Satcaster to pursue new shows, not cancelled programs

DirecTV is getting out of the “save our show” business.

But the channel, exclusively available on DirecTV, is now preparing to shift into a new direction, focusing its original programming efforts on series that have never been seen in the U.S.

The satcaster’s the 101 Network has become a hero among TV fans for giving a home to brilliant-but-about-to-be-canceled shows like “Friday Night Lights” and (up next) “Damages.”

DirecTV senior entertainment and production veep Chris Long told Daily Variety that the 101, which reaches the satcaster’s 19 million subscribers, will give “Damages” a big marketing campaign in 2011 — but that will likely be the last resurrection by DirecTV of a canceled American series.

“In the future, I think we’re going to move away from that model,” Long said.

Thanks to its groundbreaking co-production deal with NBC in 2008 that ultimately kept “Friday Night Lights” alive for three additional seasons, the 101 became the channel that fans of struggling series instinctively turned their lonely eyes to.

That reputation was bolstered after the 101 picked up “Damages” (dropped by FX earlier this year) for two more years. For example, within minutes of the cancellations of Fox’s “Lone Star” in September and AMC’s “Rubicon” this month, speculation began about whether DirecTV might revive those dramas.

Essentially, DirecTV is now saying not to send those emails. While remaining keenly interested in bringing original programming to the 101, Long said the channel wants to be in on the ground floor.

“There’s probably 75-80 pilots out there a year that get squashed or shelved or never make it to network television or HBO, AMC or anyone else,” Long said. “What I like to do is go look for a diamond in the rough, maybe content that wasn’t applicable for network television, maybe the financing couldn’t work.”

This shift in direction doesn’t reflect dissatisfaction on DirecTV’s part with its “Friday Night Lights” or “Damages” deals. Long said “Lights” has “done unbelievably” for DirecTV and that he’s excited about the future episodes of “Damages,” which unlike “Lights” will be exclusive to the 101, rather than getting second airings on its original network.

But Long said DirecTV is interested in changing the business model for producing original series, away from a setup in which the broadcaster would pay 70% of production while the studio pays 30% (with the studio recouping its money by selling international rights).

“We’ll come in for a percentage; let’s bring in an outside distribution arm that can do it for overseas, and then bring someone else in for product integration,” Long said.

Long emphasized that DirecTV remains interested in acquiring series from other countries, such as BBC programs or Canadian comedy “Trailer Park Boys,” as well as airing episodes of programs from other outlets like HBO or Showtime that promote subscriptions to the premium channels.

“Recently we did ‘The Pacific,'” Long said. “It did very well — there was upgrade messaging, saying, ‘If you like this, get HBO, and here’s the number.'”

In addition, the 101 will continue airing classic series such as “The Wire” and “Deadwood” — the latter providing a hypothetical “never say never” to DirecTV’s directional shift.

“If David Milch says he wants to do ‘Deadwood’ again, you can guarantee I’d like to be involved in that conversation,” Long said.

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