will debut a much-anticipated new series from Steven Spielberg and starring Noah Wyle called FALLEN SKIES, while the respected SOUTHLAND will return for a new season. TNT has also greenlit the buddy lawyer series FRANKLIN & BASH, starring Mark-Paul Gosselaar (NYPD Blue) and Breckin Meyer (Robot Chicken). FRANKLIN & BASH comes to TNT from Sony Pictures Television and executive producers Jamie Tarses (TNT’s HawthoRNe, TBS’s My Boys), Kevin Falls (Shark, The West Wing) and Bill Chais (Shark, Dirty Sexy Money).

“TNT’s ongoing success is based on working with great talent,” said Michael Wright, executive vice president, head of programming, for TNT, TBS and Turner Classic Movies (TCM). “As TNT develops shows for the future, we continue to work in partnership with some of the best people in the business.”

Today, TNT announced these development plans:

• UNTITLED DON CHEADLE MEDICAL SHOW – Executive producers Don Cheadle (Crash, Iron Man 2), Kay Liberman (Traitor) and Lenore Zerman (Darfur Now) of Crescendo Productions; executive producer Brett King; executive producer/writer Ed Horowitz (Exit Wounds); and producer/writer Norm Solomon focus on 1971 Los Angeles, where a group of idealistic doctors open an urgent-care clinic in hopes of upholding the values that inspired them to become doctors in the first place. The project comes to TNT from Lionsgate Television and Cheadle’s Crescendo Productions.

• GRAYSMITH – Based on the life of cartoonist, writer and part-time private detective Robert Graysmith (author of Zodiac and many other books), this series will follow the renaissance man himself as he uses an unconventional approach and unusual skills to solve crimes. GRAYSMITH comes to TNT from Scott Free Productions and executive producers Ridley Scott (Robin Hood, The Good Wife) and Tony Scott (The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, The Good Wife) and executive producer/writer Dan Gordon (The Hurricane).

• GREEN DETECTIVE – Steven Bochco (NYPD Blue) and Jonathan Abrahams follow a quirky environmentalist who seeks the truth as an insurance adjuster for a big insurance company.

• BRAIN TRUST – Dean Devlin (TNT’s Leverage) and Marco Schnabel (TNT’s The Librarian movie trilogy) delve into the world of an old-fashioned (and recently demoted) detective as he teams with four brilliant but socially awkward, sheltered academics to help him solve crimes. BRAIN TRUST comes to TNT from Electric Entertainment.

• MISS PHILLY – Executive producer/writer Jamie Foxx (The Soloist, Ray), executive producer/writer Barbara Hall (Joan of Arcadia, Judging Amy) and executive producers Marcus King (The Jamie Foxx Show) and Jaime Rucker King (Ray) explore the pristine suburbs and urban war zones of Philadelphia, where the mayor has hired the first African-American police commissioner. She finds herself handling more than she ever expected.

• DEAR GOD – Executive producers Mark Gordon (Private Practice, Grey’s Anatomy), Mark Burnett (Survivor), Roma Downey (Touched by an Angel) and Deborah Spera (Army Wives, Criminal Minds), along with writer/executive producer Joel Fields (TNT’s Rizzoli & Isles), look into the dead letters bureau at the U.S. Postal Service, where a team of humanitarians try to help those on the verge of losing their faith by answering their letters to God. DEAR GOD comes to TNT from ABC Studios.

TBS programming details

TBS will expand its programming lineup sharply in 2010 and 2011. Conan O’Brien’s new late-night show will debut Nov. 8. He will be followed by LOPEZ TONIGHT, the hit late-night show starring George Lopez that debuted in 2009. TBS’s lineup also includes the original series MY BOYS, ARE WE THERE YET? and the new animated series NEIGHBORS FROM HELL.

In addition, TBS has acquired exclusive cable rights to the CBS series THE BIG BANG THEORY, beginning in fall 2011. TBS has also greenlit the original series GLORY DAZE (working title), a 1980s-set comedy that centers on four buddies who navigate college life and pledge a fraternity. The ensemble cast includes Tim Meadows and is from TBS Productions, Warner Horizon Television and executive producers Walt Becker (Van Wilder) and Michael LeSieur (You, Me and Dupree).

TBS has these one-hour scripted series in development:

• THE WEDDING BAND – The writing team of Josh Lobis and Darin Moiselle (South Park) and executive producer Mike Tollin (Wild Hogs, Smallville) introduce a fresh comedy that centers on four friends. Some are married and some are single, all with day jobs and responsibilities, but they share one thing in common: They are in a wedding band. THE WEDDING BAND comes to TBS from FremantleMedia.

• THE RABBIT FACTORY – From executive producer/writer Alan Loeb (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, New Amsterdam), executive producer Steven Pearl (The Beast) and Lionsgate Television, this series follows the detective team of Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs, two characters from the book series by Marshall Karp. Recently widowed Lomax and recently married Biggs work to protect and serve, navigating the daily challenges of their jobs while tackling their personal lives.

• THE CATCH – Executive producer/writer Vic Levin (Mad About You) and executive producer Chris Albrecht focus on a widower who re-enters the world of dating, only to learn that he is quite the catch.

TBS has these animated series in development:

• GOOD AND EVEL – Olive Productions (Stanley Tucci, Steve Buscemi and Wren Arthur), Gotham Group (Ellen Goldsmith-Vein and Lee Stollman), Lionsgate Television and executive producer/writer Glenn Eichler (The Colbert Report, Beavis & Butt-Head) introduce the ultimate dysfunctional family. Voiced by acclaimed actors Tucci (Julie & Julia, The Lovely Bones) and Buscemi (Fargo, Boardwalk Empire), the show centers on Jack Good, a moral, upstanding family man, and his nefarious twin brother, Bo Evel, a rebel and drunk who’s been in and out of prison.

• THE BLACK FAMILY – Executive producer/writer Ali LeRoi (Everybody Hates Chris, TBS’s Are We There Yet?); executive producer/artist Todd Goldman; executive producers Keenan Ivory Wayans, Marlon Wayans and Shawn Wayans (Scary Movie, White Chicks, Little Man); and executive producer Rick Alvarez (Dance Flick) introduce a blended interracial family, the Blacks.

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