Satellite distributor to debut soap on Sept. 17

DirecTV has begun the promotional countdown to its Sept. 17 premiere of the new season for soap opera “Passions,” highlighted by four live weekly half-hours featuring cast members taking calls from DirecTV subscribers.

The “Passions” strategy represents the first time a satellite distributor has picked up a scripted series cancelled by a broadcast network (NBC) and kept it in production for exclusive play. Fans of the show “no longer need to mourn the demise of their beloved program,” said Eric Shanks, exec VP of entertainment for DirecTV. “Passions” ends its NBC run on Sept. 7.

The first of the four half-hours leading in to the sudser’s DirecTV premiere takes place Thursdaywith thesps Juliet Mills and Heidi Mueller participating in the Q&A. Umbrella title for the four episodes is “Passions Live.”

DirecTV subscribers will get the “Passions” programming on the satcaster’s original-entertainment channel, 101. That high-def channel is a grab bag of (mostly) exclusive programming that ranges from concerts and the “Championship Gaming Series” to reality show “Project My World” and “The Fizz” collection of videos from across the Web.

Since Channel 101 programs fewer commercials, the “Passions” hours will average 41 minutes instead of the 37 on NBC. DirecTV engineered the deal with NBC Universal, which owns the soap.

DirecTV will run the episodes four hours a week instead of the five on NBC to save money. The 2 p.m. timeslot stays the same, but, unlike NBC, DirecTV will offer a weekend marathon of the previous week’s episodes to allow fans to stay abreast even if they miss an hour or two during the week.

NBC U TV Studio and Outpost Farms tape “Passions” at the CBS Studio Center in Los Angeles.

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