Foxworthy on cabler's playlist

Country music cabler CMT has greenlit “Foxworthy’s Big Night,” a 12-episode standup comedy series starring and executive produced by redneck jokester Jeff Foxworthy.

Network VP Paul Villadolid described “Big Night” as a “big, important piece of business” for CMT. He will roll out the series as a tentpole event when it launches in September.

Heartland-oriented cable network has been raising its profile within the Viacom family over the last 1½ years. Corporate parent MTV Networks is focused on breaking out CMT as a destination channel, similar to MTV and Comedy Central, and according to Villadolid, helped seal the deal for “Big Night.”

With that support, CMT has been able to make bolder programming moves, including the acquisition of the “Miss America” franchise — which scored 3.1 million viewers when it relocated to the network in January — and incorporating broader-based entertainment series into the country music mix.

And Foxworthy is a proven commodity within the family: Cable sibling Comedy Central has done especially well with fare from the comic. “The Comedy Central Roast of Jeff Foxworthy” drew 6.2 million viewers, a network high, and the second “Blue Collar Comedy Tour” movie delivered a strong 6.1 million.

CMT’s “Big Night” will be a traditional variety show with standup from Foxworthy, sketches with an ensemble group of players and musical performances. Having a showcase for CMT’s bread-and-butter country music artists is just one of the ways CMT will position this series apart from the comic’s other TV fare.

The redneck humor of Foxworthy’s “Blue Collar TV,” the WB show he wrote, exec produced and starred in, also will be toned down slightly for CMT’s family-friendly aud, Villadolid said. “Some of the sketches in that show were a little more edgy and more raucous than we want to go. This will be a different animal.”

Executive said CMT’s pact with Foxworthy’s manager and “Big Night” exec producer J.P. Williams is separate from the overall deal Williams struck with Comedy Central last summer (Daily Variety, July 19). Villadolid has a long-standing relationship with Foxworthy, having helped set up one of the comedian’s first TV specials for Showtime, where he served as a programming exec in the 1980s.

“Jeff is someone that the CMT audience knows intimately. His brand of comedy comes directly from the sensibility of our viewers,” Villadolid said. “When I heard that ‘Blue Collar TV’ had been cancelled by the WB, I called him up immediately. The Foxworthy brand, which has had tremendous success on TV and on the road, is a franchise I’d coveted since I arrived here.”

Fax Bahr and Adam Small (“Blue Collar TV”) also will exec produce alongside CMT’s Villadolid and John Fitzgerald.

As for “Big Night,” show will be shot in front of a live studio audience in Atlanta’s Alliance Theater beginning in June. As a precursor to the launch, CMT will air a mini-marathon this Saturday of standup specials from “Blue Collar” comedy guys Ron White, Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy, on loan from Comedy Central.

“Big Night” will air Friday nights, but a premiere date has not been set.

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