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Disney Leans Into Spectacle in Extensive Upfront Pitch

In an upfront week otherwise marked by smaller-scale events, and a lack of star power on stage, Disney threw everything it had (short of any actors) in an expansive upfront presentation Tuesday afternoon.

And that included dozens of stunt performers dressed as samurai engaging in combat in the aisles. But we’ll get back to that.

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In a cavernous hall in Manhattan’s Jacob Javits Convention Center, on an enormous stage that took some talent a full minute to walk across, Disney touted every single one of its brands, from ESPN and ABC to FX and Disney+, to Marvel and Lucasfilm.

And while there may not have been any actors, the company included every star it could secure, from ESPN talent like Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Peyton Manning, Hannah Storm and (their soon-to-be-colleague) Pat McAfee, to ABC News anchors David Muir, George Stephanopoulos, and Michael Strahan (24 hours after he appeared at Fox’s upfront).

Serena Williams was there to announce a new ESPN docuseries, NBA star Donavan Mitchell was there to talk about his next career moves, LSU’s Angel Reese and WNBA star Breanna Stewart touted women’s sports.

And in a full circle moment, Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin appeared on stage with Aikman and Buck, five months after his collapse stopped Monday Night Football in its tracks.

New Year’s Rockin’ Eve host Ryan Seacrest introduced clips from scripted entertainment, while The Bachelorette’s Jesse Palmer introduced reality fare, including an appearance from Kim and Khloe Kardashian to announce new episodes of their Hulu series.

And while sports, news and unscripted fare did make up the lion’s share of the presentation, Disney leaned into its tentpole franchises for an extended session on the MCU and Star Wars, with Kevin Feige previewing upcoming Disney+ Marvel series, while Kathleen Kennedy teed up upcoming Lucasfilm fare.

Security prowled the aisles as trailers and sizzle reels played, ensuring that attendees weren’t taking photos or videos of the prized IP.

And it all culminated with the samurai show, meant to tout the upcoming FX series Shogun.

“The samurais are going to the after-party, so good luck getting to the bar,” Disney ad sales chief Rita Ferro told the crowd afterward.

The advertising business, Ferro said, “is at the doorstep of a massive transformation,” while the ad tier of Disney+ “has been flexing healthy growth in terms of subscribers and advertisers.”

There were no direct references to the Writers Guild strike, or the modest picket line assembled on 11th Avenue, though Ferro hinted at the larger issues facing the industry.

“Preparing for this presentation, as you all know, is one of my favorite times of the year, even in years like this full of difficult challenges,” Ferro said. “As past years have taught us though, you must be prepared to meet every moment no matter how tough, and Disney is prepared to meet every challenge.”

And so even in a year without any scripted talent, Disney managed to wow the crowd with Marvel sneak peeks and household-name stars.

And while Disney executives were present, from Feige, Kennedy and Ferro to Dana Walden, Jimmy Pitaro, Alan Bergman and FX chief John Landgraf, one person was absent: Hollywood’s statesman-in-chief and Disney CEO Bob Iger, who was playing the part in France, meeting with French President Emanuel Macron at a summit in Versailles.

In the Javits Center, meanwhile, attendees nibbled on small bites and grabbed drinks from a bar with a Disney ice sculpture on top of it, as the sun set over the Hudson River.

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