HBO makes ’11th Hour’ decision

Looking to redefine what constitutes primetime TV viewing in the summertime, HBO plans to offer a series of new and high-profile programs at 11 p.m. beginning in June to capitalize on what the Time Warner pay-cabler has found to be a substantial latenight tune-in crowd.

Called “The 11th Hour,” the strategy calls for HBO to run such high-profile original series as the second-year comedy “Arliss,” the network’s first original drama series “Oz,” the offbeat new “Perversions of Science” and a collection of its vintage documentaries under the “Best of America Undercover” banner.

Once all the shows have premiered, “Oz” will run at 11 p.m. in the Monday timeslot, “Arliss” on Tuesdays, “Perversions of Science” on Wednesdays and the docus on Thursdays.

Dave Baldwin, senior VP program planning for HBO and Cinemax, said Wednesday that the plan stems from the fact that HBO’s late-hour aud is nearly as large as in primetime.

“No one has tried to put high-quality, firstrun shows on at 11 p.m. even though the numbers show us that an awful lot of people are tuned in at those hours, particularly during the summer months when the HUT (homes using TV) levels go up and people stay up watching TV later,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin called “The 11th Hour” concept “an attempt to really build a new primetime” and a way for HBO to establish something of a uniformity that the network hopes will spur viewers to flip over from the just-completed broadcast network fare and bypass the local news.

HBO has also utilized the latenight hours recently to launch such new fare as “The Chris Rock Show” and, coming Friday, the new adult animated series “Spawn” (which will run Fridays at midnight).

However, Baldwin denied that the decision to go with the originals at 11 p.m. was dictated by the raciness quotient of the programming itself. For instance, HBO is launching the gritty urban prison drama “Oz” on July 12 — a Saturday night — at 11:30 p.m.: hardly a high-profile spot to debut.

“From my read, this is not a content issue,” Baldwin said. “From reading the first three or four scripts, it seems to me that the content on ‘Oz’ is similar to what you’d see in R-rated movies.”

The larger issue involved in the late-hours strategy is to, in effect, extend primetime by a half-hour or hour.

“On pay TV, where you have movies that are different lengths, it’s difficult to install a stack of programs that will maintain the same timing week after week,” Baldwin said. “Doing this at 11 levels our playing field and, hopefully, puts the thought into the audience’s mind that they can watch us and see something fresh.”

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