Surreal feel to cable net

24-hour reality to cater to viewers' 'voracious appetites'

It had to happen: A digital cable network devoted to nothing but reality shows is in the works, with cable vet Larry Namer on board as prexy and CEO.

Dubbed Reality Central, would-be net will mix repeats of past and current unscripted skeins with infomercial-style programming designed to hype reality shows airing on other nets. A handful of talkshows and a news program covering the reality genre are also planned, as is a reality show about the creation of Reality Central itself.

Blake Mycoskie, a losing contestant on the CBS unscripted skein “The Amazing Race,” came up with the idea for the net and serves as chairman of the venture. Namer co-founded the short-lived cabler Movietime, which aired trailers of upcoming feature films before morphing into E! Entertainment Television.

Voracious auds

A press release announcing the venture claims Reality Central will launch early next year with 3 million subs but does not mention any specific carriage deals.

“Reality Central will cater to the voracious appetites of television viewers who can’t get enough steamy romance, adventure, exciting new musical talent and intoxicating drama that has swept into their living rooms at the speed of sound during the past year,” Namer said in a press release. Neither Namer nor a rep for the channel returned calls seeking comment about the release, which was leaked to several news organizations in advance of today’s official announcement.

Reality repeats

Many industry observers were immediately skeptical about Reality Central’s long-term prospects for success — particularly the notion of airing repeats of reality shows.

“The key for most of these shows is that they involve a ‘reveal’ at the end,” said one high-profile unscripted producer. “If you look at the ratings, there’s a spike in the last 15 minutes. When you already know how the show works out, you don’t care any more. And if you’re counting on people who didn’t watch the first time, then you’re making a network for people who don’t care about reality.”

A senior network exec also questioned the cabler’s foundation.

“It’s built on the concept of reality repeats, and reality just doesn’t repeat well,” he said.

Still, some observers believe an all-reality cabler makes perfect sense at a time when the genre is dominating the airwaves.

“There’s a huge audience out there that likes this type of programming, in some cases craves it,” said John Ferriter, a William Morris senior VP and head of network alternative. Whether by airing repeats or original programming related to reality, the net “could become a real outlet for a great deal of the creative community.”

And while a skein like “Survivor” relies on the “reveal,” shows such as “Extreme Makeover” or “Fear Factor” are more “timeless,” Ferriter added, noting that Game Show Network has had great success with decades-old repeats of quizzers.

Adding value

Reality Central aims to make reruns more attractive by adding in after-the-fact commentary from reality show contestants or behind-the-scenes footage. Net said it has already signed promo deals with 25 current or former reality show contestants.

But one producer noted that nets already use such techniques, either through “where-are-they-now” reunions or by repurposing the shows on sister cablers.

Working in favor of Reality Central is the fact that many webheads and studio execs have been trying to figure out ways to produce backend profits from unscripted shows. Cabler is poised to take advantage of that, but only if it can find the coin to offer substantial license fees to nets.

Otherwise, one insider said, “It makes more sense for networks to put these repeats on the cable channels they already own.”

News idea

Indeed, trade journal Electronic Media (now Television Week) reported a few months back that News Corp. was exploring the idea of mounting its own digital cabler devoted to unscripted programs, though execs at the conglom said discussion mostly consisted of blue sky conversations.

Viacom also has multiple cablers on which it can exploit reality repeats, from Spike TV to MTV. Latter cabler already repeats its reality shows dozens of times on its own channel and has syndicated repeats of “The Real World.”

And Disney has used ABC family to repurpose segs from its “Bachelor” franchise.

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