Cabler planning to stick to the script

Showtime execs Wednesday defended their practice of premiering such a large roster of original series, arguing that it’s scripted shows that drive the business.

The Viacom-owned pay cabler premiered two new shows — “Out of Order” and “Dead Like Me” — in June alone. But Showtime Networks chair-CEO Matthew Blank, speaking to reporters at the Television Critics Assn. press tour, said original series are key to the network’s brand.

“And cable operators tell us they want more of it,” he said.

But Blank added that, with new entertainment prexy Robert Greenblatt coming on board, the premium channel will now focus on growing and marketing its current series. To that end, he said Greenblatt’s mandate will be to develop one or two of its shows into signature series for the channel.

Already in the pipeline are two more new skeins, gay-themed drama “The L Word” and the 10-seg docu-style series “Freshman Diaries.”

Latter, which premieres Aug. 31, trails 10 first-year students at the U. of Texas at Austin as they make their way through finals. Half-hour skein is produced by R.J. Cutler (“American High”). First of 13 episodes of “L Word” is set to bow in January.

At the same time, “No one’s saying that movies aren’t important anymore,” Blank said.

Channel will bow three this fall: Sundance doc “The Boys of 2nd Street Park” on Sept. 28; Salma Hayek-helmed “The Maldonado Miracle” on Oct. 12; and “Spinning Boris,” starring Jeff Goldblum and Anthony LaPaglia, in the fourth quarter. Net special on the Sept. 11 attacks, “DC 9/11,” will air Sept. 7.

Blank began the net’s TCA session Wednesday by attributing the net’s past nine years of success to programming topper Jerry Offsay, who announced in March his intention to exit the net. Greenblatt, who steps into his new gig next week, was not on hand for the session.

Elsewhere at the TCA press tour, new Viacom addition Comedy Central announced that it had picked up a second season of the sketch comedy skein “Chappelle’s Show,” hosted by comedian-thesp Dave Chappelle.

Episodes from the new 12-seg season will roll out first quarter 2004. Show first bowed in January.

“Chappelle’s” is the cabler’s second highest-rated series, averaging 2 million viewers per episode. Chappelle, Neal Brennan and Michele Armour exec produce.

And TLC unveiled a slew of new makeover series to anchor its fall sked:

  • “Date Patrol” is a 13-episode reality series that takes a team of relationship coaches and turns a love-challenged individual into a lean, mean dating machine. Skein, which bows Sept. 20, is produced by FremantleMedia (“American Idol”).

  • Sad-sack automobiles get beautified in “Overhaulin’,” which debuts first quarter 2004.

  • When home-improvement projects go sour, a team of professionals will help in “In a Fix,” a makeover show for bad makeovers. Strip debuts Dec. 20.

Other net announcements included the following:

  • A&E has renewed its crime docu series “City Confidential” for a fifth season. Net also unveiled two-hour telepics “Loyalty” and “Duty,” skedded to bow in December, the newest installments in the A&E-Granada co-produced Horatio Hornblower saga. Channel will also debut William H. Macy-hosted docu “The True Story of Seabiscuit” on July 27 and ring in Playboy’s 50th anniversary with a spec to roll out in the fall.

  • Discovery Health will launch its own makeover skein, “Buff Brides,” centered on brides-to-be getting in shape for the big day. Based on Sue Fleming’s bestselling book, show bows Oct. 6.

  • Animal Planet will extend its animal crime-fighting show franchise with “Animal Cops: Houston,” bowing Aug. 4. First edition launched in Detroit.

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