Disney Upfront: The Power of Storytelling and the Marvel Franchise

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A media industry roiled by a maturing streaming model and bearish stock market was no match for the thick layer of nostalgia on display at Disney’s upfront presentation on Tuesday. The company will celebrate its 100th anniversary later this year. And Walt Disney Company chief executive officer Bob Chapek opened the presentation from Basketball City at Pier 36 in the South Street Seaport by harking to the company’s long history in the storytelling business.

“This is an incredible milestone for us,” he said. “We’ve created memories for millions of fans across generations.”

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What Chapek did not mention is that Disney+ will offer an ad-supported tier; a nod to the business imperatives of the premium streaming model. The celebrity heavy presentation reinforced the story-first ethos.

Ellen Pompeo rattled off a list of impressive “Grey’s Anatomy” statistics: viewers watched over 2 billion hours of “Grey’s Anatomy” last year; as the show celebrates its 400th episode next week, it is the longest running primetime medical drama in TV history; it airs in more than 200 territories, and in 60 languages; it featured the “first gay Asian surgeon, the first recurring deaf doctor and, this season, the first recurring nonbinary surgeon,” said Pompeo. “When you see yourself on screen, wonderful things can happen and do happen.”

ABC will launch two scripted dramas in the fall: “Alaska,” starring Hilary Swank as a former New York City reporter who takes a job at a small Anchorage newspaper after a scandal forces her into exile, and spin-off “The Rookie: Feds,” with Niecy Nash-Betts as the oldest rookie at the FBI Academy. The network also has ordered “Celebrity Jeopardy!,” a primetime spinoff of the iconic game show, to be hosted by Mayim Bialik, who shared hosting duties with Ken Jennings on the syndicated program.

Meanwhile “Bachelor in Paradise” will air twice each week — on Monday and Tuesday — filling the schedule hole left by the company’s decision to move “Dancing With the Stars” to Disney+.

Kerry Washington, who spent seven seasons on Shonda Rhimes’ runaway hit “Scandal,” reminded the audience that she began her acting career in an ABC After School Special, guest-starred on “NYPD Blue” and had a story arc on “Boston Legal.” More recently, she voiced a character on “The Simpsons,” and produced Hulu’s “Little Fires Everywhere.” She introduced the upcoming Hulu drama “Reasonable Doubt” (starring Emayatzy Corinealdi as an unorthodox Los Angeles defense attorney). It’s the first new drama from Washington’s Onyx Collective, which, she explained, will produce “curated premium culturally specific storytelling for a global audience.”

The (lengthy) ESPN portion of the presentation was helmed by the mildly funny Manning brothers (Peyton and Eli). Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and XFL owner and chairwoman Dany Garcia revealed that ESPN will be the exclusive home of the XFL, which Johnson characterized as “a league of passion, a league of pride, and league of culture.” Of course, ESPN also has the NFL, which makes one wonder how the Spike Lee-directed Colin Kaepernick documentary will deal with Kaepernick’s treatment by the NFL.

Marvel Studio’s Kevin Feige introduced previews of “Ms. Marvel,” the teenage superhero who gets her own movie dropping in June on Disney+ (and also will join next year’s “The Marvels”), “She Hulk Attorney at Law,” also coming this summer, and he revealed that “Echo” is in production.

As per tradition, Jimmy Kimmel closed the ceremony by mocking the hand that feeds.

At Disney, he said, “we’re one happy family. If anyone in Florida asks, one straight family, one mom, one dad and no gay uncle living in the guest house.”

And he took direct aim at Chapek, who sports a shaved pate, and, um, others: “A Disney CEO has never spoken at the upfront before, now we know why. Bob, I think I speak for all of us when I say, ‘Bob, we can’t wait to see you in ‘GI Jane II.’”

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