The Turner networks hit some technical glitches when they put on their big-boy pants and joined the major networks in last year's upfront week, which provided the basis for most of their opening shtick.
Once they got past the gags, though, the brass unveiled a pretty well-thought-out, orchestrated strategy for TNT and TBS, building out on their established profiles with new scripted series, an extremely logical relationship with "Funny or Die" and several reality shows that look pretty promising and, forgive the corporate-speak, on brand.
Admittedly, TNT has pursued a meat-and-potatoes approach, based on the theory dramas needn't be too demanding, which has worked pretty well for CBS. Still, the network has deftly expanded its profile with a genuine prestige acquisition in "Southland," expansion into sci-fi action with "Falling Skies" and the upcoming "Dallas" reboot, a show I've seen (a full review's to come in June) and which could be a real breakout show for the network this summer.
The network spoke of addressing "popcorn mindsets," which gives a pretty clear template for its aspirations. And TBS in particular has been lucky in the significant boost the channel has received from the popularity of "The Big Bang Theory" reruns, which ought to boost its efforts to launch new half-hours. (Acquiring "Cougar Town," another big-network castaway, is also a savvy move, given the channel's more modest expectations.)
Conan O'Brien even made an appearance, a nice reminder he's still one of the few guys capable of fronting a latenight show, even playing on a smaller stage. (By the way, even though his light-hearted jab at New York Times reporter Bill Carter fell flat, I can think of a lot of journalists who cover television who no doubt quite enjoyed it.)
People like to say TV isn't brain surgery. The Turner networks made that quite clear, but -- in a week where the major nets have thus far underwhelmed -- they also looked like channels that know how to operate on their niches.
Preliminary grade (subject to revision): B