Mr. T showed up with a sledgehammer but he didn't literally bring the house down.
The Rocky and A-Team icon was at the historic Chicago Theater in his hometown as part of Scripps Networks Interactive's upfront presentation in the Windy City Tuesday night.
He drew a loud round of applause on stage as he introduced his new DIY network show I Pity the Tool. And he took pictures with a long line of media buyers and clients during the cocktail hour.
Scripps Networks channels, including HGTV, Food Network, Cooking Channel, Travel Channel and GAC, are incorporating more celebrities known for being on TV into their programming mix.
In addition to Mr. T, former Saved by the Bell and White Collar star Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, star of Cooking Channel's Dinner at Tiffani's, was at the upfront (as were more homegrown Scripps stars such as the Property Brothers and Alton Brown.)
And appearing in clips from shows recently added to the schedules were Ellen Degeneres, Valerie Bertinelli, Jim Belushi, Debi Mazar, Alfonso Ribeiro, Haylie Duff, Tia Mowry, Daryl Hall and Reverend Run.
"It turns out a lot of celebs love to cook and they wanted to be on the Cooking Channel," said Brooke Johnson, president of Food Network.
Another trend was including kids and families in shows like Chopped Teen, Guy's Grocery Games Family Tournament, Rachael Ray's Kids Cook-Off and the Kids Baking Championship.
"These have proven to be incredibly effective at reaching families, lowering our median age, amazing and delighting viewers and building future fans," Johnson said.
In addition to show clips, Scripps execs talked advertising business.
"We've harnessed more data insights about our audience," said Steve Gigliotti, Scripps' chief revenue officer, quickly hitting one of this year's big buzzwords.
He also talked about Scripps' notion of Return on Relationships. "That's the return you get by immersing your brands inside our content," he said.
Gigliotti talked about how 98% of Scripps Networks' C3 audience is the kind of live viewers that marketers prefer. "That's what we call C-zero," he said. "When you combine C-zero and ROR, you get ad receptivity and even greater impact for your message."
Advertisers can get broadcast scale in the Scripps environment with the Scripps Lifestyle Roadblock, he added. The company is offering to sell marketers commercials that will run within the same three-minute interval on all of its channels and websites.
Or it can use data to zero in on consumers of specific products to create Targeted Audience Packages.
For example, many of Scripps Networks' dayparts over deliver in Greek yogurt customers. "We can identify specific programs with the very highest concentration of those buyers. This package of shows will deliver Greek yogurt buyers at a 120 index. These are the shows you want to sponsor," he told buyers and clients.
Jon Steinlauf, Scripps Networks' new president of ad sales, closed the show by spotlighting clients that have done innovative and multiplatform campaigns using the company's assets, starting with Zillow and Quicken Loans.
"Both started as Internet companies that grew out of an American dream: Owning a home," Steinlauf said. "One helps consumers find a home, the other helps them pay for it. Both developed precise analytics to measure the effectiveness of advertising and both chose Scripps as a key media partner to help build their brands."
The Zillow campaign was designed to show real people searching for their new home. The website was integrated into House Hunters and short-form vignettes and featured in digital extensions and HGTV Magazine.
Quicken was sponsor and cash prize provider for all four of Scripps big house giveaway events—Dream House, Blog Cabin, Smart Home and Urban Oasis.
Steinlauf also gave a shout to General Mills' Pillsbury brand, which signed on with Food Network when it launched in 1993, and Sargento, which first ventured into national TV with Food Network 10 years later.
Sargento is now a sponsor of Chopped in a campaign designed to increase awareness and usage of its shredded cheese.
General Mills' Toaster Strudel brand was featured in Rachael vs. Guy: Kids Cook-Off. The campaign included everything from a sweepstakes, magazines ads, social media and messages on-packages.
Travel Channel did a campaign for the Hilton Garden Inn hotel chain that encouraged business travelers to extend their stays into pleasure trips.
The network also worked with the U.S. Travel Association Board and MasterCard on a campaign designed to get people to take some of the vacation days they don't use.
"Unlike most media companies, we're directly connected to these industries. That's what gives us the intel we need to produce the kind of marketing you've just seen," Steinlauf said.
Scripps has been doing upfronts in cities around the country and brings its show to New York next week.