Desus and Mero
Credit: Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for A+E

Upfront Notebook: A+E Takes Personal Approach at Event

Staffers' personal connection to TV helps define brands

And now for something completely different.

Upfront season has barely begun and A+E Networks has already tried to break the mold.

At its event at Jazz at Lincoln Center Tuesday, executive VP for sales Peter Olsen promised the senior media buyers in attendance that there would be none of that boring advertising talk. “We’ve banned the use of the word ‘data’ and its cousin ‘data’," Olsen said, rhyming the former with “matter” and the latter with “hater.”

Instead a procession of A+E execs told stories Moth-style of how TV affected their formative years and compelled them to get into the business and tell the kinds of stories that bring people together.

A+E CEO Nancy Dubuc led off, talking about the shows she watched with her grandmother, starting with Tom and Jerry and General Hospital.

Other network staffers talked about Dynasty, My So-Called Life, 30 Rock, and even the day Christa McAuliffe’s attempt to teach a lesson from space turned to televised tragedy.

Rob Sharenow, executive VP and general manager of A&E Network and Lifetime, recalled trying to get a job on Biography and failing. Shortly thereafter he was hired by Dubuc and now A&E is bringing back Biography as a global, linear and digital long-form and short-form franchise.

On tape, Leah Remini explicitly calls out advertisers for not supporting her show, Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, which turned out to be cable’s highest-rated unscripted series. “You should apologize to me,” she said.

Interspersed were teasers for upcoming programming on A+E’s networks: a Lifetime movie from Katie Couric starring Cher about the poisoned water in Flint Michigan; The Lowe Files, in which Rob Lowe and his sons chase ghosts, bigfoot and other phenomena; and Kevin Hart’s Guide to Black History. Also highlighted was A+E’s purchase of part of the National Women’s Soccer League, whose games will appear on Lifetime.

Olsen spoke near the end, telling his own story of being both the remote control, manually changing channels for his family, as well as acting as an antenna, absorbing who knows how much radiation in the process. “That’s why I’m in ad sales,” he said, half joking.

Olsen’s TV fixations were Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie, Fonzi from Happy Days and Ken Howard from The White Shadow. He wanted to coach black kids from L.A. but wound up with a team of white kids, “and we sucked.”

And while continuing to promise not to talk about the boring ad stuff, he did mention that A+E execs would be calling on clients who could talk about their Precision data targeting team, its in-house ad agency and branded content capabilities and its consumer research and its partnerships with Vice and Hearst.

Finally, Olsen was joined on stage by Viceland’s Desus and Mero, who tried to connect with the ad buyers. Desus called himself “Young KPI” and Mero tried to talk a bit about native advertising, before admitting he didn’t know what that was.