Sharks used to be the big stars for Discovery Communications. But the company’s upfront presentation in New York included a varied lineup of celebs with Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, Mariel Hemingway, Morgan Freeman, William Hurt, LaToya Jackson, NASCAR’s Jeff Gordon and Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson — as well as a performance by singer Colbie Callat. Execs did most of the storytelling in the company’s annual sales pitch to ad buyers. Advertising Sales President Joe Abruzzese not surprisingly told buyers that Discovery’s networks offer “the best environment for your brands.” In addition to the popularity of the programming, he says the channels have four fewer commercial minutes per hour than their competitors. What’s more, he noted that because Discovery owns all of its own content, it’s easier to integrate brands into the shows, blurring the line between programming and promotion. Daredevil Nik Wallenda opened the New York event walking across a tightrope strung above the audience at Jazz at Lincoln Center — a promotion for Discovery’s broadcast of his June 23 walk across the Grand Canyon. He assured attendees that he was wearing a safety tether because “the insurance companies demanded it. Not for my safety, but for yours.” He won’t wear one at the Grand Canyon event, which will be hosted by NBC News’ Natalie Morales and Willie Geist.

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