Network to develop 14 projects for lineup
TNT is aiming for the primetime big leagues.
Cabler has unveiled an ambitious series development initiative with the goal of assembling an all-original Monday-Wednesday primetime lineup by 2010.
“Cable has taken the measure of broadcast TV in sports, news and theatrical movies, and now we’re ready to knock down the last bastion of broadcast dominance: weekly TV series,” said Steve Koonin, president of the Turner Entertainment Networks.
Koonin said TNT has 14 drama series projects percolating from such notables as Ridley Scott, Robert Redford, Mark Burnett and Steven Bochco. Koonin intends to tubthump plans for TNT and other Turner entertainment nets at a May 14 upfront presentation at Gotham’s Hammerstein Ballroom.
The scheduling of the presentation marks a bold incursion by the cabler into the same week that the broadcast nets hold their upfronts. In the past, cablers have held their upfront events a few weeks before the major broadcasters, on the assumption that key media buyers would be too preoccupied with the Big Four presentations to attend a cable upfront that week.
“Everyone in the industry realizes that the broadcast business has been on a steep decline for years — this year in particular,” Koonin said. “For advertisers, our networks provide an alternative that is getting better and better.”
TNT sibling TBS is also moving aggressively into original series, with the focus on comedy. Helmer Betty Thomas and Elaine Pope are working on a project about a middle-aged single woman. Two others pilot scripts are in development, one from Dave Caplan and the other from Brian Hargrove.
TBS also has five latenight series in the works, including pilot greenlights of a new version of “Match Game” and of “Stay Tooned,” an umbrella title for satirical animated shorts. Two other shows in development are sketch comedies from the Jim Henson Co. and Robert Townsend. The fifth is a Mafia-themed comedy from Warner Horizon and Mark Wolper.
One key reason Turner is forging ahead now, Koonin said, is that “the talent is coming to us.” Top showrunners, he said, are becoming increasingly frustrated by the content constraints at the broadcast nets, which are getting pummeled with increasingly bigger fines from the FCC in response to vocal complaints from parents groups.
By contrast, Koonin said, the Turner networks “are pushing the boundaries of content and building a marketing platform for these series to be successful.”
He added that, in most instances, Turner will guarantee 13 episodes for the first season; the broadcasters sometimes order as few as six episodes and are far quicker to cancel a series that gets off to a slow start in the Nielsens.
The scripted TNT projects disclosed for the first time are an untitled family drama set in 1950s Indiana from Angelo Pizzo and David Anspaugh; an untitled crime thriller set in Boston derived from the bestselling mystery novels of Tess Gerritsen; and DreamWorks’ “The Genie Chronicles,” a fantasy-adventure about a female newspaper reporter who discovers a magic lamp with a genie.
TNT’s reality shows in development include “Wedding Day,” from Burnett and DreamWorks, which showers prizes on a new bride and groom in each episode; “Lean on Me,” which focuses on the unsung mentors of people who became famous; “Crimes of the Century,” a Scott Free production anatomizing the most eye-opening crimes since the early 1900s; “Shadow of a Doubt,” a true-crime series dealing with people who commit murder without premeditation; and “Behind the Drama,” whose goal is to tell the stories that led to famous movies and TV dramas.
Two previously announced TNT series have the go-ahead: “Raising the Bar” (working title), a legal drama from Bochco and ABC Studios; and “Leverage,” a “Mission: Impossible”-like thriller from Dean Devlin’s Electric Entertainment. Warner Horizon has produced the pilot of ad-agency drama “Truth in Advertising.” In development is “Generations,” a time-shifting drama about three generations of a family that have lived in the same house, from Redford and scribe John Sacret Young.
At Turner’s Tru TV (the former Court TV), development plans focus on shows that specialize in “real-life thrills.” The network’s projects include “Maui Chopper,” “Sky Racers,” “One False Move” (about rescue crews) and “Driving Me Mad” (about a driving coach who sets bad drivers straight).