USA Takes Swing in Upfront Big Leagues

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USA Network, the top-rated cable network, closed out upfront week Thursday with a presentation to ad buyers that showed it belonged in the big leagues.

It attracted an overflow house of media buyers who waited in a long line under a hot sun (welcome after a rainy week) to get in, and used social media to draw cheering fans as the stars of its shows walked a red carpet outside Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall.

After a round of drinks, the presentation got started about a half an hour late. Like last year, USA’s executives stayed in their seats and let the talent do the talking. They delivered a few statistics, but mainly introduced clips of scripted dramas USA hopes will extend its winning streak, including Political Animals, which stars Sigourney Weaver, whose dad practically invented TV while an NBC executive.

USA also showed some breadth, with new reality shows, comedy (it will air reruns of Modern Family), sports (sort of, with an expanded WWE Raw) and a public service campaign aimed at curbing bullying and hate in general.

Finally the affable Bruce Campbell of Burn Notice announced that he was the last presenter at the last upfront. Like a good salesman, he asked for the order, noting that while sponsors will be paying wheelbarrow loads of cash to buy commercials, in return they’ll be getting dump-truck loads of sales. That beep, beep, beep sound of a truck backing up  is a good thing, he explained.

Campbell led USA’s actors in a round of applause for the network’s sponsors and offered to personally buy everyone a drink — then send the bill to Bonnie Hammer, NBCUniversal’s queen of cable. Even Steve Burke, who moved from running Comcast Cable to enduring at least a half dozen upfronts as CEO of NBCU, had to smile.

After seeing Jennifer Hudson sing (and Piper Perabo and company getting their groove on) guests hit the last cocktail hour of the season, sampling top-notch food, including what appeared to be the largest shrimp of the week. (Shrimp size has long been a key upfront indicator among knowledgeable media buyers.)

For USA, moving its upfront to the broadcast week was a risk. But it showed that it could show broadcasters like NBC a thing or two about throwing a big league party, at least.

CORRECTION: That wasn’t Jennfier Hudson performing. It was Erykah Badu, a last minute replacement for Hudson. My mistake.

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