Music artist to host 'Spectacle' for network

Sundance Channel has landed Elvis Costello as host of a weekly music-variety talkshow to kick off in December, signing Elton John as an executive producer.

Called “Spectacle: Elvis Costello With…” the series was the highlight of Sundance’s upfront press briefing on Wednesday in New York. Sundance also said that it would renew its music series “Live From Abbey Road” for another 12 hours of shows and its celebrity interview series “Iconoclasts” for a fourth season of six hours.

As host of the news conference, Sundance prexy CEO Larry Aidem forestalled any questions about the channel’s possible sale by joking that some of the potential buyers include Wal-Mart, Denny’s and U.S. Air.

Sundance executives have neither confirmed nor denied reports that the channel is on the market for $400 million to $500 million, with rumored purchasers including Cablevision, Time Warner and Viacom.

Sundance will co-produce the 13-part Costello show with John’s Rocket Pictures and Toronto-based companies, SpyBox Pictures, Prospero Pictures and Reinvention Entertainment.

In addition to Costello and John, the exec producers are David Furnish, Steve Hamilton-Shaw, Jordan Jacobs, Martin Katz and Stephen Warden. Co-exec producer is Alex Coletti.

Sundance will tape the series at NBC’s Studio 8H at Rockefeller Center, also home of “Saturday Night Live.”

Show will also air on the U.K’s Channel 4 and Canuck commercial broadcaster CTV

FremantleMedia Enterprises will handle sales of the show to the rest of the world.

Laura Michalchyshyn, executive VP and GM of programming and creative affairs for Sundance, said the network has tripled the number of original programs it schedules.

New series include “Architectural School,” a six-parter for September that follows Tulane students as they design and build homes for low-income New Orleans families displaced by Hurricane Katrina; “Eco Trip,” from NBC’s Peacock Prods., hosted by environmental expert David de Rothschild; and “Johnny Weir: Black Swan Rising” (working title), from Idea Factory, which follows the champion skater who’s noted for speaking his mind.

A beefing up of Sundance’s new-media platforms was also a theme of the briefing. Kirk Iwanowski, executive VP of marketing, branded entertainment and sponsorship for Sundance, said that more and more people are watching Sundance via free video on demand, streaming video on SundanceChannel.com, downloaded video on portable media players, and mobile video on platforms like Verizon’s V Cast.

(Gordon Masson in London contributed to this report.)

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