Amid writers’ strike, Disney leads with sports during its upfront

Disney highlighted its news and reality TV content, but saved mention of scripted content until the end of its presentation.
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· 3 min read

As the Writers Guild strike continues, actors were scarce at Disney’s upfront presentation. Enter…athletes.

At the network’s annual pitch to advertisers Tuesday night, Rita Ferro, president of Disney ad sales, quickly passed the mic to Serena Williams, and for about the next 45 minutes, sports took center stage. It wasn’t until after the one-hour mark that Disney made its first mention of scripted content with Marvel Studios, followed by Lucasfilm, Pixar, and Hulu.

The studios came prepared with trailers and other content exclusive to the in-person crowd, but unscripted content dominated the show for advertisers. The lack of focus on scripted content was also reflected in Disney-owned ABC’s fall schedule, also announced Tuesday: Its upcoming programming slate will feature no new scripted originals, instead leaning heavily on unscripted fare.

Okay, ladies: Disney recruited some stars from the women’s sports-verse, including Williams and basketball players Angel Reese of LSU and Breanna Stewart of the New York Liberty, to woo advertisers.

  • Williams announced that an upcoming docuseries about her career is in the works between her production company Nine Two Six and ESPN, called In the Arena: Serena Williams, a nod to ESPN’s Man in the Arena: Tom Brady.
  • Reese and Stewart touted the benefits of advertising in women’s basketball content, which some brands might have already started to pick up on after this year’s Women’s March Madness broke viewership records.
  • “The target audience that you’re going to reach when you watch WNBA are people that are invested, people that have been there since the league really started,” Stewart said. “The special thing about women’s basketball fans, female athlete fans in general, is the fact that they invest, and they get behind us because they want to see women as a whole continue to get better.”
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Elsewhere in sports: Former NFL player and sports analyst Pat McAfee is moving The Pat McAfee Show to ESPN platforms, he announced, and is reportedly leaving behind a $120 million contract with FanDuel.

Disney’s sports talent roster also included Cleveland Cavaliers player Donovan Mitchell, USC Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams, retired QB Peyton Manning, and Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who came on stage to a standing ovation after recovering from cardiac arrest earlier this year.

Reality check: Kim and Khloe Kardashian, The Bachelor’s Jesse Palmer, and Ryan Seacrest all made in-person appearances to pitch a handful of upcoming series. Jimmy Kimmel, who typically delivers something of a Disney roast at its upfront, was notably absent, in a show of support for the writers’ strike.

Lights, camera, action: Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige spoke about upcoming and returning Disney+ shows Secret Invasion, Echo, and Loki. Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy marked the studio’s first upfront with trailers for Skeleton Crew, The Acolyte, and Ahsoka, and the news that the Indiana Jones catalog is coming to Disney+. The presentation concluded with a first look at the upcoming FX historical drama Shogun, introduced by samurai who swarmed the stage for a choreographed sword fight.

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