Network branches out into original programming

TV Land is in the market for homegrown sitcoms.

Viacom cabler is venturing into the arena of original scripted series for the first time, giving cast-contingent pilot orders last week to two projects, one from Sean Hayes’ Hazy Mills shingle, the other from sitcom vets Mindy Schultheis and Michael Hanel.

TV Land is hoping to have as many as three original laffers ready to roll by July after it adds reruns of “Everybody Loves Raymond” to its slate of vintage sitcoms.

Most network and basic cable laffers target adults 18-49, but TV Land prexy Larry Jones sees an opening for the cabler to deliver traditional multicamera yuks to a slightly older demographic, adults 40-54.

“It’s a natural progression for us,” Jones told Daily Variety. “There’s not that many (original) shows being made for the audience that comes to us for our classic sitcoms. It’s a format that our viewers are very comfortable with.”

It’s also welcome news in the creative community, where comedy series gigs have been in short supply on the major nets. The cabler has fielded nonscripted originals for several years, but the expansion into scripted marks a sizable financial commitment from Viacom.

TV Land began canvassing for projects earlier this year and wound up developing nine scripts. There’s a chance that it may roll the dice on a third pilot, Jones said.

“Hot in Cleveland” comes from scribe Suzanne Martin (“Frasier”) and Hazy Mills Prods., headed by Hayes and Todd Milliner. Pilot revolves around three fortysomething femme friends from L.A. who wind up stuck in Cleveland and decide to stay there when they realize the locals consider them glamorous.

“Retired at 35″ follows a successful businessman who leaves the Gotham rat race for his parents’ Florida retirement home. Chris Case (“Reba”) penned the pilot and will exec produce with Schultheis and Hanel.

Casting familiar sitcom faces will be key to generating attention for the new shows, Jones said. The plan is to pepper the new shows into TV Land’s primetime lineup and promo them as worthy companions to “Raymond” and TV Land’s other sked anchors, “Roseanne” and “The Cosby Show.”

“We have great lead-ins” for launching laffers, Jones said. “But we know the bar for our shows is very high.”

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