Original fare set for Thursdays

In a play to grab more movie ad coin, Bravo will begin programming original fare on Thursday nights this summer.

That’s the word from network topper Lauren Zalaznick, who announced the move Wednesday at a media upfront lunch in Gotham.

Zalaznick also officially ordered new seasons of “Project Runway,” “Top Chef” and “Million Dollar Listing,” while announcing “First Class All the Way,” a new skein about luxury concierges.

Cabler is also throwing its hat into the kudos ring, announcing the March 2008 premiere of the Bravo Icon Awards, honoring those who’ve made a difference in the arts.

Zalaznick and Bravo exec VP of programming and production Frances Berwick said the addition of a new night will build on the cabler’s success programming docudramas on Tuesdays and competition reality fare on Wednesdays.

“Bravo has successfully built hit series with a following of passionate viewers that can’t get enough of our five affinity groups: fashion, food, design, beauty and pop culture,” Berwick said. “With our originals on Thursday nights, advertisers can tap into the Bravo viewers’ strong consumer weekend interests — going to movies, shopping and spending loads of money.”

Bravo is coming off record ratings for 2006 and the first quarter of 2007, and execs used the moment to define the net as a high-end cable destination, even suggesting it would concentrate more on the 18-49 demo.

While the upfront was populated mostly by media, Bravo made a full-court press on the advertising side by highlighting the large percentage of college-educated and six-figure households among its viewership.

Veepee of ad sales Susan Malfa described the net’s prototypical audience as influential and affluent viewers (“affluencers,” in the net’s coinage) who determine “what’s hip and what’s in for their friends.”

While Bravo didn’t reveal exact premiere dates for many of its projects, it did announce a key bit of scheduling strategy: The new season of signature skein “Project Runway” won’t bow until the fourth quarter.

The most recent edition of the skein debuted in July 2006 and wrapped three months later; the first two editions debuted in December.

To fill the summer programming gap, Bravo will air the third season of “Top Chef” this summer, this time set in Miami.

Net emphasized it would continue to focus on the reality-competition genre made popular with shows like “Runway” and “Chef,” a group that Zalaznick quipped were “good-looking people in aspirational roles” engaging in “short-term conflict and long-term arc resolution.”

But execs also implied an interest in moving beyond the format — and, specifically, “Runway” — which has been a hallmark of its ratings surge.

One newcomer is “First Class,” which will focus on high-end concierge Sara Duffy, described by the cabler as an “eccentric go-getter.” Stone and Co. will produce, with Scott Stone, Dave Osper and Lori Kaye exec producing.

At the presentation, net showed off clips from the Abdul reality show “Hey Paula,” with clips of Abdul and her pet dogs that suggested a show more squarely in the celeb-reality genre.

And while execs talked up hairstyle reality show “Shear Genius,” which bowed Wednesday night, they made several references to the success the net achieved in recent quarters without “Runway.”

Noting that ratings for the second season of “Top Chef” bested ratings for the second season of “Runway,” Zalaznick said, “It’s a painful metric in some ways and a proud metric in other ways.”

Returning skeins include a new installment of “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D List,” which bows June 5. Bravo also talked up “Millionaire Matchmaker,” about an L.A. woman who sets up rich men but has trouble finding love herself (Daily Variety, April 11).

Previously announced projects on the cabler include the Palm Springs-set hotel skein “Welcome to the Parker” and the real estate-themed “Flipping Out.”

Upfront also focused significant attention on Bravo’s new-media effort, including the launch of net’s first portal, a food site revolving around “Top Chef” and newly signed blogs like William Sledd’s Ask a Gay Man.

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