This summer boasts more original programming on cable than ever before — and many of them will compete head to head.
Events will be plentiful, among them TNT’s heavily marketed oater “Into the West,” from exec producer Steven Spielberg, and Discovery Channel’s “Greatest American,” a four-part countdown that culminates in the viewer-chosen No. 1 American icon.
USA programming chief Jeff Wachtel says, “We all just have to take our shots and know that everyone will be counterprogramming.”
But scripted series programming is where most execs are placing their bets.
For the first time since “Witchblade,” TNT will debut a pair of original hours, “The Closer” and “Wanted.” FX is premiering “Over There,” an Iraqi war hour from Steven Bochco. Reality hasn’t gone anywhere — Bravo promises “Being Bobby Brown,” while FX offers up doc-series “30 Days” from Morgan Spurlock — but with the plethora of scripted comedy and drama about to hit, cable execs say this summer is as close to a broadcaster’s “fall season” as ever.
“We used to be able to find a completely clear week to premiere a show and pretty much lock in the lion’s share of buzz and attention,” FX president-general manager John Landgraf says. “That’s not possible anymore. Also, our competitors, in some cases, are spending significant more dollars than we are. So it’s definitely tough.”
A few cablers are counting on creating buzz by being different — and for some, that means diving into comedy.
While the nets have struggled with laffers, so too has cable, with the exception of animated staple “South Park.” Still this year, heavy-hitters HBO, FX and Showtime are all debuting comedy blocks in hopes of bucking the trend.
“I think we all want to try and do things the networks aren’t doing,” Landgraf says. “That said, any network that wants to be the best can’t not be in the comedy game.”
HBO will devote its Sundays to new laffer “The Comeback,” starring Lisa Kudrow as a has-been sitcom star who’s documenting — via a reality show, natch — her path back to fame.
Meanwhile, Showtime is launching “Weeds,” about a pot-selling suburban mom, alongside the small-screen version of “Barbershop.”
Then there’s FX, which will make its first comedy foray since “Lucky” crapped out with “Starved,” revolving around urban-types with eating disorders, and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” about four friends who own a bar.