Cabler allots $1-1.5 mil per episode to new shows

After seeing TNT take back first in the weekly cable ratings race, the cabler Wednesday established its first original series slate in an effort to set deeper roots with its targeted audience.

The network has budgeted weblike numbers of $1 million to $1.5 million per episode, with commitments as high as 13 episodes per season per series.

Despite the 10 deals already cut and several more on the table, only two or three are expected to actually make it on the channel next summer.

In recent years, TNT has made serious efforts to grow beyond Westerns and wrestling through a variety of well-received made-fors, including “George Wallace” and “Pirates of Silicon Valley.” The f/x heavy “Animal Farm” and “A Christmas Carol” are set for later this year.

Now, the Warner Bros.-owned cabler is hoping to turn high ratings for longform projects into a successful development slate of dramas going beyond the network’s less-than-stellar outings of “Babylon 5″ and the quickly canceled “The New Adventures of Robin Hood.” The first of the new series is skedded to air in summer 2000.

Defining audience

“We are continuing to define our target audience, people between 25-54, which other networks are abandoning every day,” said Bradley J. Siegel, prexy of TNT, who joined Bob DeBitetto, exec VP of TNT Originals; Julie Weitz, exec VP of original programming; and Barbara Wall, VP of original series, to announce the development slate. “We know specifically what kind of audiences we want to attract and therefore have a distinct advantage over broadcast networks about how we can approach them.”

Siegel insists that new shows will not originate solely from sister company Warner Bros. Television, with the focus being on the programs instead of the suppliers. In fact, six shows under consideration are outside the WB fold.

Being on basic cable, the new programs will walk a line between network broadcast practices and the freedom pay cablers have in language, violence and nudity.

“Research has shown that audiences generally don’t make a distinction between basic and pay cable,” said Wall. “We can treat these shows similarly to how the networks view 10 o’clock programs. But since they are our competition, we have to be smarter than they are.”

Under consideration

Among the programs being considered by the cabler are:

  • “Bull,” the first series to receive a pilot order from TNT, with George Newbern, Maria del Mar, Christopher Wiehl and Dagmara Dominczyk set to star. The series follows a group of investment bankers who start their own company. Michael Chernuchin will exec produce.

  • “Power,” from Nicholas Pileggi and Michael Harbert, about a Steve Wynn-like character out to rule the Las Vegas business world.

  • “Breaking News,” from New Line Television and Trilogy Entertainment, about a high-pressure 24-hour news station. “NYPD Blue’s” Gardner Stern will write and exec produce.

  • “Witchblade,” a long-delayed series from Oliver Stone based on a comic book about a cop facing mysterious elements.

  • “The Warden,” from Granada television and based on a Britsh series about a female warden in an all-male maximum-security prison.

  • “South Camelot,” from “Xena’s” R.J. Stewart and Robert Tapert, about a natural leader named Arthur consolidating power in modern South Miami Beach.

  • “Decoy,” from Jerry Bruckheimer and Laith Zawawi, which follows the exploits of black undercover cop on the streets of Harlem.

Other series under consideration are “The Best Defense” from Debra Joy Levine of “Dawson’s Creek”; “The Whole Truth” about a team of district attorneys; “Total Eclipse,” about an ex-journalist uncovering the mysteries of a college town; and “New Year” about a dysfunctional family as seen through the eyes of a gay middle son.

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